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Rafael Soriano Rumors
The last man standing on Tim Dierkes’s Top Fifty Free Agent list is reliever Rafael Soriano. I predicted that he would land two years and $12MM before the offseason started, though I noted that there was a downside scenario where he could earn less. (Check that link for a full write-up of Soriano’s free agent case.)
With pitchers and catchers already reporting around the game, it is even more difficult now to peg the contract — all the more so with a report that some scouts felt his stuff went downhill late last year. The similarly-situated Rodriguez just got $13MM over two years, so there’s still some money to be spent. But that came from the Brewers, perhaps the last team that was intent on making an investment in the back of the bullpen.
We haven’t heard much on Soriano’s market all offseason, and even more recent reports have focused on him as a possible backup option to Rodriguez. While there are strong arguments against all the teams listed below, they seem at least the most hypothetically plausible.
Blue Jays – The front office has heavily downplayed the possibility of a big league deal with a reliever, but the closer role remains open and the club has at least considered going after Soriano.
Dodgers – Kenley Jansen is out for a while and the overall relief corps is not that exciting, but the team just signed Dustin McGowan and preliminary reports of possible interest in Soriano have been contested.
Marlins – They are said not to be likely suitors, but did reportedly make a multi-year offer to K-Rod so obviously have some free cash that could be put into the pen.
Orioles – Zach Britton is left-handed and only has half a year of success in the ninth; Dan Duquette has shown a predilection for jumping on late-market deals.
Rangers – After burning through an unbelievable number of arms last year, Texas is leaning on a relatively recent TJ patient in Neftali Feliz — to say nothing of the less-established arms in camp.
Rockies – With John Axford already joining the fold on a minor league deal as a supplement to LaTroy Hawkins, it doesn’t seem likely, but Colorado could look to make a minor splash if the price is right.
Tigers – Detroit may make eminent sense or none at all, depending on one’s perspective; I find it unlikely but not unimaginable after the signing of Joba Chamberlain.
Other – There are other major league teams, as you may know, and all are free to sign Soriano. With plenty of earnings already in his pocket, might Soriano wait for an injury need to open the door to a more significant role?
We may as well take a poll while we’re at it. Which of the above seems most plausible to you?
Even though Francisco Rodriguez is now off the market, the Marlins aren’t likely to pursue Rafael Soriano or Phil Coke on Major League contracts, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. The Fish may be done with their bullpen shopping altogether, Frisaro writes, as they’re happy with the number of power arms they already have in camp and the money they intended to spend on Rodriguez could now be saved for in-season upgrades, if necessary.
As previously reported, the Fish had some interest in Coke if he was willing to take a minor league deal. The lefty has reportedly received minor league offers from multiple teams, however, so the Marlins would have competition if Coke were to give up his search for a big league contract.
As for Soriano, he’s never been linked to the Marlins on the rumor mill this season, despite the fact that he and Rodriguez (a known Miami target) share some on-paper similarities as veteran relievers with closing experience. The Marlins already have a closer in Steve Cishek but, as Frisaro notes, the team was looking for someone to handle the ninth on days when Cishek wasn’t available.
Despite some concerns from scouts about Soriano’s stuff, the veteran reliever has still drawn some interest this offseason. Soriano has been linked to the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Rockies and Brewers in rumors, though the latter two clubs have since addressed their bullpen needs.
In today’s Insider-only blog on ESPN.com, Buster Olney discusses some of the remaining relief options on the market, noting that right-hander Joba Chamberlain is expected to make a decision on his 2015 club sometime this week. The Dodgers are among the teams with interest, Olney writes, but there are others involved. Olney also notes that part of the reason Rafael Soriano remains unemployed is that scouts feel that his stuff evaporated late in the 2014 season with the Nationals.
A bit more on what’s left of the relief market…
- The Rangers are still looking for left-handed relievers and are considering both Phil Coke and Joe Beimel, tweets Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. As Wilson notes, the team needn’t worry about a 40-man roster spot, as they can move an injured player to the 60-day disabled list if they accommodate either southpaw with a big league contact.
- The Brewers and Marlins remain in the mix for Francisco Rodriguez, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The two teams have been the most commonly linked clubs to Rodriguez’s market, with reports over the weekend indicating that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has discussed K-Rod with agent Scott Boras. Last week, the Marlins were rumored to be interested in the two-year, $10MM range, but Rodriguez is said to be eyeing a $10MM figure for 2015 alone.
- Right-hander Dustin McGowan, who signed a Major League deal with the Dodgers earlier today, is viewing himself as a reliever at this point in his career, he told reporters (including FOX’s Ken Rosenthal). The Dodgers view McGowan as a relief candidate based on his 95 mph fastball and his splits; McGowan had a 5.08 ERA in the rotation last year compared to a 3.35 mark in the bullpen. His career 3.79 ERA as a reliever is nearly a run lower than his 4.78 mark as a starter.
