Rafael Soriano Rumors

Cubs Release Edwin Jackson

JULY 27: Jackson has been officially released, tweets MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat.

JULY 19: The Cubs have designated Edwin Jackson for assignment, tweets Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The club has recalled reliever Rafael Soriano in a corresponding move.

Coming off of a four-season run in which he carried a 3.98 ERA over 812 2/3 frames, Jackson signed a four-year, $52MM contract with Chicago prior to the 2013 campaign. That move constituted the first real indication that the Cubs were prepared again to open their wallet.

As things stand now, Jackson hits DFA limbo while still owed the balance of his $11MM salary this season along with $11MM next year. That makes for a total future commitment of $15.63MM, per Wittenmyer.

Rather than serving as a sturdy number three or four option for the now-contending club, as might have been hoped, Jackson entered this year as a marginal roster candidate after posting a 6.33 ERA in 2014. The Cubs moved Jackson to the bullpen, and he has been better in a long relief capacity, carrying a 3.19 ERA and 6.68 K/9 against 3.48 BB/9. His velocity has also jumped back to 94.2 mph.

All said, there’s good reason to believe that Jackson still possesses a major league arm, and he’s likely to get another shot in relatively short order. But he has delivered nothing close to the value his salary demands, and it’s inconceivable that another team will grab him off the wire. Assuming that Jackson clears waivers, rejects an outright assignment, and hits the open market, the Cubs will only be lined up to save (at most) the pro-rated portion of the league minimum salary this year and next.

Chicago, then, is all but certain to remain on the hook for most of the $15MM and change remaining on Jackson’s deal. For the over fifty million invested, the team received a composite contribution of 347 innings of 5.37 ERA pitching (with 7.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9). The empty $11MM hit that Jackson represents for 2016 is hardly crippling, but does represent a notable impediment to an organization that seems likely to be tabbed with big expectations next year.

While the Cubs might otherwise have had cause to hold onto Jackson, the team has also been utilizing another deposed starter — Travis Wood — in a long relief role. Of the two, Wood is younger, cheaper, and has performed better (2.59 ERA in 17 relief appearances). As such, Jackson was viewed as expendable despite solid numbers.

Interestingly, Jackson’s contract has served as something of a template for several starting pitching deals struck in the ensuing offseasons. So far, none of those signings — Ricky Nolasco & Ervin Santana (Twins), Matt Garza (Brewers), Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles), and Brandon McCarthy (Dodgers) — has really worked out as hoped, though there’s plenty of time left for assessment.

Soriano, meanwhile, was signed as a free agent on June 12 for a pro-rated $4.1MM with $4MM in incentives. He’ll serve to further bolster an increasingly deep Cubs bullpen. Jason Motte has filled in as the team’s closer in recent weeks, but it stands to reason that Soriano could factor into the late innings too.

The 35-year-old languished on the market after an up and down 2014 campaign. But he ultimately joined the Cubs last month on a deal that will pay him the pro-rated portion of a $4.1MM annual salary (plus incentives).

Since joining the organization, Soriano has yet to allow an earned run over seven minor league appearances. In 630 career innings, he has racked up 207 saves, a 2.85 ERA, 9.09 K/9, and 2.80 BB/9. Soriano spent most of the 2014 season as the Nationals closer before giving way to Drew Storen late in the season. He has 27 or more saves in five of the last six seasons.


NL Central Notes: Reds, Parra, Soriano, Alvarez

The Reds have opened the doors on a fire sale, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Todd Frazier will stay put. Billy Hamilton probably isn’t going anywhere. Most others are probably on the table. Fay expects at least four players to be traded, presumably Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and Marlon Byrd as a starting point. Others like Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Skip Schumaker are also expected to be shopped. The Reds are seven games below .500 and 15.5 games back in the NL Central. It’s probably too late for a rebound.

