On Thursday afternoon, Soriano came back to Nationals Park again, this time pulling a crisp, white No. 29 Nationals jersey over a silver suit. As he spun around for photographers, he said, “How’s it look, guys?”
Soriano looked every part of a $14 million closer, his long-limbed framed settling into a chair between General Manager Mike Rizzo and his agent, Scott Boras. The Nationals made official the two-year, $28 million deal Soriano agreed to earlier this week. While offering praise and support to incumbent Drew Storen, they heralded Soriano, 33, as their clear-cut closer entering spring, an additional weapon in the bullpen meant to push them to a championship.
“Suffice it to say, Raffy is here to pitch the ninth inning,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo, Boras said, first reached out to Boras about Soriano back in November after the General Manager meetings in Palm Springs, Calif. Owner Ted Lerner also involved himself in the negotiations. The Nationals may not have needed a closer with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard in their bullpen. But they still added the best reliever on the market — a right-hander with a 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over his 11-year career — to make their relief corps as strong as the rest of their deep roster.
“Raffy was a good fit because he’s one hell of a closer,” Rizzo said. “You strengthen a strength and you keep moving forward and keep acquiring talent and assets to become the best ballclub you could possibly become.”
The stocked bullpen creates the need to shuffle roles. After Soriano signed, Rizzo said, pitching coach Steve McCatty called Storen and set-up man Tyler Clippard to let them know Soriano would handle the high-profile job they split last season.
“I’m certainly not worried about Clip or Drew,” Rizzo said. “They’re consummate professionals.”
In Game 5 of the NLDS, Storen squandered a two-run lead in the ninth inning, allowing four runs as the Cardinals completed a stunning comeback and won the series. Rizzo raved about Soriano’s playoff experience. but he also said Storen’s disastrous performance did not influence the decision.
“Drew Storen is a closer,” Rizzo said. “He’s going to be a closer. He’s got closer stuff. He’s got a closer mentality. And by no means the signing of Rafael Soriano was based on one inning and one game at the end of the season. This guy’s a young closer that was thrust into the closer role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer.