Name: Rafael Soriano
The Nationals signed Rafael Soriano in the offseason to a two year, $22 million dollar deal with a club option for a third year. The team felt they needed a proven, consistent closer to make the push for the playoffs. Soriano had been the closer for the New York Yankees in 2012 when Mariano Rivera went down with an injury in May which caused him to miss the rest of the 2012 campaign. Soriano delivered for the Yankees, posting a 42 save season. With Rivera set to resume his position with the Yankees in 2013, Soriano was available. After the game five playoff loss which was laid at the feet of Drew Storen, the Nats wanted a veteran closer who could take the pressure of closing must win games.
Soriano had an up and down season with the Nationals. He had been rumored to be standoffish with his fellow teammates. The Nats players publicly declared that this was not true from their perspective, pointing to the example of Soriano inviting them to his home for dinner in a getting to know you session. However, from a fan perspective it felt as if some of the team did not buy into Soriano’s presence on the team–some would untuck their shirts after a successful close, some would not. It also often felt like Soriano was just there to close and was not part of the team process. Soriano publicly called out Bryce Harper on May 21st for missing a ball in left field Soriano felt that he should have been better positioned upon, which lead to a blown save. The fact that this was not kept in-house from the get-go was either proof that Soriano felt management would not support him if he called Harper out in the clubhouse, or that Soriano did not care about keeping the issue within the privacy of the club, looking for publicity for his excuse as to why the save was blown. Either way, it did not help Soriano’s image and attempts to fit in with the team by saying that his 4 year old son would have been better positioned on the Gregor Blanco hit, meanwhile ignoring the fact that with two outs he left a 1-2 pitch over the middle of the plate which even Blanco couldn’t miss.
Soriano had 43 saves for the Nationals, one more than he achieved for the Yankees in the previous year. Soriano did not receive anywhere near the attention in DC for this achievement as he would have in NY. That is the nature of the NY media beast, which heavily favors and reports on New York players. The fact that the Nats did not make the playoffs didn’t help either as far as media attention is concerned.
However, the impression left from Soriano’s season was that it was unsatisfying. Some of his close appearances were tension filled, runners on affairs. You felt that Soriano was not dominating, but walking a tightrope that he might fall off of at any moment. Nats fans remember the July 19th game against the Dodgers when the Nats really needed wins to keep pace in the playoff race. Soriano gave up the winning run in the top of the ninth in a tie game. August 15th and 17th were the nadir of Soriano’s year with the Nats. He blew a save in the last game of a three game series against the Giants which meant the Nats went from a three game sweep to just taking the series, followed up by a blown save and eventual loss to the Atlanta Braves on August 17th, a game the Nats could not afford to lose. Those blown saves hurt. Soriano recorded six blown saves on the season, and a record of 3-3. His ERA was 3.11 for the Nats as opposed to 2.26 for the Yankees the year before.
Soriano shook all that off, as good closers do, and finished September strong, with no blown saves during the month when the Nats slim playoff hopes were still alive.
Soriano’s ballooning ERA may fall in 2014 as he becomes more familiar with the hitters in the NL. The change of leagues could not have been easy for him, and he did have to learn all of the tendencies of a whole group of batters with whom he was unfamiliar. A year of exposure to those batters may help his performance.
Otherwise, Soriano is expected to turn in about the same type of season in 2014 as in 2013. He will probably post another 40+ save season. However, if he falters or starts having severe difficulty closing out games, the Nats have closer options on the team in the form of Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. Matt Williams will probably not hesitate to give someone else a chance to close if Soriano can’t get it done.
Soriano also may become trade bait this year in the last year of his deal. If the Nats feel that Storen or Clippard can handle the closing job come July (if the Nats aren’t dumb enough to trade Storen in the meantime) Soriano could be moved to a team that needs a closer in return for prospects or just to get the cost of his salary off the books. Since Soriano has a club option on his contract, he would not just be a rent-a-player for a team that makes a trade.