Despite already having what some would consider a strong bullpen, the Washington Nationals seemingly couldn’t resist adding to that mix and reportedly have agreed to sign Rafael Soriano. The deal, according to details reported by ESPN’s Jim Bowden, will pay the right-hander $7 Million in each of the next two seasons with another $14 Million in deferred payments from 2018 through 2025. The deal also includes a vesting option, worth another $14 Million, should Soriano finish 120 games over the course of the next two seasons.
Soriano posted a 2.26 ERA and 1.167 WHIP over 67.2 innings this past season with the New York Yankees, adding 9.2 K/9. He stepped into the closer’s role once Mariano Rivera went down with an injury early in the season and would go on to save 42 games. The 33 year old arguably had the best overall season of his career.
Yet, after opting out of the final year of his contract with the Yankees and then declining the team’s qualifying offer there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding his future. Heading into the offseason there were few that expected he’d return to the Yankees, given the likelihood that the team would return the closer’s role to Rivera assuming he’s healthy at the start of Spring Training (which he’s expected to be). Soriano wanted an opportunity to close but few teams had such a perceived need. Detroit was the widespread favorite to sign him, particularly after the team’s bullpen faltered in the World Series, but the Tigers never materialized as a true option given their desire to avoid losing a draft pick as compensation for signing him to a lucrative deal on the open market. The Los Angeles Dodgers were briefly linked to him earlier this week but nothing ever materialized from those rumblings.
By declining the Yankees’ qualifying offer Soriano’s fate became tied to draft pick compensation, a detail which clearly affected his interest on the open market as most teams have been reluctant to sign such free agents this winter. Washington will forfeit their 1st pick in this June’s draft and will have to sacrifice a portion of their bonus pool as a result of the signing. New York, meanwhile, will receive a compensatory pick at the end of the 1st Round.
It has been widely speculated since news of the signing first broke that Soriano appears the most likely candidate to step right into the closer’s role in Washington, despite the team’s current options. Drew Storen had been the incumbent closer but the team also could have turned to Tyler Clippard. The pair will likely work in tandem in a setup role in front of Soriano, provided one isn’t dealt between now and the start of the regular season. Washington’s bullpen is likely set from the right side – adding Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez, and Christian Garcia to the mix – but lacks a strong left-handed option. This past season, however, Soriano held left-handed batters to a .221 batting average while Clippard held them to just a .170 mark – so the team does have some internal options who are capable of getting left-handed hitters out despite throwing from the right side.