Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Soriano? Well at least its Rafael and not Alfonso


The Nats get some icing on the cake in Soriano. Photo Elsa/Getty Images via

Jeff Passan broke the news, which I found out about only by chance late Tuesday afternoon (silly me, trying to do “work” or something).  Rafael Soriano to the Nats on a 2yr/$28M deal with a third option year that only vests with a relatively unattainable 120 “games finished” plateau reached.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.

Was this a reaction move to Drew Storen‘s meltdown in the 9th inning of NLCS game 5?  Adam Kilgore is reporting that the Nats owner Ted Lerner was “heavily involved” in the transaction, likely because of the amount of money involved and perhaps as a sign of the 2013 mandate to win it all.

Two quick reactions from a roster management perspective:

  1. First off, we can call off the need for lefty relievers.  Soriano’s so good against both righties and lefties that he can be the Loogy. 🙂
  2. Secondly, I’m guessing that either Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen is officially on the block.  The team certainly could have made the argument that they had too many right handed, back of the rotation candidates BEFORE today.  Now they’ve got three closer-quality arms but only one closer job.  And clearly Soriano is going to be the closer.  If you look at his career stats, when he’s closing he’s lights out.  185 ERA+ last year for New York, a 237 ERA+ as Tampa’s closer in 2010.  Clippard and Storen are good, but they’re not that good.  One or the other is likely traded now, so as to clear a log-jam of RH arms in the pen.   They *could* send down guys like Stammen or Storen (they have options available) but they’re too good to make way.  More likely is a trade.

New Look 2013 bullpen: Soriano closing, Clippard or Storen setting up, Henry Rodriguez and Mattheus in 7th inning roles, Duke as loogy/long-man, Stammen as 6th-7th inning/long man and Bray as the loogy.   Or perhaps Garcia makes the team while Bray pitches in AAA waiting for an injury.  Or perhaps Clippard and Storen both stay, and both Bray and Garcia start in AAA.  Or perhaps Clippard or Storen get packaged with Morse to bring back (as we’ve been saying for a while) both a lefty reliever AND some prospect depth.

I can see the blogosphere criticizing this deal for three reasons.

  1. That’s a lot of money for a closer (I think it makes him the highest paid closer in the game), and the deal is surprising in that Soriano now will easily earn more than the rest of the bullpen combined, a stark departure from Mike Rizzo‘s parsimonious methods of building bullpens lately.
  2. Yet another Scott Boras client for the Nats.  By my count that’s now seven Boras clients in the Nats system and five on the MLB roster (others: Espinosa, Werth, Goodwin, Harper, Rendon, Strasburg).  I hate the lazy narrative that Rizzo is somehow Boras’ b*tch, but we’re about to hear it again.  Check the agent database: yes we have a lot of his clients but so does Texas (7), Boston (8), Kansas City (6) and Detroit (6).  Boras just has a lot of good players, and the Nats are a good team where players want to come to play.
  3. This costs the Nats their 2013 first round pick.  It wasn’t nearly as high a leverage pick as before (#33 overall with a couple of compensation picks pushing it down from the #30 spot as last year’s best record would have indicated).  I’m sure the argument will be that Soriano > back-of-the first round pick.

$14M for a closer is a lot of money.  But hey, its not my money.  If we weren’t sure of it before, the Nats are now *really* officially saying that they’re going for it in 2013.  I’ll have to re-do both the salary and the WAR worksheets when I get some time to see how this factors in.

19 Responses to 'Soriano? Well at least its Rafael and not Alfonso'

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  1. Well, the Nats needed another bullpen arm. That’s the good news.
    Let’s be right up front about this. Soriano is a BAD clubhouse guy. He will piss & moan all season and things will get really ugly if he’s not the closer. If he blows a save, it will be because the team around him is bad. Just ask him.
    Great arm, bad head.
    It’s only for 2 years, so that won’t be the killer.
    Another blow to the farm system.

    Mark L

    15 Jan 13 at 4:23 pm

  2. I’m not sure this is really a “blow to the farm system” Mark. This is a weak draft and a late first round pick in a weak draft could easily be covered if the plan is to trade some combination of Morse/Storen/Clippard or even to a lesser extent a guy like Henry or Mattheus. If they can flip Rodriguez in a similar style move as Ballester last off season for an upper minors arm I think that replaces the draft pick. If they get real prospects in a trade for a guy like Clippard or Storen that more than replaces it.


    15 Jan 13 at 4:35 pm

  3. My reaction was exactly the same: WOW … I did not see this coming. The $14 million AAV is an overpay, but I suspect that’s because it’s a two year deal (the vesting third year is a nonstarter, IMHO – Soriano has never finished 60 games in a season, so doing it back-to-back seasons at age 33 and 34 is very unlikely).

