The Washington Nationals introduced their newest free agent acquisition this afternoon at Nationals Park, welcoming 33-year-old reliever Rafael Soriano to the nation's capital after he signed a 2-year/$28M dollar deal with an option for a third year earlier this week. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, Soriano and his agent, Scott Boras, appeared together at a press conference in which they discussed the deal with the right-hander who will be taking over as the Nats' closer in 2013 after a 2012 season with the New York Yankees which saw Soriano, an 11-year-veteran, post a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, 3.19 BB/9 and 9.18 K/9 while saving 42 games with NY closer Mariano Soriano sidelined. "It's a very happy day here in Washington Nationals land," Rizzo said as he introduced the reliever to the D.C. press corps.
"Rafi comes with impeccable credentials and terrific talent and skill set that will fit in," the Nats' general manager continued. "He's a terrific young man that has great character and great make-up and really is the epitome of what has become a Washington Nationals-type of player." The newest Nats was presented with his Nationals jersey, no.29, and he then sat down with Rizzo and Boras to answer questions from the reporters in attendance.
Asked about Washington's Game 5 blow-up in the NLDS with St. Louis and how that factored into the decision to add another late-inning reliever to the mix in the Nationals' bullpen, which already features '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen and set-up man Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year when Storen was sidelined, Rizzo told reporters this afternoon that it had more to do with what Soriano brings to the ninth inning than anything else. "Rafi was a good fit because he's one hell of a closer," the general manager explained, "and you strengthen a strength and you keep moving forward and keep acquiring talent and assets to become the best ballclub that you can possibly become."
"[Soriano's] here because he's got great talent, great character and great ability," Rizzo continued, "and has done it at the highest level at one of the toughest places to perform in New York City. So, he's battle-tested, he's certainly not afraid and he's only going to add to what we believe is a great young, deep and talented bullpen. He's a guy with great experience in big games and he's going to not only be a shutdown type of pitcher for us, but he's also going to be a mentor for us and polish up our younger bullpen players to get them to go to a higher level also."
Through a translator, Soriano told reporters that he was confident his agent would help him find the right team throughout a long free agent process that saw any players who were tied to draft pick compensation after turning down qualifying offers from their previous employers remain on the market longer than anticipated. "Obviously, I've always been a patient person," Soriano said, "and Scott knows this about me and he told me from the get-go, he said, just bide your time, continue to work out and when the time is right it will happen for you."
"When the opportunity in Washington came about," Soriano explained, "I thought it was a club that I could help now and obviously help win a World Series."
Signing Soriano when he was tied to a compensatory draft pick, with the Nationals losing their 1st Round pick and the Yankees gaining a pick when he signed, was definitely a factor in the decision the Nats' GM explained. "The draft pick's important," Rizzo said, "but picking at the end of the draft like we are this year, we examined the draft pool this year and we felt that where we were picking and the talent pool that was out there and the chance to acquire a talent such as Rafael it was a good time for us to forfeit the pick."
"To acquire a talent such as Rafael Soriano," the general manager said, "who has done it so many times and has been so consistent in the way he's done it, really gives our bullpen a huge boost. It gives us depth, it gives us talent at the end and it really shortens a game for the Washington Nationals."
The signing of Soriano gives the Nationals three legitimate closer options this year, a point which the Nats' GM reiterated when asked about how the end of the 2012 campaign affected Washington's plans this winter and what the acquisition of Soriano means for the relievers already in the bullpen.
"Drew Storen is a closer," Rizzo said. "He's going to be a closer. He's got closer stuff. He's got a closer's mentality. And by no means [was] the signing of Rafael Soriano based on one inning and one game at the end of the season. [Storen] is a young closer that was thrust into the closer's role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer. We feel that we benefit having [Soriano] on the club not only by pitching the ninth inning, but also by mentoring a good young potential closer in Drew Storen."
"We feel that we have multiple closers on this club," Rizzo explained, "that have the ability to close out games. One of them is going to close out the seventh, one will close out the eighth and one will finish the game in the ninth and we feel pretty good about that."
Soriano said he's acted as a mentor before in his 11-year career and looks forward to doing so again in D.C. "I've had that opportunity before whether it be with the [New York] Yankees, Tampa [Bay] or Atlanta," Soriano said, "To be able to help these younger players grow as relievers, as professionals, as pitchers and it's something that I look forward to doing here with my new family. It obviously comes naturally from within, so I look forward to doing that and always try to take advantage of these opportunities to help these players to grow."
A mentor, a closer and another high-character addition to the Nationals' roster and now a bullpen that can even match up with the Atlanta Braves' stocked pen.
• Here's video of the press conference via CSNWashington.com: