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What New Nationals Closer Rafael Soriano Means To The Atlanta Braves

braves bullpenThe Atlanta Braves have one of the best bullpens in baseball. New addition Jordan Walden is a flamethrower and former closer who effectively compliments lefties Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty in their effort to set up for all-world closer Craig Kimbrel. In the arms race that is the NL East this season, it seemed like Atlanta had the edge in the bullpen department. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals inked closer Rafael Soriano to a 2 year $28 million deal. Let’s be clear, this is entirely too much money. Soriano doesn’t deserve to be the single highest paid reliever in baseball. But he is really, really good. Last season, filling in on short notice for Mariano Rivera, Soriano saved 42 games and posted a 2.26 ERA. Two years prior, with Tampa, Soriano saved a league leading 45 games and had a Kimbrel-esque 1.73 ERA. He is a top notch closer and his presence dramatically improves the Nationals bullpen and their team.

The two key guys at the back end of the Nats ‘pen have been Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. Clippard usually sets up for Storen though it worked the other way around last season as Storen was recovering from injury. Now, with Soriano, both Storen and Clippard become the closer-caliber set up men generally not seen outside of Atlanta. While this may take some adjusting for those two guys, from the team’s perspective, it couldn’t be much better. Now, if anyone struggles or goes down, there are two other qualified and experienced pitchers ready to step up.

What does this mean for the Braves? Well, it means that Washington is all in.

We already knew the Nats were willing to spend money to improve their club but now we know that they are willing to be one of the biggest spenders in the game in order to win.  It should be noted that some of the Soriano money has been deferred suggesting that the Nationals reserve (Get it… like Federal Reserve) might be running out.

Atlanta is in a tough spot. In almost any other division, they’d likely be the favorites. I think that the Bravos would be the best team in both the AL and NL Central divisions. However, in the NL East, they significantly trail the Nationals. This winter, Washington added Dan Haren, Denard Span and Rafael Soriano to a team that won 95 games last season. Yes, they lost Edwin Jackson and his 4.03 ERA, but that’s not that big of a loss.  They have a full season of Bryce Harper ahead of them and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman if everything goes right.

The Braves added BJ Upton, a big piece, but they lost Chipper Jones, the team leader and one of its most productive players. And Michael Bourn is still unsigned.

Washington has 9 starters for 8 spots in the lineup. I wrote the other day about how Michael Morse is the odd man out and could be traded. Meanwhile, Atlanta doesn’t know who is going to play left field.

Worse for the Braves is that this shows no signs of slowing up. Washington is young, they’re deep, and they have money. This feels more like the beginning of a dominant organization than a one or two year wonder. As a Braves fan, that’s a little scary. In order to make the real playoffs, the Braves might need an excellent team and a whole lot of luck to move past that crazy Wild Card game for a few years.

As a baseball fan, this is great. I’d love to watch two talented, well-run teams with some of the best players in the game duke it out for the next decade. Sounds like fun.

-Max Frankel

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