Rafael Soriano Rumors

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).

NL Notes: Cubs, Nationals, Strasburg, Heyward, Gosewisch, Giants

Earlier, we discussed a report from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times indicating that the Cubs will be players if Ben Zobrist is marketed. In that piece, he also discusses the team’s need for pitching. Chicago is “in the mix” for Rafael Soriano and could also be interested in Diamondbacks lefty Oliver Perez. Discussing the team’s summer plans, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein hinted that the club will be looking hard at additions — as Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago said he expected on last week’s MLBTR podcast“We’re trying to balance short- and long-term interests,” said Epstein. “But we’re in a situation [in which] we have a fairly competitive team right now, and we have some needs. So you don’t ignore that. You keep it in mind. But at the same time you can’t just go out and unilaterally add.”

  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo indicated that he believes the club can get by with internal options like Michael Taylor and Tyler Moore while Jayson Werth recovers from a fractured wrist, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. The left-handed-hitting Clint Robinson could also see time. My own guess is that another lefty bat could be acquired if the right player becomes available, but that the team will not be aggressive unless the need becomes more apparent. It’s worth recalling, too, that Matt den Dekker is still available at Triple-A, with Nate McLouth still a possible candidate to return later in the year.
  • Stephen Strasburg left tonight’s start for the Nationals after just five batters. As Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports (Twitter links), Strasburg is said to have suffered a left trap muscle issue of some kind. The righty, who has struggled uncharacteristically, said that his neck tightened up so much that he had trouble turning his head. While it does not appear that there is any concern with arm issues, Strasburg’s general difficulties and neck and back issues are certainly an increasing problem for him and the club.
  • Cardinals GM John Mozeliak says he does not have any retrospective qualms over his acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Heyward has shown some signs of life after a rough start, but the outstanding early performance of Shelby Miller stands in stark contrast at present. “I think whenever you make those kind of deals, there are reasons behind it,” Mozeliak explained. “And at the time, we felt that we had to do something. Not only looking at how we want this club to be put together, but we did not feel like there might be any other opportunities that would meet the type of criteria we’re looking for.” 
  • Though he has not yet been evaluated, injured Diamondbacks catcher Tuffy Gosewisch says a radiologist that looked at the MRI on his knee believes he may have a torn ACL, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. Certainly, that would mean a disappointing end to the year for the 31-year-old, who has struggled at the plate in his opportunity at a starting role. Arizona has called up recent signee Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who will presumably take a good portion of the time behind the dish.
  • Several Giants players have upcoming opt-out dates, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News writes. Righty Kevin Correia can become a free agent on the first of June, while third baseman Casey McGehee can opt out on June 5.

Who Will Sign Rafael Soriano?

In late February, Jeff Todd asked MLBTR readers which team would sign free agent closer Rafael Soriano, and a bit more than a quarter of you thought he would end up with the Blue Jays. Almost three months later, the Scott Boras client remains a free agent, so now seems like a good time to revisit the question.

Near the beginning of the season, the Twins and Tigers each reportedly showed at least some interest, although perhaps not much. The Reds then ruled themselves out as candidates to sign Soriano. Later, the Mariners reportedly had at least some contact with Soriano. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman also suggested that the Indians, Dodgers and Pirates might also be possibilities, although those seemed speculative. It seems unlikely that the Dodgers would pursue Soriano now given how good their bullpen has been, and the Pirates don’t seem particularly likely given their strong interest in ground-ball pitchers. The Marlins were the next team to be connected to Soriano, although early last week it emerged that they had lost interest. By late last week, he’d been connected to the Cubs.

More speculatively, the Padres are a potential contender with a struggling bullpen, although they’re set at closer and could prefer the talent they have on hand. The Red Sox are in a somewhat similar boat, although calling them a “potential contender” might strike some of their fans as off base, even though they aren’t yet out of contention. The Diamondbacks are near .500 and recently bumped Addison Reed from their closer role. The Rangers also have an unsettled closer situation and are on the fringes of the AL Wild Card race at this early point in the season, although Shawn Tolleson got two saves this week and has pitched well all year, suggesting he might fit well at closer. The Rockies have a poorly performing bullpen and might be convinced to sign Soriano if he were cheap enough, but are far enough out of contention that the upside of such a move would be limited.

The number of fits is unclear, then, and much could depend upon Soriano’s cost. There’s also the issue of his likely performance — the Marlins reportedly backed away because they felt Soriano wasn’t an upgrade. That might sound wrong for a pitcher who’s had 107 saves total over the past three seasons, but Soriano is 35 and posted a 6.48 ERA in the second half last season.

So who will ultimately sign Soriano?

Cubs Among Teams Showing Interest In Rafael Soriano

Seeking to upgrade a relief corps that has struggled at times this season, the Cubs are among the teams to have kicked the tires on free agent right-hander Rafael Soriano, reports Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. Last week, Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs “may consider” Soriano at some point down the line.

Soriano, a Scott Boras client is training and facing live hitters in the Dominican Republic at this time, Mooney writes. Boras told reporters yesterday before the Cubs hosted the Padres at Wrigley Field that some teams are seeing him for the second and third time. “I think Soriano could help about 10 teams now,” Boras told reporters. “…Teams are reaching out. We’re pretty close to structuring a deal for him.” The Cubs aren’t quite motivated or desperate enough to pay top dollar for Soriano, Mooney hears.

Still, it’s not difficult to see why the Cubs would have some form of interest in a bullpen upgrade — particularly one that wouldn’t cost the team any prospects. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and lefty Zac Rosscup have all pitched reasonably well this season, but beyond that group, there’s been little stability. Phil Coke has already been designated for assignment. Jason Motte‘s ERA is 5.17, and his peripherals aren’t much more encouraging. Edwin Jackson rattled off six scoreless appearances to open the season, but he’s surrendered five runs in his past 1 2/3 innings (spanning three appearances).

The listed relievers are the only ones who have thrown even 10 innings this season for a Cubs bullpen that has cycled through 12 relief options (13 if you include catcher David Ross throwing an inning of mop-up duty). James Russell has looked solid since re-signing with the Cubs shortly after his release from Atlanta, and the return of Justin Grimm from the disabled list is expected to be a boost. The loss of Neil Ramirez, though, is a blow to the bullpen, and the result of the unit’s collective effort has been a 4.20 ERA.

As Mooney notes, the Cubs have tried to fix the problem by bringing Russell back and designating Coke, and the team traded Welington Castillo to the Mariners in exchange for hard-throwing right-hander Yoervis Medina. That sequence would seem to indicate that the Cubs are indeed trying to upgrade their ‘pen, but the question that remains is whether or not Soriano would be an upgrade.

The Marlins recently expressed interest in Soriano but backed off rather abruptly, with followup reports indicating that their interest dissipated not due to financial reasons, but because evaluators didn’t feel that Soriano was an upgrade over the team’s internal options. Late in the offseason, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote that some scouts felt that Soriano’s stuff evaporated late in the season, which was the reason for his drastic decline at season’s end. Though Soriano’s 3.19 ERA and 59-to-19 K/BB ratio in last year’s 62 innings look solid, he wilted in the second half, registering a 6.48 ERA.

The bullpen was one of many Cubs-related issues that Mooney discussed with Jeff Todd in a guest appearance on yesterday’s MLBTR Podcast.