Jan 16

Soriano Has Nationals Thinking Title In NL East

Not that the bullpen-needy Mets would have made a play for Rafael Soriano anyway, but the Washington Nationals’ acquisition of the Yankees’ 2012 insurance policy has them as the sexy pick to win the NL East.

It isn’t as if they needed much make-up after winning 98 games last season, but Soriano strengthens an already strong bullpen stronger. For his $28-million, two-year deal, Soriano will close, but the Nationals also have Drew Storen – their once closer-in-waiting – and Tyler Clippard, who saved 32 games last year, for late in the game.

The Mets, the only team not to sign a free-agent this winter, kicked the tires on Brian Wilson, who after Tommy John surgery, would be a gamble. Their closer is Frank Francisco, who ended last season with arm problems.

The Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, is adept at juggling a bullpen, although he was helpless as his pen blew a six-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. That might have been the gnawing feeling that prompted them to sign Soriano.

The Nationals already upgraded with the acquisitions of starter Dan Haren and outfielder Denard Span. Washington also expects Stephen Strasburg to work at least 200 innings. Perhaps they learned from last summer’s mistake and will pace him out better.

Washington alienated a lot of people last year when they shut-down Strasburg, giving the impression they’ll make the playoffs every season. It’s not that easy, and the Nationals are showing that with what they’ve done this winter. One thing for sure, they won’t be a surprise this year.

The Braves won’t have Chipper Jones, but added outfielder B.J. Upton to their offense. They won 94 games last summer.

Philadelphia added outfielder Ben Revere and expect to have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley for the entire season. They should better last year’s 81 wins.

It appears the Mets will be competing with Miami to stay out of the cellar, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

That Nationals are building the right way, with a mix of drafting, trades and free-agent signings. With today’s economics, a team must be strong at all three phases, which the top three teams in the NL East have shown.

The Mets are putting their eggs in the farm-system basket, which is traditionally the way to go, and still is the foundation. However, they don’t have all the farm pieces to go the whole route, as they can’t fill out their roster with them or use them to trade.

The Mets also don’t have major league pieces they can trade without opening up additional holes.

As far as free-agency is concerned, they are balking on giving Scott Hairston – who hit 20 homers for them last year – a two-year deal.

The last time they had a good mix was 2007, the summer they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. They also blew a late lead in 2008, the last time they had a winning season.

That seemed like such a long time ago.