According to David Ortiz, Rafael Soriano deserves to be signed to a five-year contract this winter. While Soriano is enjoying a fantastic season for the Tampa Bay Rays, he probably shouldn't hold out hope for a B.J. Ryan-esque deal. That doesn't mean, however, that Soriano won't be one of the most interesting free agents on the market this winter.
A year ago, Soriano unexpectedly accepted an arbitration offer from the Braves, since he and his agent were worried the right-hander's Type A designation would make teams reluctant to give up two draft picks to sign him. The Braves, who added Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to their bullpen, had no room in their budget for Soriano and dealt him to the Rays. This year, Soriano is in a similar situation; not only is he projected to be a Type A again, but his 91.232 Elias score currently ranks him ahead of every major free agent, including Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth.
Of course, barring a late-season collapse, Soriano will be coming off a campaign even more impressive than his 2009. His strikeout rate has dipped a little, but his ERA (1.82) and WHIP (0.79) have improved significantly, and those 43 saves won't hurt his stock either. The 30-year-old seems more likely to turn down arbitration and pursue a multi-year deal this time around, which puts Tampa Bay in a win-win situation. If Soriano accepts arbitration, he would be a valuable trade chip for the cost-cutting Rays. If the righty turns down arbitration, the Rays could be looking at not only a sandwich pick, but a first round selection as well, given his Elias ranking. If a club with an unprotected first round pick signed both Soriano and Victor Martinez, for instance, that team would be sending their first rounder to the Rays, rather than the Red Sox.
Last winter, Fernando Rodney and Jose Valverde signed two-year guarantees worth $11.5MM and $14MM respectively. Rodney earned his contract in part due to a gaudy save total (37), while Valverde earned his due to impressive ratios (2.33 ERA, 9.3 K/9). Not only has Soriano bested Rodney's save count and many of Valverde's peripherals this year, but he'll also be younger than either right-hander was when they signed their deals.
So what sort of contract could Soriano command this winter? Even if his multiple elbow surgeries make some suitors wary, Soriano's consecutive healthy, effective seasons should earn him a lucrative multi-year pact. The 30-year-old should at least receive a two-year offer worth $18MM or so, and he could end up doing even better than that. Especially if Ortiz lands a general manager job.