Nationals sign Rafael Soriano to bolster back of bullpen

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Free agent gets deal for two years, $28m

The Nationals signed free agent reliever Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million contract with a vesting option for a third season worth $14 million Tuesday, according to a baseball source.

It was a stunning move and added to a group that already was considered a strength the past two seasons. Soriano, 33, posted a 2.26 ERA for the New York Yankees last year and admirably filled the shoes of future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, who tore his ACL on May 3 and was lost for the season. The right-hander finished with 42 saves and in three postseason games with New York allowed just two hits and no runs in 41Ú3 innings.

Washington needed to replace three departed relievers -- long man Tom Gorzelanny and setup men Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez. All three players were left-handers. The Nats essentially promoted lefty Zach Duke to fill Gorzelanny's role. He and Gonzalez both signed as free agents with the Milwaukee Brewers this winter. Burnett signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels. Former Washington reliever Bill Bray agreed to a minor league deal with the club and is expected to compete for a bullpen job in spring training. He would give the Nats a second lefty to go with Duke.

Otherwise, the bullpen returns intact. Soriano's presence could affect both closer Drew Storen and setup man Tyler Clippard. Soriano also held the closer position with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he had a 1.73 ERA in 2010, and the Atlanta Braves before that. Soriano suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 with the Yankees (4.12 ERA) before rebounding in 2012. He also has pitched in relief for the Seattle Mariners during an 11-year career.

The Nats' bullpen on paper looks like a deep unit again -- provided this move doesn't signal another trade. Soriano, Clippard and Storen have combined for 217 saves in their careers. Clippard and Ryan Mattheus are both right-handers who effectively deal with left-handed batters. The organization is convinced that lessens the need for another lefty specialist. Craig Stammen, another right-hander, had a fine 2012 with a 2.34 ERA in middle relief.

And Henry Rodriguez, with his electric arm, will return from last summer's right elbow surgery. He was brilliant early last season before imploding in mid-May and twice going on the disabled list. The added bullpen depth should allow Washington to continue with its plan to make reliever Christian Garcia a starting pitcher next year in the minor leagues. The 27-year-old was dominant with Triple-A Syracuse last season and impressive enough in a September recall with Washington that he made the postseason roster. But now he could provide starting pitching depth. Rodriguez would be a long shot to make the final roster barring another move.

One negative regarding the Soriano signing: The Nats surrendered their first-round selection in the 2013 baseball draft, which was scheduled to be No. 29 overall, and just over $1 million in bonus money allocated to it. The Yankees will receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds. Soriano, whose agent is Scott Boras, opted out of the final year of his contract with New York and a guaranteed $14 million.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner