Yankees closer Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract yesterday and hits the free agent market likely to become one of the highest-paid relievers in baseball.
After Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in May, some questioned whether the New York Yankees would be able to replace his production at the back end of their bullpen. Regardless of how you feel about the closer role, Soriano stepped in admirably and had a great 2012 season, racking up 42 saves. Yesterday, he opted out of his contract with the Yankees, hoping to get a long-term deal on the open market.
With plenty of uncertainty surrounding the 9th inning role for the Tigers -- is it even appropriate to call it the closer's role at this point? -- Soriano would be a pricey but effective way of shoring up the void left by the departing Jose Valverde.
Who is he?
Soriano, a 32 year old Dominican reliever, pitched for the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves before breaking out with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. This isn't to say that he wasn't effective with the Mariners and Braves -- he has a 2.78 ERA and has struck out over a batter per inning for his entire career -- but like so many others recently, he put up a career-best ERA and save total with the Rays before signing with the Yankees prior to the 2011 season. He struggled with his command in a set-up role in 2011, walking 4.12 batters per 9 innings. However, he fixed whatever ailed him prior to this season, pitching his way to a 2.26 ERA in 67 2/3 innings.
Why should we care?
Just about any major league reliever can string together a successful season or two, but Soriano has been one of the most consistent (and consistently underrated) relievers in baseball. He has pitched at least 60 innings with an ERA of 3.00 or lower in five of the last seven seasons and is a proven strikeout reliever, fanning 527 hitters in 502 career innings. Since 2005, he has an ERA of 2.64 and a WHIP of 1.029. He is also effective against left-handed hitters. While not perfect, he has allowed them to hit just .233/.309/.395 throughout his career. Last season, lefties hit .221/.316/.397 in 155 plate appearances.
Why should we stay away?
Money. The Los Angeles Dodgers set the market by signing Brandon League to a 3 year, $22.5 million contract. Soriano, who was better than League in just about every meaningful statistical category, will definitely be purchasing a Christmas card for Dodgers GM Ned Coletti. With the contract that he can now command, Soriano will be able to pay someone to go pick out said Christmas card for him. Oh, and he's a Scott Boras client.
Additionally, the Tigers would have to give up their first round pick for Soriano, per the new collective bargaining agreement's free agent compensation rules -- that's a link to Fangraphs, not the actual CBA, FYI. With the Tigers missing out on a first round pick last year due to the Prince Fielder signing, it would be nice if they could avoid doing so again in 2013 in what is rumored to be a pretty shallow draft pool.
The traditional "relievers are volatile creatures who cannot be trusted from year to year" clause applies here as well, though it's tough to be more consistent than what Soriano has shown so far in his career.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I wouldn't bank on it, but crazier things have happened. Someone will probably overpay for Soriano's services -- think Jonathan Papelbon money -- and the Tigers aren't looking for bullpen help just yet. If Soriano ends up in Detroit next season, it's because his demands got so exorbitant that teams stayed away until Dave Dombrowski wooed him and his agent into signing a cheap one year deal just before Spring Training. While some think he will end up back in New York, I wouldn't be surprised to see a team with a top-10 protected draft pick make a strong play for Soriano -- looking at you, Boston Red Sox.