Here’s more news out of the NL Central:

  • Gerardo Parra‘s strong play has all but ensured that he’ll be traded by the Brewers, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Parra is in the midst of a career season, hitting .311/.345/.502 with nine home runs and six stolen bases. Known for fantastic defense, he’s actually struggled this year per Ultimate Zone Rating (-9.8 UZR). Still, plenty of playoff teams have need of a high average, left-handed outfielder.
  • Cubs manager Joe Maddon said reliever Rafael Soriano might be “up sooner than planned,” tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Soriano was signed on June 12. He has a career 2.85 ERA and 207 saves in 630 innings. The Cubs have manufactured a pseudo-closer battle. They demoted Hector Rondon from the role earlier in the summer despite solid production. The club also recently called up Neil Ramirez – another candidate for saves.
  • The Pirates would probably like to de-emphasize Pedro Alvarez, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The former third baseman has continued his defensive ineptitude at first base with 15 errors. He’s also offered a .233/.299/.424 slash which is well below average for a first baseman. Unfortunately, the Pirates will have to look outside of the organization to move beyond Alvarez. Adam Lind is probably the most notable first baseman on the trade market. If the Pirates get creative, they could also try a three-team swap for Jon Singleton. Typically, Pittsburgh will look for fringier options like Chris Parmelee. We heard earlier this evening that the Orioles may soon designate Parmelee for assignment.

NL Central Notes: Pirates Targets, Soriano, Kirby

The Pirates would like to add a player or two prior the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, writes Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. First base and right field are the two most obvious areas of need, where the Bucs could at the very least use platoon partners for Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco. Biertempfel again mentions both Ben Revere and Jeff Francoeur as potential fits, though Revere would seem more likely to supplant Polanco than platoon with him (both are left-handed, although Revere does actually hit lefties better than righties). In addition to those two offensive positions, the Pirates have been scouting big league starters and bullpen depth. Pittsburgh has “checked out” the Diamondbacks, writes Biertempfel, noting that both Addison Reed and Jeremy Hellickson are known to be available. (He does not, seemingly, indicate that there have been any actual discussions regarding those players, however.) Biertempfel also notes that the Pirates have previously had interest in Adam Lind, Scott Kazmir and Dan Haren, each of whom could be on the block.

Here’s more on the Pirates and their division…

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington feels that his team is in a good position because it doesn’t have one glaring hole and a subsequent need to overpay in order to fill that hole, writes Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. However, upgrading the back end of the rotation may come with the risk, if not the likelihood of losing Vance Worley or Jeff Locke. Brink feels that the team is unlikely to move either starter to the bullpen if an upgrade is acquired — he points out that the Bucs elected to trade Clayton Richard rather than place him in the ‘pen — and since both Worley and Locke are out of options, they’d have to be exposed to waivers.
  • The Cubs have promoted right-hander Rafael Soriano to Triple-A as he continues to ramp up and prepare to join the team in the second half, writes MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. Soriano debuted with Triple-A Iowa last night, allowing one hit but striking out the side. The strong performance continued a nice run through the team’s minor league system; Soriano has fired six scoreless innings with a 7-to-3 K/BB ratio between Double-A and Triple-A. Signed to a minor league deal with a $4MM base salary (he’ll receive the pro-rated version of that for time spent on the MLB roster) plus incentives, Soriano could be a factor in the Cubs’ bullpen in the near future.
  • Today is the deadline to sign picks from the 2015 draft, and while there’s been no reported agreement between the Brewers and No. 40 overall selection Nathan Kirby, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel hears (Twitter link) that the team still expects to sign the Virgina left-hander. Kirby was at one time a consideration to go in the top five to 10 picks, but a severe lat strain submarined his stock.
  • Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently penned an overview of the NL Central as we prepare to enter peak trade season. Miklasz runs down each club’s needs, as well as their most desirable trade chips (looking at prospects, among the buying clubs and Major Leaguers among the sellers).


NL Central Notes: Cubs, Soriano, Ramirez

The Cubs have shifted from developing players to playing for the win, writes Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The eye-opening moment came last week when manager Joe Maddon removed closer Hector Rondon from the ninth inning of a 5-4 game. Now the club is going with a closer-by-committee approach – a familiar tactic from Maddon’s days in Tampa Bay. Maddon himself confirms that he prefers to have a set closer – it makes his job easier. However, doing the best thing for the club is a positive wake up call for the entire roster.

Here’s more from the senior circuit’s central division:

  • Maddon says that recently signed reliever Rafael Soriano may not reach the majors until around the All-Star break, tweets MLB.com’s Bruce Levine. Before he can shake off the rust in the minors, Soriano must obtain a visa. As we learned on Friday, the reliever can opt out of his deal if he’s not on the active roster by the All-Star Game. He’ll earn a pro-rated $4.1MM base salary with up to $4MM in incentives. Additional visa delays could have implications for his salary and opt-out clause.
  • Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez does not have a no trade clause, but he’s not letting trade rumors affect him, reports Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. Ramirez has hit just .223/.263/.406 on the season. He had his best game yesterday, bopping three doubles and driving in five RBI. Ramirez plans to retire after the 2015 season so it’s reasonable to assume he’s open to finishing the season with a contender. He has recently been tied to the Mets, but New York is looking for either a clear upgrade at third base or a versatile player. Ramirez will need more games like yesterday to fit the bill.

Heyman’s Latest: Twins, Mariners, Draft, Viciedo

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports’ latest column contains notes on every team throughout baseball. Here are a few highlights.

  • The Twins are surprise contenders this year, and they’re open to acquiring a middle-of-the-order hitter, possibly an outfielder, Heyman writes. They could also seek relief help.
  • After trading for Mark Trumbo, the Mariners seem to lack budget flexibility, which might be the reason they weren’t a serious contender for Rafael Soriano despite Fernando Rodney‘s poor performance this season.
  • The Astros are expected to sign No. 37 overall pick Daz Cameron for about $4MM, Heyman notes. Cameron, who is committed to Florida State, fell in the draft due to signability concerns.
  • The Marlins are close to signing first baseman Josh Naylor, the No. 12 overall pick in the draft.
  • The Dodgers might have a tough time signing No. 35 overall pick Kyle Funkhouser. The righty could head back to Louisville for his senior season, much as Mark Appel spurned the Pirates a few years back so he could complete his degree at Stanford and re-enter the draft the following year.
  • Free agent and former White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo has received offers for minor-league deals, but he’s holding out for a big-league contract, Heyman reports.
  • MLB might think about moving the draft from Secaucus, New Jersey to a different location, perhaps Omaha. That would allow more top prospects to attend.

Cubs Sign Rafael Soriano

FRIDAY: Soriano’s deal does, in fact, include an opt-out clause that allows him to become a free agent if he’s not in the Majors by the All-Star Game in mid-July, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes.

TUESDAY: The Cubs have signed veteran reliever Rafael Soriano to a minor league deal, adding another option to the team’s late-inning mix. He’ll earn the pro-rated portion of a $4.1MM base salary and can add up to $4MM in incentives (based upon games finished and appearances).

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins

It rates as a surprise that Soriano signed a minors pact, of course. After all, he landed at 37th on the top-fifty free agent list of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, who explained that Soriano was still a plenty capable reliever last year. Now, he becomes the final name on that list to sign.

On the other hand, as I wrote back in October, the righty faced plenty of competition in his segment of the market. And while technically a minor-league arrangement, his new pact comes with expectations of a relatively quick call-up as well as a significant salary upon his addition to the MLB roster. Early and frequent opt-out clauses would also seem likely, though they remain unreported.

Soriano’s new deal comes not long after he changed representation. Still on the market with two months of the season in the books, Soriano switched from the Boras Corporation to Octagon Baseball. He indicated then that he hoped to sign in fairly short order, and he had been set to hold a showcase later this week.

Of course, it remains to be seen what Soriano has left in the tank. He faded down the stretch last year after a nice start, ending up with a 3.19 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 over 62 innings. All said, Soriano has produced solid (but not spectacular) results over the last two years despite a loss of fastball velocity.

Looking further back, the former All-Star has been fairly consistent in terms of his end-of-year production, if not his game-to-game results. Going back to the 2006 campaign, Soriano has thrown at least 60 frames seven times and only once ended a year with an earned run average higher than last year’s final mark. While his save tallies may have boosted his prominence beyond his true talent, Soriano has been one of the more reliably useful pen arms in the game for some time.

Chicago currently sits at 20th in the league in terms of reliever ERA, and its late-inning options (such as Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Jason Motte) have been short of dominant. With Neil Ramirez still working back from injury, it is easy to see the need for another quality arm.

By adding Soriano now, the Cubs will gain some time to assess their pen in advance of the trade deadline. It remains possible that the club will be in the market for higher-end relief talent, though the return of Ramirez will hopefully deliver additional punch from the right side.

Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a deal was close. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted that the deal was done. James Wagner of the Washington Post tweeted the contract details.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Blue Jays Seek Pen Addition, Interested In Rafael Soriano

We can officially add the Blue Jays to the list of clubs seeking pen upgrades. GM Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged that the team was looking at relief arms, including veteran free agent Rafael Soriano, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports (Twitter links).

As a group, Toronto’s bullpen has ranked 20th in earned run average, though advanced metrics indicate that the unit has been every-so-slightly unlucky. Looking at individual arms, only rookie Roberto Osuna and journeyman Liam Hendriks have thrown enough quality innings to register as substantially above replacement level by measure of fWAR, though Baseball-Reference credits Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar with 0.3 rWAR contributions as well (utilizing alternative advanced pitching metrics).

It’s no surprise, really, to hear that the Jays would be looking to bolster their relief corps. The loss of Marcus Stroman for the season left a hole in the rotation, which has had a trickle-down effect, and the club is already trotting out many of its system’s best young arms. Lefty Daniel Norris has been throwing fairly well at Triple-A since his demotion, however, and could conceivably come back up — either entering the pen himself or bumping a starter.

The Blue Jays have struggled, in particular, to retire opposing lefties in the late innings. They’re hitting a robust .261/.346/.426 against Toronto relievers, with a good portion of that damage coming against two of the team’s most-utilized southpaws (Cecil and Jeff Francis). Of course, Francis has now lost his spot, and Aaron Loup has put up better numbers when facing same-handed hitters (while struggling mightily against righty bats).

Soriano, of course, would not be added to match up against left-handed bats, though he was actually slightly better against them last year than when facing righties. But he would potentially offer another option in the closer’s role, moving Cecil into a setup role. Of course, Cecil himself has not been terribly effective against opposing lefties since 2013, but it would not be surprising to see the club go after a LOOGY as well.

Whatever direction the team hopes to go in adding arms, it will need to do some work in the standings to make buying a reasonable option at the deadline. Though the Jays stand just four-and-a-half back in the AL East entering today’s action, they sit five games under .500.


Heyman’s Latest: Astros/Hamels, Reds, Matz, Zobrist, Ackley, Soriano

In this week’s edition of his Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports begins by examining the possibility of the Astros making a run at the PhilliesCole Hamels. Houston is seeking a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Hamels is on their radar, Heyman hears, even though he’s something of a long shot. The Astros are seeking a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, one person told Heyman, though Houston GM Jeff Luhnow indicated they’d be interested in any arm that could start Games 1-3 of a playoff series. The Phillies are said to be intrigued by outfield prospects Preston Tucker and Brett Phillips, among others, Heyman notes. Houston won’t part with top prospect Carlos Correa or impressive rookie right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., and they’d prefer to keep righty Vincent Velasquez as well. Heyman adds that it’s uncertain whether or not Hamels would approve a trade to Houston, with one source indicating that they didn’t find the scenario likely. If Hamels were to approve the trade, he’d likely ask that his 2019 option be exercised, and the Phillies would almost certainly have to pay down some of the $24MM he is owed annually, per Heyman.

Some more highlights…

  • The Reds are currently reluctant to sell any pieces according to rivals who have reached out to the team. That may simply be due to the fact that the team is set to host the All-Star game this year and doesn’t want to begin a potential fire sale before that game. However, other execs have indicated to Heyman that owner Bob Castellini prefers to see how his big-money investments in Joey Votto and others will play out rather than commencing a rebuilding effort.
  • Both Dillon Gee and Jon Niese remain widely available, as the Mets would prefer to add promising lefty Steven Matz to their six-man rotation. One scout that spoke to Heyman said Matz is better than any pitcher in the rotation aside from Matt Harvey, which is high praise, particularly considering Jacob deGrom‘s brilliant start to the season and the flashes of brilliance displayed by Noah Syndergaard.
  • The Yankees are interested in the AthleticsBen Zobrist as an option at second base and also still like Dustin Ackley despite his struggles with the Mariners. New York has been surprised by Jose Pirela‘s troubles to this point, and they still have questions about Rob Refsnyder‘s glove at second base. Heyman adds that the Yankees don’t expect to be big players on Cole Hamels this winter, and they were worried about Mark Teixeira enough this offseason that they checked in on Ryan Howard, though clearly those concerns have dissipated in light of Teixeira’s excellent resurgence.
  • The Cardinals, Blue Jays and Cubs are the three teams that Heyman mentions as most realistic options for right-hander Rafael Soriano. He calls the Cards “a surprise entry” into the Soriano mix, adding that the Jays have not given up the idea of signing him but will need to see what his price tag is now that he’s switched representatives.
  • The Mariners will probably see a need to add a veteran catcher after trading Welington Castillo to the D-Backs in order to land Mark Trumbo. Heyman spoke to someone close to the Mariners who described the team as “desperate” to add offense prior to the Trumbo deal, as they’ve received struggles from many of their outfielders and, surprisingly, Robinson Cano.
  • Red Sox higher-ups have an immense amount of respect for manager John Farrell, so while votes of confidence from ownership and executives often mean little, Heyman feels that Boston’s recent vote of confidence in Farrell has more weight behind it. However, Boston won’t be swayed by the fact that Farrell’s contract runs through 2017 if they do decide a change is needed down the line.
  • Both Dodgers right-hander Jose De Leon and Yankees shortstop Jorge Mateo have hired Scott Boras to represent them. The pair of prospects is well-regarded within each organization.

Rafael Soriano To Throw For Teams Next Thursday

Free agent reliever Rafael Soriano will have an open throwing session for Major League clubs in the Dominican Republic next Thursday, his new representatives at Octagon announced (via Twitter). Soriano jumped from Scott Boras to Octagon last week, presumably due to the fact that he remains unsigned in early June.

Soriano, 35, did not go without interest from big league clubs this winter. He was tied to a number of clubs, including the Blue Jays, Marlins, Cubs and Twins at various points over the past several months — in some cases, even after the regular season began. However, no club has made an offer that was to the liking of Soriano and his now former agent. While their specific asking price remains unknown, reports following the Marlins’ most recent interest indicated that Miami simply didn’t feel Soriano would be enough of an upgrade over its internal options after watching him throw.

The former Nationals, Rays and Yankees closer will have the opportunity to convince other teams that Miami was incorrect in its assessment next week. However, Miami’s supposed review of Soriano’s arsenal isn’t the first underwhelming take on the right-hander’s arsenal that has been reported. Late in the offseason, Buster Olney of ESPN said that scouts felt Soriano’s stuff evaporated late in the 2014 season, as he pitched to an 6.48 ERA in the second half and ultimately lost his grip on the closer’s role to Drew Storen. Of course, quite a bit of time has passed both since that report and since the end of last season, so it’s entirely possible that Soriano is throwing much better than he was last September.

Earlier today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said that he’s hoping to add a right-handed reliever to his bullpen, and obviously the club is more than familiar with Soriano, who spent two seasons there and served as the club’s closer in 2012 when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

The Blue Jays have long been said to be eyeing relief help, and while they clearly weren’t comfortable meeting his asking price in the past, it’s possible that Soriano’s financial goals have changed with new representation in tow. The Braves last night were said to be on the lookout for bullpen help as well, although that particular report indicated that they’d prefer not to spend big money to add it.

The Mariners and Dodgers are among the other teams reportedly seeking bullpen help, although as is the case each summer, there’s no shortage of clubs looking for relief upgrades. In a recent poll conducted by MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth, our readers pegged the Cubs, Blue Jays and Tigers, respectively, as the likeliest teams to add Soriano.


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Rafael Soriano Changes Agents

TODAY: Soriano has hired Alan Nero and Ulises Cabrera of Octagon Baseball, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports on Twitter. The righty tells Sanchez that he is “working out every day” in preparation “to get back to playing baseball and helping a team win in whatever role I’m asked.”

YESTERDAY: Free agent reliever Rafael Soriano is set to replace agent Scott Boras, according to James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link). It is not clear whether he has chosen a new agent.

Soriano hopes to sign a deal and return to big league action, per the report. He has been inactive for the first two months of the year despite plenty of apparent interest. Presumably, the fact that he has yet to do so had something to do with the parting.

Boras has negotiated Soriano’s contracts since the fall of 2010 — as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times then reported on Twitter — and has done rather well for his now-former client. Soriano has earned a total of $49MM over four years, exercising an opt-out clause negotiated into his deal with the Yankees and overcoming a qualifying offer to find better money over two years with the Nationals (though a significant piece of that was deferred).

Most recently, the Marlins were said to be dabbling in the Soriano market, though no deal was completed and the team apparently no longer has interest. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a complete look at the possible suitors last weekend (with our readers voting the Cubs as the odds-on favorite to bring him in).