The Dodgers will be without Kenley Jansen through at least mid-April and possibly mid-May after their elite closer underwent surgery on his left foot this morning, but president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has indicated to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick that the front office’s initial plan is to evaluate its in-house alternatives at closer (Twitter link).
Though the team may not ultimately take a reactionary approach, the Dodgers will indeed check in on free agents Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, tweets Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times. However, Shaikin adds that he feels it’s more likely the Dodgers will add a middle relief option than a closer, considering Jansen figures to miss a maximum of six weeks (barring setbacks) and is suffering from an injury that is not related to his arm.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports seems to agree with the thought that a reactionary move is unlikely, tweeting that it’d be a “shock” to see the team make a desperation move. Signing K-Rod would only happen if Rodriguez were to sign at the Dodgers’ price, Rosenthal notes, and that seems rather unlikely, considering the fact that Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras have reportedly been holding out for a two-year deal.
The Dodgers’ most experienced options to replace Jansen for the early portion of the season include J.P. Howell, Brandon League and Joel Peralta. Of that trio, only League comes with significant closing experience, though there’s no guarantee that that will play a significant factor in the decision. Paco Rodriguez, Juan Nicasio, Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez represent 40-man options, while non-roster invitees David Aardsma and Sergio Santos have closing experience as well.
Right-hander Dillon Gee is likely the odd man out and headed to the Mets‘ bullpen this season, and ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin was among the reporters to speak with him today regarding the move (video link). Gee says he is ready to contribute in whatever role he is asked, even though he obviously prefers to stay in the rotation. Though he did not ever speak with anyone in the front office, he relayed that his agent did, and was seemingly left with the impression that a trade was never quite as likely as was believed in some quarters.
Let’s have a look at a few segments of the pitching market where action still seems open:
- It would still be unwise to bet against two other well-known closers — Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano — landing substantial contracts, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Notably, both free agents are represented by Scott Boras, who Rosenthal says not to bet against. As Rosenthal rightly points out, it will be interesting to see whether that pair of big-named arms manages to top the guarantees given to names like Pat Neshek ($12.5MM) and Zach Duke ($15MM).
- As previously reported, Rodriguez has drawn interest from the Marlins, who have also had discussions about fellow free agent righty Joba Chamberlain, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter). And those aren’t the only arms still under consideration in Miami, per Heyman. The club is seemingly casting a wide net — waiting for a good value, perhaps — in adding a final piece before camp.
- Red Sox closer Koji Uehara said today that his mid-season swoon was due in part to injury issues, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports. The trouble was related to Uehara’s lower back, GM Ben Cherington said. Obviously, the club believes that he will be able to return without issue, given the contract it gave the veteran relief ace.
- Breakout Angels starter Garrett Richards threw his first pen session since undergoing knee surgery last year, as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. Reports were solid on the 26-year-old righty, whose return — and ability to match his outstanding results from last year — will go a long way toward defining the club. Anything close to his 2014 showing would seemingly make Richards a prime extension target.
The Blue Jays and Indians appear not to be involved with any of the three best remaining relievers — righties Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Joba Chamberlain — according to ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Insider link). Other theoretically plausible landing spots seem fairly dried up as well, he notes in assessing the most likely remaining suitors.
Here are a few more pitching notes:
- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says that the club spoke with lefty reliever Joe Beimel but that a deal could not be reached, Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN tweets. Beimel had a nice rebound campaign last year in Seattle, and is one of the few southpaws left on the market.
- The Mets will not be dealing away any pitchers unless circumstances change, Marc Carig of Newsday reports (Twitter links). Dillon Gee generated the most discussion, but New York never found an offer it liked and its prospective trade partners went with other options.
- We checked in earlier this evening on K-Rod and lefty Phil Coke, each of whom has received some interest from the Marlins. Within that post, we noted a report from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter) indicating that Coke still has hope of landing a big league pact.
- Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays is likely not going anywhere any time soon, but I can’t help but link to this interesting piece from Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, who explains that Stroman’s arsenal of pitches looks like it was assembled from amongst the best offerings of some of the very best arms in the game.
MLBTR sends our condolences to the family and colleagues of Alison Gordon, who passed away today at age 72. Gordon covered the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star from 1979 to 1983, becoming the first woman to work as a full-time beat writer covering an MLB club, as well as the first female member of the Baseball Writers Association Of America. The Star’s Brendan Kennedy has a fuller examination of Gordon’s career and her influence on countless female sportswriters.
Some news items from around the game…
- GM Jeff Luhnow said the Astros could add “perhaps another reliever but not another starter at this point,” Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter). The Astros added to their rotation depth earlier today by signing Roberto Hernandez, and the team could be closing in on a deal with left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher.
- The Rangers are another team with a “strong interest” in Thatcher, as well as another lefty bullpen arm in Phil Coke, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports (Twitter link). Coke recently threw for Texas.
- The arbitration hearing between Addison Reed and the Diamondbacks is scheduled for Friday unless the two sides can reach an agreement before then, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports.
