Thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, the bullpen has moved from a strength for the Chicago Cubs to a weakness. This weakness has caused manager Joe Maddon to spend a lot of time tinkering and placed a lot of his players in roles that they are not suited for. With the offense improved, getting on base and providing more timely hits to keep the club in ballgames, the front office has made it no secret that improving their bullpen is a top priority.
Recently, the team traded catcher Welington Castillo for RHP Yoervis Medina from the Mariners in an effort to do so. Another name popping up on the rumor mill as an option for the Cubs is former Washington Nationals closer RHP Rafael Soriano. Let’s take a look at Soriano and what it may cost to add him to the bullpen.
On paper, Soriano looks to be still a viable option. In 64 games, he compiled a 4-1 record, 32 saves, 59 strikeouts in 62 innings and a 3.19 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP. However, Soriano was a different pitcher in the second half managing a putrid 6.48 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP versus a 0.97 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in the first half. The falloff caused Soriano to lose his closer job in September to Drew Storen who was lights out and put Soriano on the free agent market where he has stayed unemployed.
So why have teams stayed away from Soriano?
His age at 35 is definitely a concern, but many relievers are able to stick it out as they move closer to 40 as long as they are still able to consistently make outs. Fellow closer Francisco Rodriguez nabbed a twi-year year, $13 million deal with the Brewers at 33 and Pat Neshek earned a two-year, $12.5 million deal at 34, so deals were to be had for his age group.
His agent is Scott Boras and if you’ve paid attention to baseball in the past few years, Boras is one of the harder agents to deal with. Players gravitate towards him as he gets top dollar for his clients as evidenced by countless deals where a player signs with a team you didn’t even know was interested and for way more money than anyone could have imagined. Bearing this in mind, it’s possible that Soriano has been looking for that last big multi-year pay day to end his career on. After all, in his last deal, Soriano made $11 million per year.
Teams are likely wary to spend top dollar on a reliever who has some questioning if he can’t get hitters out consistently in the majors anymore. He’s had interest from teams like the Blue Jays, Twins, Mariners, Tigers and Marlins most recently, but none have pulled the trigger. The Marlins were the most recent suitor due to struggles by their closer Steve Cishek, but pulled out citing that he wasn’t much of an upgrade over their current options, which if true, probably gives any other teams pause.
So if the Cubs are serious with Rafael Soriano as a potential option, what would the cost be?
With Boras as his agent, they are likely going to have to spend more than they normally would and don’t have a lot of leverage thanks to a bullpen that has pitched to a 4.20 ERA. Recent closer deals in Soriano’s age group have included the aforementioned Rodriguez deal averaging $6.5 million over two years, Fernando Rodney averaging $7 million over two years and Grant Balfour averaging $6 million over two years. Both Balfour and Rodney signed their deals at age 36.
With those contracts in mind, it’s likely that Boras and Soriano are looking at $6 million a year as a minimum and it’s possible that Soriano might be holding out for two years. It’s unlikely that the front office would be interested in giving Soriano a multi-year deal and probably don’t really want to pay the $6 million either.
However, they may go the route of what Minnesota did last year for first baseman Kendrys Morales, signing for a pro-rated $12 million one year deal worth about $7.5 million. Morales, who had a loss of a draft pick tied to him due to declining a qualifying offer from the Mariners had to wait until June to sign to keep teams from giving up their first round draft pick. Soriano was not extended a qualifying offer, but that’s likely the kind of deal he would accept.
It all comes down to with Rafael Soriano and the Cubs if the team feels he can still be effective and he’s worth the money. Players like Jason Motte and Phil Coke have been failed signings while Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood have not shown they can be trusted in high leverage situations. A shortened bullpen with little options may ultimately force the Cubs hand.
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