It was no surprise that Rafael Soriano didn’t return to the Yankees after turning down a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer at season’s end.
It was, however, a surprise when it was announced earlier today that Soriano had inked a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals. There is an option for the third year if Soriano finishes 120 games between 2013 and 2014.
Fittingly, he’ll bring his postgame untucking act to the Beltway.
Soriano did an admirable job filling in as Yankees closer when Mariano Rivera went down with a serious knee injury in early May. In 2012, Soriano appeared in 69, saving 42 with an 2.26 ERA and 69 strikeouts and 24 walks in 67 2/3 innings.
With an opt-out clause at the end of the 2012 season, Soriano figured to get big bucks on the open market as an option for a team that needed a closer. Detroit, which has seen closer Jose Valverde melt down during the playoffs, seemed like a logical fit.
Problem is, since Soriano had turned down a qualifying offer, the team that signed him would be forced to forfeit its first round draft pick in 2013. With the Moneyball era at full height, teams are wary of giving up that high a pick, leaving players like Soriano, Kyle Lohse and Nick Swisher on the market for longer than they probably would have been under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement.
With Rivera pledging to return in 2013, the Yankees’ bullpen should be fine if he’s 100 percent healthy. David Robertson remains one of the best set-up men in the game. Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma should provide solid right-handed relief. The lefty duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada proved effective in 2012. Add a long man and you’ve got yourself a bullpen.
The biggest impact of the Soriano signing will be felt in the National League East. Washington already had a solid all-around team with a top-notch rotation and a lineup that features a mix of veteran and youthful power and speed. Now, the Nationals can add a bona fide closer to the mix. With Tyler Clippard (a former Yankees’ farmhand), Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen and Drew Storen, the Nats now have a terrific bullpen to boot.
Washington, of course, could turn some of that bullpen surplus around in a trade, perhaps in a package with slugging outfielder Mike Morse, who doesn’t figure to get every day playing time in the Nats’ lineup in 2013.
Closers are probably overvalued and overpaid, but it’s hard to measure how much of a confidence boost a solid closer gives to the rest of the team. How many games have the Yankees won since 1997 just because players felt better with Rivera there for the ninth inning? It’s impossible to measure, but it’s fun to think about.
In concrete terms, Soriano added 2.6 wins above replacement in 2012 (Baseball-Reference WAR). To put that in perspective, Rivera had an average WAR of 3.16 during his years as a closer from 1997 to 2011. So Soriano certainly adds some value, but the Nats are paying $14 per year for about an additional two to three wins – and probably not even that much because the previous options, Storen or Clippard, are well-above league average themselves.
Your thoughts? Does this move make the Nationals the overwhelming favorites in the National League in 2013? Should the Yankees or Mets made a push to sign Soriano? Let me know on Twitter: @THR_Montgomery.