As the final countdown to spring training arrives, we're counting down the five biggest storylines facing the Nationals in Viera. We start today with spring storyline No. 5: The new-look bullpen... The Nationals had one of baseball's best bullpens last season, a deep, talented and balanced group that featured two capable closers, one of the best left-handers in the game, a couple up-and-coming right-handers, a veteran lefty and a reliable long man. And general manager Mike Rizzo had the ability to keep that entire unit intact, if he was willing to spend the money necessary to retain everyone. Rizzo, though, didn't feel like his three lefties (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny) were worth the contracts each stood to receive either via free agency or arbitration. So all three were left to sign elsewhere, creating an obvious dearth of southpaws in this team's bullpen. Rizzo did make overtures to a few other available left-handers on the market, most notably J.P. Howell, but in the end decided none were worth it and so instead spent his money on the one thing the Nationals didn't seem to need: Another closer. Last month's signing of Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal -- that number is a bit misleading because half of his salary is deferred way down the road -- took everyone by surprise, headlined by the man who suddenly lost his job pitching in the ninth inning. "It kind of caught me off guard, but there is no doubt that he is going to make the team better, you can't argue with that," Drew Storen said. "It makes the team better, so that's what I'm concerned about. It doesn't make my job any different. I've still got to control what I can control and get guys out; it doesn't matter what inning it is." The Soriano signing does give the Nationals as good of a late-inning trio as you'll find in the majors, with Storen and Tyler Clippard setting up the new closer, but it also creates an entirely new dynamic in what had been a close-knit and highly successful bullpen.
Spring storylines: Revamped bullpen
CSN Washington | Feb 7