Washington Nationals get: RP Rafael Soriano
Rafael Soriano gets: 2 years, $28 million (with a third year vesting option for $14 million)
What difference a month can make--just a month ago, the hot stove was chugging hot enough to warm even the coldest Steinbrenner brother heart. The week of December 13th, Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Kevin Youkilis, Anibal Sanchez and Ryan Dempster were signed, and R.A. Dickey, Shin Soo Choo and James Shields were traded.
Fast forward to the week of January 13th--the transaction front couldn't be more stagnant. Still, three prominent free agents were orbiting the periphery: starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, center fielder Michael Bourn and reliever Rafael Soriano. Today, the Washington Nationals made sure that Lohse and Bourn would be the lone two at the top.
Soriano signed a massive two year pact, with a third year option that will vest with 120 games pitched over the first two seasons (he's averaged 67 over his career and 63 over his last five seasons), bringing together a potential three year, $42 million dollar deal. Any way you cut it, this is a solid contract for any pitcher, let alone a reliever.
As for the Nationals, you might very well be staring straight at the best bullpen in the National League. The World Champion Giants (Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Jose Mijares) and Arizona Diamondbacks (J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Heath Bell and Brad Ziegler) certainly have their cases, but in terms of pure power, no bullpen besides the division rivals Atlanta Braves (Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden and Eric O'Flaherty) comes close. The Nats will trot out flamethrowers Tyler Clippard (3.72 ERA, 84 K's in 72.2 innings, 32 saves), Drew Storen (2.37 ERA, 24 K's in 30 innings) and Henry Rodriguez (career 9.8 K/9) in front of their new closer, who dominated in the AL East last season for the Yankees. Soriano blew out 69 batters in 67 innings, with 42 saves and a 2.29 ERA, all while stepping seamlessly into the shoes of Mariano Rivera, who tore his ACL in April during a pre-game batting practice session. The over-reactive New York media market howled at the notion of losing their Hall of Fame closer, asking non-rhetorical questions like "Is the Season Bombed?!?" with more rhetoric than wonderment. By July, every question was squelched as Soriano finished game after game without any cause for hesistation. The District's new closer brings a comforting calmness to what could be an otherwise mentally, though not physically, over-matched Nats' bullpen.
The Yankees here are the real losers, watching a National League team steal away yet another key piece to a 95 win team. Rivera has signed up for what should be his final season in pinstripes, but headlines a New York bullpen with a ton of question marks. Behind Mo is the solid David Robertson, but not much else. Joba Chamberlain could be the seventh inning guy, if he can stop mini-trampolines from devouring his lower extremities or prevent every opposing hitter from becoming Josh Hamilton. David Aardsma was fantastic two years ago in Seattle, but after a hip and elbow surgery that's limited him to one major league game over that time span, there's no telling how much he'll be able to give the team next year. David Phelps is the long man, and a good one at that, but could be shifted to the rotation should Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes implode like a million year-old star system or Andy Pettitte gets injured again (and at age 40, it wouldn't be unexpected). Clay Rapada and Boone Logan round out the pen as situational lefties, which is a deceiving job description, seeing as they're merely both lefties that suck in any situation.
The problem with the Yankees 'pen is that beyond Rivera and Robertson, there's no real power there. Chamberlain's injuries have turned him into a location pitcher without any dynamic bite. The very same could happen to Aardsma, a former power pitcher, who's undergone a similar swath of injury. Finesse is nice, but come the postseason, every team needs a couple relievers that can just blow the opposition away. All in all, I wouldn't be surprised if by October, Rivera and Robertson remain as the only relievers on the roster from opening day.
The Yankees have several problems going into opening day, most prominently an offense that forgot how take a pitch, but without Soriano, add a big check mark right next to "bullpen". They seem to have worked their way towards being the inverse of Washington: a young, dynamic rotation including Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann (along with new import Dan Haren), and a powerful, solid relief corps.