It’s hard not to describe the signing of Rafael Soriano as a response to the last game of the NLDS. But, much like the Adam LaRoche deal, even if you don’t like the specifics and the fallout, it’s also hard to argue that it doesn’t make the team better in 2013. My initial reaction to the deal was that while it was a strong addition to the team, it wasn’t necessarily a move I’d make.
It’s alot of money for a reliever (money that the Nats have to burn, so who cares) and it costs their first round pick. But just because I wouldn’t have necessarily made the move doesn’t mean I dislike it, and I don’t dislike it. Soriano is a big name, and so it was the biggest baseball news of the day, but we’ll get into that later.
First, My Take
With Soriano, they get a dominant reliever for 2 years. I say two years because his option kicks in only if he finished 120 games. Doing some advanced mathematical calculations, I discovered that he would have to average 60 games finished per season to do that. If there is any sharing of the closing duties with Drew Storen at all, that aint gonna happen. Since 2006, MLB has averaged 4.57 players per year that hit the 60 GF mark, and Davey has shown that he likes multiple closers. So you’re really looking at a two year deal. And what you’re getting is one of the best relievers in baseball.
In his last 7 years, he has thrown 391 IP, with 415 K to only 128 BB and a 1.031 WHIP. His ERA is 2.65, which is a 160 ERA+, and while he’s done this in some pitcher’s parks, he was also dominant last year with the Yankees in New York. New York is probably considered the ultimate test thanks to the new ballpark – it was already considered a pressure/media meat grinder, and now it’s got RF stands that snack on popups. He’s been great (that WHIP, probably more important for relievers than ERA, is historically impressive, as you’ll see later), and I am excited for what he does to this bullpen.
I believe the pen tired out last year, in part because the starters were incredible before the 7th inning, but for the most part didn’t make it past the 6th. This bullpen just improved, and if the starters get a little more endurance, it will be even better than advertised. The Nats were likely better than the rest of the NL East in most aspects of the game, but their bullpen certainly didn’t compare to Atlanta’s. Now, if it isn’t as good, it’s much much closer.
One interesting dynamic is the actual size of the paycheck. As I pointed out yesterday (ahem, a few hours before some others did the same), Soriano is going to be the second highest player on the Nats, tied with Ryan Zimmerman, behind only Jayson Werth. I don’t think this will cause any issues in the clubhouse as Davey is great at handling personalities, and, quite frankly, I believe your average player overvalues closers. Will the addition (not the money) cause Drew Storen to go into a tailspin? Well, anything is possible, but if Davey uses them both in save situations, which is his style, then it shouldn’t be an issue.
Being the big baseball news of the day, there were plenty of reactions all over the internet, so here are a few that I saw, along with some commentary on my part. I haven’t gotten into the loss of the draft pick here on this post, so let me tackle that first. My first reaction to the deal was actually somewhat negative because I know this farm system is hurting, and they just lost their first round pick. But Rizzo knows what he’s doing, and a few people helped point that out. In response to my concerns, Brian Oliver, the man behind that great site Nats Farm Authority said this:
And he’s not the only one who talked about that. While he didn’t explicitly say as much, here’s Keith Law
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) January 16, 2013
In terms of Soriano’s actual ability, CSN Washington had this incredible tidbit
Rafael Soriano's career WHIP of 1.05 is the 3rd best of all pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) with at least 500 IP #NatsTalk
— NBCSports Washington (@NBCSWashington) January 15, 2013
On ESPN, Dave Schoenfield liked the deal, saying this:
this gives Davey Johnson a dynamite back end of the pen and allows him to spread the work around… the Nats have one of the best pens in the league (although Zach Duke is the lone lefty), meaning the club can also monitor the innings of starters…
The signing also means the Nats don’t have to trade Mike Morse for a reliever, as has been speculated. They can keep and use him as depth/injury insurance for the outfield and first base…
The Nationals will lose their first-round draft pick and the money allocated for that pick, but for a team that can win it all, it’s a worthy gamble. Late first-round picks rarely pan out anyway.
R.J Anderson of Baseball Prospectus also likes it on balance
It’s not about Soriano versus Storen and Clippard; it’s about Soriano versus the random middle reliever he just knocked off the active roster. Besides, Davey Johnson likes having an A and B bullpen to prevent overtaxing his top arms…
the Nationals have positioned themselves to have at least one or two good relievers, and perhaps three if they all remain hearty and hale. With Soriano in tow, the Nationals can now pace Storen and Clippard without handing high-leverage innings to middle relievers. It’s hard to look at this signing and come away thinking the Nationals are worse for the road.
Joe Lemire of SI.com also thinks it’s a good deal:
The Nationals seemed to have an excess of late-inning options already for this coming season, but their reported addition of closer Rafael Soriano on Tuesday makes the National League’s preseason favorite for 2013 even more formidable…
The whole point of closely monitoring Strasburg’s innings and shutting him down last season was because the Nationals believe they have has a multi-year window of contention. Giving themselves the best chance to win now makes sense.
It’s not all positive, though. This isn’t exactly a scathing rebuke of the deal, but here’s what Jay Jaffe had to say
@YourSource123 it's a lot. bit of an overreaction to their bullpen collapse in NLDS. Pick that late has much lower odds of success though.
— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) January 15, 2013
That was sort of the biggest critique I could find out there, not counting the loss of the draft pick. So it is pretty well considered a good signing by most of the baseball internet that I saw.
Of course, this means that they have two closers, and three guys that are considered quality back of the bullpen guys by the rest of the league, when you throw in Tyler Clippard. So are they going to trade away Clippard? Here’s a convo from some SBNation and Baseball Prospectus writers, among others:
— Steven Goldman (@GoStevenGoldman) January 15, 2013
— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) January 15, 2013
Or maybe this signing means they are on their way to doing a JZimm or Detwiler plus Morse plus Clippard or Storen for an Ace starter kind of deal. I really doubt anything like that is on its way. I’m not saying a Clippard deal definitely happen, but I really don’t think that was the purpose of this. I think they are now confident with 3 relievers, maybe 4 with Mattheus or even 5 with Stammen. But that isn’t such an embarrassment of riches that they have to make moves. Here’s what Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said about it:
Nats could make a trade, and if they do I'd bet Clippard is likeliest. But Soriano is about depth. Scouts thought the Nats tired last year.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) January 15, 2013
I’m not saying that they won’t make a move, and if they move anyone, I think Clippard is more likely. He is arbitration eligible and has thrown 500 innings in the last 3 seasons. Ok, it’s only 250 IP, but it’s 224 appearances, which is alot. He is movable now, for sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say the three guys are all still there in April.
I’ll leave you with this, which were tweeted out after I posted this originally:
Nothing more meaningless than predictions, but I think Soriano signing changes the WS pick for me: I've got Washington over Detroit.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 16, 2013
It's been awhile since we've seen a more complete NL team than what Nats have amassed: Strong units w/ rotation, lineup, bullpen and bench.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 16, 2013