April 19, 2014

Are Nationals Trying to Launch Death Star?

January 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Raphael Soriano became one of the elite late inning pitchers with Tampa Bay in 2010 when he posted 42 saves and a 1.73 ERA. At the end of that season, the Yankees signed him for two years as the ostensible heir to Mariano Rivera–no small complement.

Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel might be the best and Fernando Rodney had the best season for any closer in 2012, but Soriano is about as dependable in the ninth inning when the game is on the line as anyone. But who saw him becoming a National for 2013? Owner Ted Lerner evidently did. Now Soriano is on-board as Washington’s closer heading into 2013.

A pitching staff headed by Stephen Strasburg and deep in talent now has one of the best closers in the game at the back end. It is as if the Nationals have launched the ultimate Death Star with no defensive vulnerability.

After the signing of Adam LaRoche there did not seem to be much drama left. A trade of Michael Morse seemed in the offing, but he would not bring back any big names and so it seemed like time to make reservations for Spring Training in Florida.

But Ted Lerner, apparently even more than Mike Rizzo, was troubled by the recurring nightmare of Drew Storen’s late inning meltdown in Game Five of the LDS. It was an exploitable flaw that ate at him until Scott Boras called about Raphael Soriano and the Nationals jumped to seal off the last perceivable weakness in the design.

Since being drafted in 2009 there has been no reason not to like Drew Storen. He signed almost the day after he was drafted that year and twelve months later he was in the majors with an eye on the closer’s job that he landed before by August of the 2010 season.  And since taking over that role, he has gotten better every year.

Still, he will start the 2013 season as a 25-year old and while Storen has been very, very good as a late inning reliever, asking him to close for a team that is hungry for a World Championship may be ambitious beyond reason. That appears to be the thinking of the Nationals brain trust.

Does Drew Storen become a set-up man for Soriano along with Tyler Clippard? It would be a dream bullpen, one worthy of a Death Star. But as a betting man, I believe that the chances are that he will close for someone else in 2013. If Raphael Soriano’s contract were a one-year deal, then sure, this is a stop gap measure for Storen to learn from a master. Soriano’s deal however, could extend his stay here in DC through the 2015

The Nationals have been willing to trade Storen previously. He was widely sought after his break through season in 2011 and rumored to be part of a deal with Minnesota for Denard Span. That deal never happened. Yet it signals that Washington is willing to consider trading their young closer-in-waiting.

So put Michael Morse and Drew Storen in similar positions of limbo. Storen has considerable value to a team looking for a late inning reliever who could mature into a dominant closer.

Will it be a mega deal? Will Storen go with Michael Morse to restock the Nationals minor league organization or does he become a key part of a Death Star defense that is without weakness? Just when the off-season looked like a ho-hum deal, now there are questions to tantalize. Just when things get quiet, boom!! There is a sudden change that re-writes the 2013 script in ways no one saw coming.

The one thing that has become a dead cinch certainty is that the Nationals will surprise and excite. The 2013 season looks like the launch of something important. Death Star or not, Washington is shaping up as a tough foe for which National League teams will need an Obi-wan to search its weaknesses.

 

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