With Rafael Soriano in tow, Nationals essentially done with roster

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Mike Rizzo happy with roster, though trading Michael Morse was difficult

The Nationals may have a minor move or two up their sleeve before spring training starts next month. But general manager Mike Rizzo's work essentially is complete after he signed reliever Rafael Soriano and traded slugger Michael Morse for pitching prospects earlier this week.

During a news conference at Nationals Park on Thursday, the team introduced Soriano for the first time and addressed the Morse trade. Washington acquired former draft pick A.J. Cole, a right-hander, along with right-hander Blake Treinen and a player-to-be-named.

"We certainly like the team we have," Rizzo said. "We're always open for business if something pops up that makes us better. We're always open to do more stuff, to make more deals."

Soriano, 33, finished with 42 saves last season for the New York Yankees. He essentially replaced the injured Mariano Rivera at closer and helped stabilize the Yankees' bullpen on the way to an American League East title. But with Rivera expected to return from his torn ACL this season and with Soriano still hoping to close for a contending team, he and agent Scott Boras opted out of the final year of his contract. The gamble paid off when he received a two-year deal worth $28 million from Washington and the closer's job.

"Obviously I've always been a patient person, and Scott knows this about me. He told me from the get-go, 'Just bide your time, continue to work out, do what you need to do,'?" Soriano said in Spanish through an interpreter. "When the opportunity with Washington came about, I thought it was a club that I could help now and obviously help win a World Series."

Meanwhile, Rizzo said parting ways with Morse was difficult. The 30-year-old had become a fan favorite at Nationals Park with his at-bat song -- A-ha's "Take on Me" -- generating enthusiasm throughout the season. But he had nowhere to play on the field after the trade for outfielder Denard Span and the re-signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche.

"We could've kept [Morse]. And knowing me, if we didn't get the deal we wanted, we would've kept him," Rizzo said. "But I don't think it would've been fair to him in a contract year to come off the bench. I don't think his skills are really indicative of a bench player. There was enough interest."

And so the Nats enter the 2013 season with a healthy mix of young players just entering their primes -- Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa -- and veterans such as LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Dan Haren. The bullpen is deep and talented. The starting rotation is among the sport's best. The offense, with better health, hopes to improve, too. Add in the sport's best record last season and the pressure to win is acute.

"We're going to have to learn how to deal with having the bull's-eye on our back," Rizzo said. "I think the maturity of the club will handle it."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner