Davey Johnson was on an African safari when the Washington Nationals announced that they'd signed 33-year-old free agent closer Rafael Soriano last week. In discussing the role Soriano would play in the 2013 Nats' bullpen, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was upfront with reporters during the pitcher's introductory press conference. "Whenever you're talking about signing a free agent with the resume of Rafael," Rizzo said, "I think that you're speaking to the player, you're paying the player and the expectations for the player is that [he's] going to finish out games." Soriano's agent, Scott Boras, had just finished explaining that the right-hander's decision to opt out of the final year of the 3-year/$35M dollar deal he signed with New York in January of 2011, had a lot to do with their belief that Soriano would not be able to close with the Yankees when Mariano Rivera returned to the mound.
Soriano was limited to just 39.1 IP in 2011, the majority of them in the 7th (12.1) and 8th innings (18.1), and he missed time with elbow and shoulder issues leading to DL stints, but in 2012, with Rivera sidelined, Soriano got the opportunity to close with 54.0 of his 67.2 IP coming in the ninth inning. Soriano saved 42 games for the Yankees last year, posted a 2.26 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, walked 24 (3.19 BB/9) and recorded 69 Ks (9.18 K/9). With Rivera slated to return in 2013, however, Soriano opted out of his deal and went on the free agent market looking for a job as a closer.
"I think when you look at player's skill and you look at who they are, where they're at in their careers," Scott Boras said when asked about the decision to opt out of the previous deal, "... and I think what Raffy did last year in New York was, he had a lot to do with the Yankees winning the AL East, but the real thing was that Raffy wanted to be a closer and with Mariano coming back and Raffy having one year to go on his contract, one of the things that we foresaw was, having a closer like Mariano with the Yankees, we structured his contract where he had an opt-out every year of his contract, and the reason for that was because of the presence of Mariano Rivera and the uncertainty of what he was going to do, whether he was going to play that third year or not? So the plan was, if Mariano was going to come back, he probably would have opted out and if [Mariano] was going to not play, then [Raffy] might have stayed."
As for whether or not Soriano serving as the Nationals' closer was discussed while they were negotiating the 2-year/$28M dollar deal with Washington, Boras said, "I think in Mike's and I's relationship, we have very defined areas. I don't get into player decisions once they're in uniform and Mike and the organization make the determination of what roles the players have on the team."
As for Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard's roles in 2013, the Nats' GM said simply, "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."
"Suffice it to say," Rizzo added, "Raffy's here to pitch the ninth inning. He's done it successfully everywhere he's been and we expect him to continue that."
Davey Johnson finally returned from Africa this weekend. In an article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson, the Nats' soon-to-turn-69-year-old skipper was quoted saying he was surprised when he got a text from the Nats' GM telling him they'd acquired another closer. As the MLB.com writer noted, Johnson's used two closers before with the 1986 Mets, who had both Jesse Orosco (21 saves) and Roger McDowell (22 saves) sharing the closing duties, though, of course, one (Orosco) was a lefty and McDowell a right-hander. "'It will sort itself out'" Johnson told MLB.com's Mr. Ladson, "'I [will] go with the guy I think is best, but I think they are all great.'"
"'The guy that is most dominant as I’m concerned' will close," Johnson told the Washington Post's James Wagner this weekend at a ceremony where he received the NL Manager of the Year award, "'As it stacks right now, [Soriano is] the No. 1 guy. But we’ll see how they throw.'"
"With Davey Johnson, as manager, as we all know," Rizzo told reporters last week, "He likes to use a 'Bullpen-A' and 'Bullpen-B', so [Soriano will be] going into Spring Training [as] our ninth inning guy, but that's not to say that other members of the bullpen aren't going to get opportunities to finish games." The Nats' GM said it was simply a case of strengthening a strength and giving his manager options. "'They have given me too many aces,'" Johnson told MLB.com's Mr. Ladson. It will be up to the Nationals' manager to figure out how best to use the weapons he's been given.