Feb 1, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2014: 34
How acquired: Signed as free agent, Jan. 2013
2014 salary: $11 million
2013 Stats: 68 G, 58 GF, 43 SV, 49 SVO, 66.2 IP, 65 H, 24 R, 23 ER, 7 HR, 17 BB, 51 K, 1.230 WHIP, 3-3, 3.11 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.5 WAR
2014 storyline: Rafael Soriano’s final numbers in 2013 were strong, his 43 saves were about what the Nationals hoped from him in the first year of his free agent deal. A closer look, however, showed Soriano was anything but reliable in the ninth inning as he blew a career-high six saves and labored through many of the games he closed.
Soriano should get a chance to show his true worth in 2014, as the Nationals expect to be back as playoff contenders. Last season presented very few high pressure games for Soriano as the Nats were never truly in the heat of a pennant race. How will Soriano fare if/when the Nationals are, say, battling the Braves late in the season for the division? He’s a proven MLB closer, but last year suggested his performance could be something to watch closely as the 2014 season unfolds. He also has a $15 million vesting option for 2015 if he finishes 62 games, so keep an eye on that.
Best-case scenario: It’s unlikely Soriano will surpass his 43-save total from 2013, but the Nationals would like to see him be a little more convincing as he closes out games. The best-case scenario would be Soriano saving around 40 while blowing three or less opportunities, all the while holding an ERA under 3.00. Ideally, Soriano is the shutdown closer the Nats envisioned when they signed him, and helps put them over the top in the playoffs. Soriano pitching clean innings as part of a Nationals’ playoff run would be the dream scenario, as signing him was a direct response to Drew Storen’s failings in 2012.
Worst-case scenario: The Nationals have a capable backup in Storen, as the right-hander also has a 43-save season under his belt. But, if Soriano gets injured, the bullpen all of a sudden looks a little thin. Storen can close and Tyler Clippard is as good a setup man as they come, but what if Storen struggles? Behind Storen would likely be Clippard and the Nationals like him just where he’s at. It’s an interesting situation, in many ways Storen is the perfect insurance policy, yet there remain questions about his reliability.
Most-likely scenario: The most likely scenario is probably the best-case I laid out above. Soriano should get plenty of opportunities this season to secure saves, and there’s no reason to think he will hold the Nats back from making the playoffs. Look for him to save around 40 games, but finish less than 62. The Nationals will likely use Storen here and there to avoid Soriano’s vesting option, as he’s owed a lot of money. It could also give Storen a chance to recapture the job for the following season.
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