The Washington Nationals won 98-games in 2012, winning the NL East and solidifying themselves as, potential, perennial contenders in coming seasons. They got to where they are through fantastic drafts, taking advantage of their miserable seasons to take on generational talents by adding Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as No. 1 overall picks.
General Manager Mike Rizzo has also gambled on talented players like Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, and Alex Meyer in more recent drafts, accruing valuable commodities to trade or plug into the major league roster.
Pitching was the name of the game for the Nats in 2012, though, regardless of the arrival of Harper, as Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler, and Strasburg all posted ERAs lower than 3.40, while the bullpen posted a 3.23 ERA, good for 7th in MLB.
Drew Storen returned from an elbow injury in mid-July and solidified the back-end of the bullpen, posting a 2.37 ERA over 37 appearances, while Tyler Clippard was solid as the closer most of the season, saving 32 games.
With such weak options on the left-handed side, the Nationals needed to spend the reported two-years, $28 million on Rafael Soriano…or did they?
Soriano is a great relief pitcher, having closed out 42 games with a 2.26 ERA in 2012 for the New York Yankees; however, the Nationals didn’t need a closer.
Drew Storen closed 43 games in 2011, posting a 2.75 ERA. He has been the “closer of the future” since being drafted 10th overall in the 2009 MLB draft out of Stanford.
I wrote in July of 2011 about the young, cost efficient closers who were coming up through the majors, including Neftali Feliz, Craig Kimbrel, Storen, John Axford, Jordan Walden, and Sergio Santos. With Jim Johnson and his $2.625 million salary in 2012 closing 51 games, Fernando Rodney and his $1.75 million salary in 2012 closing 48 games, Kimbrel and his $580,000 salary in 2012 closing 42 games, and Jason Motte and his $1.95 million salary in 2012 closing 42 games, why would the Nationals spend the money that they did on Soriano instead of signing a free agent like lefties Rich Hill, Will Ohman, or J.C. Romero, or right-handers like LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, or Juan Carlos Oviedo?
With the lack of solid left-handed free agents, the Nationals have been rumored to be interested in Javier Vazquez, who will be pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic after taking the 2012 season off. By adding Vasquez to the rotation, the Nationals could move Detwiler to the bullpen to become the dominant, left-handed reliever in the group, while still having a great starting five.
Regardless of who the Nationals add or have added this offseason, they may have needed Soriano to solidify a bullpen that has been decimated by free agency, questionable or not.