Nationals: All In

The Washington Nationals are all in.

Today they agreed to sign Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal (three links).
What would make a team with a duo of competent closing options (Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard) acquire a closer who’s tied to draft pick compensation?

Well, if they’re looking for those last few pieces to make the World Series.

Earlier this offseason, the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Twins, essentially giving them four start-able outfielders. There was speculation as to whether the Nationals would trade Mike Morse or move him to first if Adam LaRoche left.

When they resigned LaRoche, it put Morse in limbo; however, don’t be too surprised if they keep him.
Morse would be fantastic insurance for an injury to one of the outfielders (Jayson Werth has been injured a few times) or LaRoche. He could also play first when the Nats are facing a lefty.

For these reasons, the Nationals would be best advised to only trade Morse for the right deal. They need to be impressed by the offer before trading Morse. The 30-year old is only a year removed from 31 home runs, and is a right-handed power bat – a rare commodity in the current market.

Edit: The Nationals did end up trading Morse in a three-team deal for three prospects including A.J. Cole, whom they sent to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year.

Without Span or Soriano, the Nationals won the NL East – and 98 games in the regular season – in 2012. But almost any team that wins its division after years of underachievement is looking for more.

Though the team is short a dependable left-handed reliever, it has a solid rotation, eight seven proven position players, and now three pitchers capable of closing. This looks like a team trying to go somewhere now.

Having said all that, the 2013 Nationals remind me of a few recent teams that made postseason runs:

1. The 2003 Marlins

The Marlins went all in and won the World Series, similar to their 1997 team.
They relied a lot on homegrown talent, and after the victory, they couldn’t afford to hold onto their players. They went into all-sell mode to rebuild again.

This doesn’t seem a fair comparison because the Nationals’ success has been on the other side of rebuilding a new stadium (2008 opening). Additionally, the Nationals have more money to spend than the Marlins ever have.
Take the front end of the 2003 Marlins team – the talent coming together at the right time – and you’ve captured the main part of the similarities.

2. The 2007-2011 Phillies

Through the later part of the ‘aughts, the Phillies built their team around a core of players like Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. The team continued to get better overall and they built their talent up to a 102-win season in 2011. Ironically, though, they only managed to capture the trophy on the front end of this stretch in 2008, because they were the hottest team at the end of the year.

This is more of a fair comparison. The Nationals are accruing talent like these Phillies teams did, also accruing a larger fanbase and more revenue, also on the other side of a new stadium (Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004).

Depending on how some of the younger players develop, though, the Nationals could be a staying power for a number of years – unlike the Phillies, whose core were already in their prime. For just a few examples, Stephen Strasburg is 24 and Bryce Harper is only 20. If the Nats play it right and have some of these players during their prime years of production, they could be well worth their money.

The youth and talent of the 2013 Nationals plays very much into their favor. The race for the NL East will be a fight – a fight the Nationals look to be a part of for years to come.