Nationals 2013: The goal: From good to great

Additions of Span, Haren, Soriano made with taking next step in mind

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“I was moving on with my life and career,” he said.

The second move almost didn’t happen. Dan Haren felt like his 21/2 years with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were about to end after last season. That’s where the complications, as the laid-back Southern California native calls them, began.

A low back strain harangued the onetime ace much of the year and landed him on the 15-day disabled list. He managed 1762/3 innings (that broke a string of pitching at least 216 innings each season since 2005), but velocity dropped. Haren’s fastball dipped from the low 90s to 88.5 miles per hour. Same with his cutter and curveball. All down.

The Angels weren’t going to pick up his $15 million option. Haren tries not to think about this much. He wanted to return to the area where he grew up in a Los Angeles suburb and played at Pepperdine University in Malibu. A last-minute deal to send him to the Chicago Cubs for Carlos Marmol fell through. So, the Angels bought out Haren’s contract for $3.5 million and he became a free agent.

A short-term contract to re-establish his value was the plan.

“Last year didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” Haren said. “I’ve got to go out and prove I’m healthy, and who knows what’ll happen next year.”

The Nationals made a competitive offer, $13 million for one year that Haren agreed to Dec. 7 without so much as a recruiting trip to Washington. He liked being able to slide into a rotation stacked with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. Nobody would lean on Haren to be the No. 1. And, most importantly, the Nationals were poised to win. The idea of moving cross-country was the toughest part.

“He’s healthy. And if he’s healthy, look out,” said Kurt Suzuki, who caught Haren with the Oakland Athletics in 2007. “He’s a special type of pitcher.”

That’s the gamble, bringing on a pitcher with a No. 1’s ability to replace the strong-armed but inconsistent Edwin Jackson at the back of the rotation. If Haren’s back and arm return to the form of previous seasons, the Nationals have an unabashed bargain without the long-term payroll entanglement a free agent like Zack Greinke would’ve brought.

The 32-year-old Haren may be the rotation’s old man, but he didn’t come here to mentor young pitchers. He’s adamant about that. There’s nothing he thinks he can teach them.

So, Haren reclines at his locker between Gonzalez and Strasburg, far from home, but looking as if he already belongs.

The third move shocked. With established closers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen on the roster, signing Soriano on Jan. 17 to fill that job strengthened a strength. That’s how Rizzo put it.

Drawing a line from the cold October night at Nationals Park when heavy plastic sheets hung in the team’s clubhouse to shield the inevitable beer-and-Champagne deluge after the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series to Soriano’s addition is understandable. One strike away from ending the game and Pete Kozma’s stadium-silencing two-run single and Storen stunned at his locker next to the tarps that couldn’t be removed in time.

But the Nationals insist the two-year, $28 million deal (half is deferred; there’s a team option for 2015, too) isn’t a reaction to last season ending abruptly enough to produce whiplash. No, the move is a luxury to deepen a bullpen that limited batters to a .231 average last season. While Clippard scuffled in the second half of a season during which he piled up 32 saves, the bullpen’s earned run average, strikeouts per nine innings and walks didn’t change much in two fewer innings than the first half.

“To me, I think every team find something that they need,” Soriano said. “They think they need the closer, the veteran that can help the young guy and they picked me for that situation and I’m so happy that they did.”

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