Rafael Soriano's long ordeal on the free-agent market has come to an end.
Source: Rafael Soriano agrees to two-year, $28M deal with Nationals. Deal contains vesting option for third year. Story coming on Y! Sports.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 15, 2013
Passan also noted that Soriano's option for the 2015 season will vest if he finishes 120 games in 2013 and 2014.
Score another one for the mystery team. The Nationals didn't stand out as a target for a big-money closer when the offseason began, but GM Mike Rizzo is clearly sparing no expense to build on what his team established in 2012.
As with any deal in baseball, there are winners and losers of Soriano's contract with the Nationals. Let's take a gander.
Nats manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo.
The Nationals' roster was very strong to begin with this winter, but Rizzo went ahead and made it stronger by trading for Denard Span to play center field, signing Dan Haren to round out the club's rotation and re-signing Adam LaRoche to stay at first base.
And now the Nats have one of baseball's top closers to pencil in for ninth-inning duty. Soriano has saved over 40 games in two of the last three seasons, compiling an 8.6 K/9 and holding opposing hitters to a .595 OPS along the way.
Granted, $14 million a year is a lot to pay for a mere relief pitcher, even one as solid as Soriano. But after what the Nats went through in the postseason this past year, their willingness to break the bank for Soriano is understandable.
The Nats could have moved on to the NLCS in 2012 had their bullpen been able to hold a two-run ninth-inning lead in Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. But Drew Storen let it get away.
If the Nats happen to find themselves in that situation again, the final result should be better now that they have Soriano to put on the mound.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Right about now, the rest of the clubs in the NL East have to be wondering just what the heck they can do to keep pace with the Nationals.
That the Nats shored up their bullpen is disconcerting in particular for the Atlanta Braves, as bullpen depth appeared to be the one advantage they had on them. But now that the Nats have Soriano in addition to Storen and Tyler Clippard, they have a bullpen that can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters in a close game.
Elsewhere on down the totem pole, the upgrade the Philadelphia Phillies made to their bullpen by signing Mike Adams now looks like a moot point. Their bullpen may have been able to compete with Washington's before, but not now.
The Nats already were the favorites to win the NL East in 2013, and now they're easily the surest bet to win the division. You need a magnifying glass to pick out their weaknesses, and whatever weaknesses they have are petty compared to weaknesses of the other teams in the division.
If they don't repeat as division champs in 2013, it will be an upset.
Scott Boras, king of baseball agents.
Scott Boras had a tall task in front of him in finding a job for Soriano this winter. He was looking for a multi-year deal in a league that is becoming increasingly wary of "proven closers," and he had the added difficulty of convincing teams that Soriano was worth losing a draft pick.
But let's face it. It always was just a matter of time before Boras got the job done.
And he did. Boras didn't find the four-year, $60 million deal for Soriano that New York Yankees president Randy Levine said he was looking for, but his two-year, $28 million deal with the Nats is essentially an extension of the deal he had with the Yankees.
Soriano would have made $14 million in 2013 had he not opted out of his Yankees contract. He'll be making that in 2013 and 2014, and possibly in 2015 as well. Thus, his and Boras' decision to go out on a limb by opting out and testing the market this winter has been justified.
There's a reason they call Boras "Mr. January," folks. It's because, sooner or later, he does stuff like this.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, owner Mike Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski.
The longer Soriano went unsigned, the more you wondered whether Boras would lower his asking price and take the first favorable deal that came across his nose.
We may never know who they are, but you can rest assured that there were at least a couple clubs out there who were hoping it would come to that. Teams were certainly wary of giving up a draft pick to sign Soriano, but that pill would have been easier to swallow if he came at a discounted rate.
Putting on my speculation hat, the Detroit Tigers could be a club that was attempting to wait Boras out. There seemed to be a cat-and-mouse game going on between them and Boras, as Boras openly pushed for the Tigers to sign Soriano, while the Tigers maintained that they were fine going with in-house option Bruce Rondon in the ninth inning.
If that was a ruse all along, it officially backfired with news of Soriano's new deal. The Tigers may come to regret not giving in and signing Soriano to fill their closer's role, which looks like just as big a question mark now as it was at the end of the 2012 season.
If the Tigers always were going to be fine either way, on the other hand, then missing out on Soriano is but a minor bump in the road that they'll get over.
New Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan.
Soriano's deal with the Nationals proved that there's still bags of money waiting out there for "proven closer" types in free agency. Teams may be wary of the idea of a "proven closer," but they clearly haven't quit it for good just yet.
This is good news for the closers who are due to hit free agency next winter, and that's a star-studded list.
Among the closers who will be hitting free agency after the 2013 season are new Boston Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan, Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney, Los Angeles Angels closer Ryan Madson and Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol. Thanks to Soriano, they know that they could potentially land multi-year deals if they have big seasons in 2013.
Hanrahan may stand to benefit the most, as he's both young at 31 years old and accomplished, with 76 saves since 2011. If he succeeds amid big-market pressure with the Red Sox in 2013, he could find a deal very similar to the one Soriano just signed waiting for him next winter.
If he does, the death of the "proven closer" myth will have to wait at least another year.
If there's a player on the Nationals who isn't happy about the team's new addition, it's probably Tyler Clippard.
Clippard saved 32 games in 2012, by far the most of his career. He was likely looking at a shot to close again in 2013 after fellow right-hander Drew Storen blew a shot to close out the NLDS.
Clippard won't be getting a shot to close in 2013 now. So long as Soriano stays healthy, Clippard will return to a permanent setup role. That could be his lot in life for the next three years if Soriano's 2015 option vests.
Clippard just so happens to be due to hit free agency after 2015, so there's a chance that his one big year as a closer in 2012 will be his only big year as a closer. If so, he's going to have a very hard time shopping his services as a closer when he hits free agency and could miss out on big money as a result.
Storen, meanwhile, is under Washington's control through 2016, meaning he could one day return to his job as the team's closer after Soriano's contract is up.
That could lead to him striking it rich, whereas Clippard will probably still be toiling away as a setup man somewhere.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
The notion started floating around last week that the Yankees could be willing to re-sign Soriano to a one-year contract so he could serve as a Plan B in case Mariano Rivera's comeback didn't pan out.
ESPN's Buster Olney said that wasn't going to happen, noting that the Yankees wanted the draft pick that would come when Soriano signed elsewhere more than they wanted Soriano back in pinstripes.
Well, they got their wish. The Yankees will get a compensatory draft pick thanks to Soriano's deal with the Nationals, and Jim Callis of Baseball America notes that it's a good one:
If the Yankees' plan to go cheap(er) from here on out is for real, then they're going to need as many draft picks as they can get. It's going to be a heck of a lot cheaper for them to draft and develop players rather than sign free agents to big-money contracts.
Especially in a day and age where closers are getting $14 million per year.
For every yin, a yang.
Whereas the Yankees gained a draft pick thanks to Soriano's deal, the Nationals have lost a draft pick.
This is apparently a minor gripe. Jeff Passan noted on Twitter that the Nats themselves won't be complaining any time soon:
Nationals were willing to lose first-round pick because of lesser talent at No. 29 and the relatively low amount of bonus-pool money.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 15, 2013
While this is understandable, there's still some slight cause for alarm.
The Nats have built a winner largely with homegrown talent, but their farm system is about as dry as can be now that so many players have graduated to the majors.
This lost draft pick is going to make a little harder for the Nats to replenish their ranks down below, which is going to make it harder for them to graduate more young players to the majors. It will also be harder for them to come up with young talent with which to make trades.
The Nationals will have to make good on their win-now attitude to make it worth it. Fortunately for them, you have to like their chances.
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