    For me, what tells the tale on this deal is the next dominor or two to fall. Where I had scoffed at the drumbeat for getting David Price, it now moves into legitimate speculation. Package Morse (the Rays need a bat and a 1b), Detwiler (to fill in their rotation) and either Storen or Clippard, and that’s a legitimate offer. Or they could move Storen or Clippard to restock the farm, and add Espinosa to the deal instead. Espinosa would move to SS in Tampa, giving the Rays an infield of Longoria, Espinosa, Zobrist and Morse (when he’s not DHing). The Nats move Lombardozzi into 2b (and possibly the #2 spot in the order, although I still like Werth there better), and Carlos Rivero into the backup IF role.

    John C.

    15 Jan 13 at 4:40 pm

  4. It’s worth it to the Nats because Price isn’t a free agent until after the 2015 season. And a rotation of Strasburg, Price, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Haren would be unreal. With a bullpen of Soriano, Clip/Storen (whoever isn’t moved), Stammen, Mattheus, Duke, and some combination of HRod, Bray and Garcia, that would be one helluva combination.

    John C.

    15 Jan 13 at 4:58 pm

  5. First, I agree with Mark about Soriano being a bad clubhouse guy. He’s so bad that a team as packed with egos as the Yankees wanted nothing to do with him. This has to be Ted Lerner, because I don’t see Rizzo making this move.

    And second, David Price is still a pipe dream. Tampa doesn’t deal unless they’re going to absolutely fleece the other team, and I don’t see that happening here.


    15 Jan 13 at 5:00 pm

  6. I think I like the move. I have been a little worried about the bullpen (even though it may not be rational), and there is no argument about Soriano’s numbers recently. I don’t know what to make of some of this ‘bad clubhouse’ talk. I hadn’t heard much about that (which means nothing) but I assume Rizzo and Davey can handle it, especially with Werth, ALR, etc.

    I tend to agree with clark17 that this talk of getting Price is a pipe dream. Maybe if they swapped JZimm for Det, and added Espy to Morse. But I wouldn’t do that deal for us. For the record, I’d like them to keep everyone, including Morse. Let’s really go for it! I promise to buy my son a jersey!

    But here is what I hope is a hidden meaning to this signing: that the MASN deal is getting close to a positive resolution, or at least the Nats are feeling good about where it is heading. That may be as much of a pipe dream as Price, but it might be the most important factor in the franchise’s long term health as anything else we have been talking about.


    15 Jan 13 at 5:38 pm

  7. If a Price deal happens, I see Detwiler moving to the pen. Don’t forget that a deal for Price could also include Rendon and/or Goodwin since there isn’t a place for either of those guys on the big club over the next two years. Yeah, that would drop the minor league system rankings to about dead last in the majors, but on the flip side they would have the scariest rotation in baseball for at least the next three years.


    15 Jan 13 at 6:01 pm

  8. PDowdy, point taken. Let’s see what happens next.
    You’re right about it being a weak draft. Hopefully, Rizzo can find ways to stock up in the next 3-4 weeks.

    Mark L

    15 Jan 13 at 7:56 pm

  9. Didn’t see it coming and was not sure if I liked it or not when I fist heard about it.

    If the teams motto is World Series or Bust this is a good move. Your biggest concern is not the draft if you think you can win the WS. The pick does not matter only the money the pick represents does but this is when you make this type of signing. Look at it as a going away present for Davey and don’t think he won’t beat Soriano like a rented mule down the stretch if he needs too.

    I would guess that a trade or a package deal was coming but Rizzo is hard to gauge right now. I do think he is interested in Vázquez but maybe he couldn’t pull that off so this is a back-up to save the BP.

    Soriano will help this team and Davey is tough enough to keep him in line. I think it is the experience that Soriano brings that Rizzo and Davey like and yes I think all of them are on board with this signing.

    The Price trade is a beautiful dream but I can’t see the Nat’s pulling it off this year.

    As for who might be traded I guess it depends who they can get. I would think Davey would like to keep Clippard and Mattheus but I would not say anyone in the BP is safe.


    15 Jan 13 at 9:26 pm

  10. I wasn’t aware of Soriano’s reputation; its surprising that Rizzo agreed to this if he is a headcase.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jan 13 at 9:46 pm

  11. That’s a serious trade. Morse, Detwiler, Clippard/Storen and Espinosa for David Price? Or was it just Morse, Detwiler and Clippard/Storen? Honestly to get Price i think you’d have to make it a 4-for-1 deal. Would Tampa make that trade? They could use Morse and Espinosa. Detwiler replaces Price in their rotation. That’s a lot of salary added though for Tampa. Perhaps if Nats threw in money as well.

    I dunno; its awful hard to trade for an established Ace.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jan 13 at 9:49 pm

  12. Wally,

    I can understand the desire to keep Morse but if I was to guess I would think in his walk year to FA Morse would rather be traded.

    Baseball to us is a game and a wonderful diversion but to players like Morse it is their job and they have a very limited career.

    Unless there is an injury to one of the starters I don’t think Morse can get enough AB’s. Even if you send Moore down playing backup and having Bernadina in the mix makes it very difficult.

    I like Morse and if I didn’t think the Nat’s had a very good chance to win a WS I probably would have kept him over ALR. I think Rizzo is correct that ALR and now Soriano give this team the best chance to make the playoffs and maybe even go further.


    15 Jan 13 at 9:54 pm

  13. I don’t see why the Rays would trade Price this year?

    The Yankees have question marks the Red Sox are definitely weaker. I don’t think the O’s will repeat. Toronto on paper looks tough and I think they made all the trades they did because they see this year as a good year to contend. The Rays should also be in the mix. They can trade Price in before 2014 so I’d keep him this year.

    Too much to give up for the Nat’s in a year where you can argue they are the best team in the NL already.


    15 Jan 13 at 10:03 pm

  14. Someone else said it best below; Tampa won’t make a trade unless they feel like they WIN the trade. And I don’t think Rizzo is the kind of guy who goes into trades looking to lose or look foolish.

    Todd Boss

    15 Jan 13 at 10:15 pm

  15. Tegwar – I completely agree with you that Morse would probably rather be traded to a situation where he is a starter. I am sure he likes the Nats and his teammates quite a bit, but, as you say, this is his job and he is coming up on his first, and maybe only, real chance at a life altering contract.

    But should that be Rizzo’s primary responsibility? To me, I think it is a balance, but putting the best team out there, within his payroll restrictions, has to trump the player’s best interest, no? If we got an offer that makes sense, I’d trade him but unless that happens, I think he could be very valuable and still get 400 ABs even without an injury (while being a hedge against an injury at several spots, too). I see it similar to Lannan last year, although better for Morse than it was for Lannan. If the Nats are willing to pay for the expensive back up/insurance, I think it makes us a lot better.

    Btw, is Rizzo running a really tight ship, or what? All three of his big offseason deals came out of the blue with no public leaks. The guy is really getting the hang of this GM thing.


    15 Jan 13 at 10:43 pm

  16. You have to feel for Morse here; despite his 2011 and his career .839 OPS+, he’s been purposely replaced on the team. He absolutely needs a big 2012 in his age 31 season to earn what may be his only shot at a 3-4 year guaranteed deal, as you said.

    What will Rizzo end up doing? I think this is clearly different from the Lannan situation last year, where he coudl be banished to Syracuse and called up when needed. Morse would be sitting on the bench every day, stewing, trying to put on a good game face, trying to play the part. I think it’d just be too tough. Would it theoretically make the team/bench better? Absolutely … if Morse can produce in this part time role. What if he can’t? What if as it turns out he’s an awful part time player and just stinks as a pinch hitter? I can’t find pinch hitting stats on off hand to prove/disprove this theory.

    Personally, I think you have to move him. You just don’t want to mess with the chemistry of a team by having a disgruntled guy around 100% of the time. All the scheduled backups/scrubs for 2013 know their roles, have accepted them, and that makes a huge difference in chemistry. Plus, Morse is an incredibly valuable trade chip! Why wouldn’t you trade him for parts that this team absolutely needs? Right now, despite how good this team’s core 15 players look (8 positional players, 5 starters, two primary relievers) we clearly have needs for left handed relief pitchers and backup starters. Why not just put a memo out to teams and say: “give us your best trade deal involving these two players and we’ll trade you Morse.”

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 13 at 9:38 am

  17. Honestly, if the motto is WS or bust, and it is, I could see them keeping Clip and Stor. Storen-Clippard-Soriano would be a very, very nice way to end the game, as well as keep up with Atlanta’s bullpen, which is the only strength they have over us right now.

    Luke Smith

    16 Jan 13 at 10:41 am

  18. “Plus, Morse is an incredibly valuable trade chip!” This is exactly what it comes down to for me. If true, then I would trade him.

    If not, I wouldn’t give him away just to be relieved of the potential headache. I’d at least try to manage through it by finding him 2 starts a week plus some PHs.

    Btw, I hope the Nats start to downplay the ‘World Series or bust’ talk. It seems like that just gets people rooting against you.


    16 Jan 13 at 11:36 am

  19. Agree. But, keeping all three of these closer-quality guys means the bullpen is getting awful crowded. Soriano, Clippard, Storen adds to roster inflexibility involving Duke (a veteran) and Rodriguez (no options). Then you have Mattheus and Stammen, two guys who do have options but certainly didn’t pitch like they deserved to e demoted last year. There’s only one lefty there and he’s a long-man/spot starter. Where’s the loogy? Johnson had 3 lefties in his pen last year; you have to think he wants at least two this year.

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 13 at 1:01 pm

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