Not all buy-low candidates are coming off injuries or horrible seasons. Rafael Soriano lost his closer job with the Washington Nationals last season, but still finished the season with some solid numbers. However, his late season struggles were costly, as the Nats declined his $14 million option for the 2015 season. Now a free agent, Soriano may not even see that amount of money on a multi-year contract. Does this make him a fit for the Tigers?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Soriano will be 35 on Opening Day in 2015, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the better relievers in baseball over the past few seasons. He has a 2.84 ERA and 3.36 FIP since 2012 with 117 saves in 134 opportunities. One could consider him a late bloomer, as he didn't really make a name for himself until a dominant year with the Atlanta Braves in 2009, his age 29 season. He followed that up with the best season of his career while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, allowing a 1.73 ERA in 62 1/3 innings. After a two year stop in New York, Soriano spent the last two years with the Nationals, where he allowed a 3.15 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 128 2/3 innings.
Why should we care?
Soriano has found success as a closer over the past few years, but he has been remarkably consistent in any bullpen role for nearly a decade. He allowed a 2.25 ERA in 60 innings with the Seattle Mariners in 2006, his first full season in the big leagues. Since then, Soriano has allowed a 3.19 ERA or better in seven of the previous eight seasons. He has pitched 60 innings or more in seven of the past nine years, and has avoided any elbow or shoulder troubles since 2008.
Soriano's FIP has been higher than his ERA on a fairly consistent basis, but that does not mean that his peripheral numbers are lacking. He has put together a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.0 or better in six of the past nine seasons, with a seventh at 2.88 in 2012. He has struck out over a batter per inning in his career, and has generally avoided command issues for long stretches.
Why should we stay away?
Soriano's fastball velocity hasn't hit a brick wall like Joe Nathan's has, but it is starting to decline. Soriano averaged 91-92 miles per hour on the heater in 2014, down from the 93 miles per hour he has averaged throughout his career. This hasn't changed how Soriano attacks hitters, though. Soriano is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, and was still able to generate a 13.6 percent whiff rate on the fastball in 2014. This sounds like a good thing, but that whiff rate was unusually high for him, and he could be due for some sharp regression as his velocity continues to decline.
The second half of Soriano's 2014 season is also a concern. He allowed a 6.48 ERA and 4.05 FIP in the second half last year, eventually losing the closer job to Drew Storen. Opposing batters hit .305/.359/.505 off Soriano in the second half, resulting in a 1.60 WHIP. He was still able to tally 23 strikeouts to eight walks during this stretch, but 14 extra base hits allowed in 25 innings is a big concern.
Will he end up in Detroit?
While Soriano is due for a sharp drop in salary in 2015, he is still going to make more than the Tigers would ideally like to spend. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Soriano will earn a two year, $12 million contract, likely with a team that will give him a chance to close. However, he strikes me as a player that could slip through the cracks, especially if other teams are similarly wary of his second half. If the calendar turns over to 2015 and Soriano is still unemployed, the Tigers could rejoin the hunt for his services.