The Nats Final Off-Season Issue

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This is the time of the off-season where teams
sign players and make moves few hear about, and if they do they aren’t expected
to have much of an impact. Now is the time of the January free agent. Sure,
there are guys like LaRoche, Lohse, Soriano, and Bourn still on the market, but
they are not the typical January free agent. The January free agent is that guy
looking for a minor league deal and invite to Spring Training. He is the guy
hoping to get one more shot to wear the uniform and play in the big
leagues. 

The Nats don’t need a lot of these
types of players, but they may benefit from a couple. As it stand right now
there are two spots up for grabs on the Nats 25 man roster. The rotation,
line-up, and bench are set. The only real question is if it will be LaRoche or
Morse manning first in 2013, but that has no impact on the two spots the Nats
have open. The Nats need a sixth and seventh man in the bullpen. They have a
number of internal options and if they decide to forgo the Christian Garcia as
a starter experiment then suddenly there is one less spot in the bullpen.

The
men that will be competing for that spot include Bill Bray, Henry Rodriguez,
Erik Davis, and a few January free agents that have yet to be signed or have
had their signings go unnoticed. All of this puts the Nats in a great position.
There were times in the recent past where the Nats would enter Spring Training
with the entire rotation or outfield up for grabs and the men competing for
those spots were wildly unimpressive. Times have changed and the Nats only need
a reliever or two, and more importantly those are the sixth and seventh men in
the bullpen they need.  

The
Nationals have a good back-end of the bullpen with Storen, Clippard, and
Stammen. When the Nationals enter the seventh inning with a lead of three runs
or less those are the three who will pitch. Other situations other relievers
will be relied upon. Davey Johnson uses his bullpen well and in a game with a
close deficit he isn’t going to risk the health of his top relievers
in a game the Nats have a 25% or less chance to win. That is when Mattheus,
Duke, or whoever the last two guys are will pitch.  

Garcia
should be given strong consideration for one of those last two spots. He proved
at the end of 2012 that he could get major league hitters out and he could be
highly effective in the role Stammen filled last season. The Nats want to
stretch Garcia out to be a starter, but in a way his talents would be wasted at
AAA. The Nats could use him as the right-handed long reliever to keep him
stretched out, but to also have him available out of the bullpen, and
if the Nats starters pitch as good as expected there won’t be much long relief
work.  

There
are a couple other options for improving the Nats bullpen. Three of the four
big names that remain free agents are Boras clients, and as recently as last
season Mike Rizzo gave a Boras client a pillow deal in January when he rescued
Edwin Jackson from the free agent market. If the Nats lose LaRoche and pick up
a pick in the compensation round that could make surrendering their
top pick more palatable. The Nats could sign Kyle Lohse and move Detwiler
into the pen, but with Zach Duke already set up as the lefty long reliever and
with how good Detwiler pitched in 2012 that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  

The
move that makes the most sense is for the Nats to sign Rafael Soriano. Soriano
is going to have to make a few concessions. Drew Storen deserves the closers
spot. Soriano has a slightly lower career ERA at 2.78 compared to 2.96, but
Storen is only 25 and is due for a big season in 2013. Storen has shown a
willingness to pitch in other roles in the bullpen, but he is best as the Nats
closer. Likely this wouldn’t be something that is decided right away and the
two would get to compete in Spring Training, but Soriano wants to close. He
doesn’t want a chance to compete to close, but also at this point his options
are becoming limited.

Soriano turned down a $14 million option to return to the
Yankees, and then turned down the $13.3 million qualifying offer with the
thought that he would get a long-term deal. That market hast materialized and
not only will Soriano not be getting a long term deal he also won’t be getting
the money he already turned down. The price for Soriano is still going to be
high for a reliever, but it is less than what the Nats would have given LaRoche
and fills a need. It is also unlikely to happen, but that isn’t a bad thing.
The back end of the Nats bullpen is good, and Rizzo has proven in the past he
can find relievers at a cost controlled price.