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich discusses the team’s offseason and his own hiring in an interview with Woody Paige and Les Shapiro of the Denver Post’s Sports Show (video link).
- Critics may claim the Phillies haven’t done enough to move their high-priced veterans this offseason, though Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News feels the Phils have a right to be cautious given the scope of their rebuild.
- “Patience,” is how a Phillies executive responded when asked by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal if the club was frustrated by the lack of quality offers for Cole Hamels. Both Rosenthal and the executive feel more trade opportunities could open up as teams’ needs change due to Spring Training injuries.
- The Blue Jays and Indians don’t appear to be in on any of Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden writes. The Tribe has less of a pressing need at the back of their bullpen given Cody Allen‘s emergence last season, while the Jays may also not specifically be looking for closing help, though they are looking at bullpen upgrades.
- The Dodgers‘ hiring of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to run the front office is the top transaction of the 2014-15 offseason, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron opines. Three other Dodgers moves appear in Cameron’s list of the winter’s top 10 moves, and he calls them “probably the scariest organization in baseball” now that their financial resources have been augmented by Friedman/Zaidi’s creative maneuvers.
Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team. It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients. As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”
According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14. I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.
Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract. Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December. In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill. While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.
Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed. The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season. After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat. Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.
This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints. While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter. Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins. In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.
Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms. The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.” Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.” Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.
Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer. Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal. Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.
Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency. Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.
The price tag on James Shields may be dropping to the point where it makes too much sense for the Yankees to ignore, opines Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. Shields has never made sense for the Yankees at or in the vicinity of $100MM, Castrovince writes, but if his price tag is trending closer to that of Ervin Santana (four years, $55MM) than that $100MM plateau, the uncertainty and lack of stability in New York’s rotation makes them a logical destination. As Castrovince notes, the Yanks dished out four years and $52MM to Chase Headley shows that the team is still willing to spend on veterans at a price level with which they are comfortable, and Shields’ work ethic, leadership and durability make him a desirable rotation candidate in the Bronx.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- The Yankees have a pair of very viable closer candidates in Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch envisions Betances eventually locking down the closer role, with Miller likely ticketed to be the team’s top setup man. Hoch spoke with manager Joe Girardi, who did say that he’d like to have a set closer by the end of Spring Training. “I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi. Using Betances in the ninth inning would cause his arbitration price to soar, although arbitration awards holds, strikeouts and ERA as well, so Betances looks like he’ll eventually be an expensive reliever regardless of his role.
- As Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun details, Delmon Young said at the Orioles‘ Fan Festival over the weekend that he entertained the idea of signing elsewhere and had the opportunity to do so, but his desire was always to return to Baltimore. “…my first goal was to come back here just because I like just being in a place where you’re guaranteed to have an opportunity to defend a division title,” said Young. “It could have been cool going to a different place and trying to win another one, but it’s always a lot better to defend what you earned the year before.” Young continued, explaining that he’s excited to have a larger role this year following the departure of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, also adding that he’s much more comfortable in right field than left field.
- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons spoke with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio yesterday and acknowledged that the team has indeed talked about Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano (Twitter link). Gibbons said GM Alex Anthopoulos has been in touch with Scott Boras regarding the two free agents, as well as Philadelphia counterpart Ruben Amaro Jr. regarding Papelbon. However, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet notes (Twitter link), the Jays aim to be thorough in their search, so it makes sense that they’d explore all avenues.
Recent Brewers signee Neal Cotts tells Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he came close to hanging up his spikes before the Rangers offered him a deal for the 2013 season. After two fairly productive seasons in Texas, Cotts chose Milwaukee in part due to proximity to his home in Chicago.
Here are some notes on still-active bullpen situations around the game:
- The Red Sox have indicated a willingness over the last few days to deal righty Edward Mujica, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Mujica, 30, signed a two-year deal to head to Boston last year after a strong 2013 with the Cardinals, but struggled mightily out of the gate. He rebounded with a big second half, however, throwing 25 1/3 innings of 1.78 ERA ball over the second half. All said, Mujica ended the year having allowed 3.90 earned per nine and having compiled a 3.70 FIP that was nearly identical to his fielding-independent mark from the season prior.
- After adding Cotts, the Brewers will keep looking for a veteran, late-inning arm, potentially one with closing experience, assistant GM Gord Ash tells Haudricourt. The club is “juggling a lot of balls right now,” says Ash, who added that talks with the Phillies on Jonathan Papelbon are not dead even if nothing is imminent. Ash also indicated that the team was considering former closer Francisco Rodriguez, but noted that the club is not in on Rafael Soriano or Joba Chamberlain. Milwaukee also seems to have its eye out for a bargain, with Ash noting that the club is open to doing a minor league deal at any time.
- A few of the other names still on the market do have some interest even though they have yet to ink a contract, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (Twitter links). After a solid 2014, southpaw Joe Beimel has interest from three clubs, including the incumbent Mariners, while fellow lefty Joe Thatcher has drawn attention from a handful of teams.