Rafael Soriano Rumors

Checking In On Former Rays Relievers

Six prominent Rays relievers hit free agency and signed elsewhere for a total of $67.65MM last offseason (for reference, the Rays’ payroll has surpassed that figure exactly once since 2000). We know how the Rays' new 'pen is working out (pretty well, so far) but let’s check in on last year’s relievers:

  • Rafael Soriano – three years/$35MM, Yankees – After allowing 12 earned runs and 14 walks in 62 1/3 innings last year, Soriano has allowed 9 earned runs and 9 walks in 14 innings this year. His ERA is approaching 6.00, his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up. What's more, he underwent an MRI on his right elbow this week. It doesn't appear that he'll need DL time, as there's only mild inflammation. Still, Brian Cashman must be shaking his head over this one.
  • Joaquin Benoit – three years/$16.5MM, Tigers – Benoit has already allowed more earned runs (10) in 2011 than he did all of last year (9). After allowing just 30 hits in 60-plus innings last year, he has allowed 17 hits in 13 2/3 frames for his new club. The spike in hit rate is no doubt related to the fact that opponents had an improbably low average on balls in play against Benoit last year (.192) that has since risen to an unusually high level (.356). His strikeout (7.2 K/9) and walk (2.6 BB/9) numbers have fallen off, though they're still strong. 
  • Grant Balfour - two years/$8.1MM, Athletics – Balfour's walks are up, but he is still striking out over a batter per inning and his ERA is under 2.00.
  • Dan Wheeler – one year/$3MM, Red Sox – Wheeler, currently on the DL, has an 11.32 ERA for the Red Sox despite an 8K/1BB ratio through 11 appearances. Wheeler appears to be unlucky in terms of opponents' batting average on balls in play (.389) and home run per fly ball rate (21%).
  • Chad Qualls - one year/$2.55MM, Padres – Qualls has replaced Ryan Webb in the Padres' 'pen and has already pitched 20 2/3 innings. The results are good so far despite a drop in Ks, as Qualls has limited baserunners and been considerably more fortunate than he was in 2010.
  • Randy Choate – two years/$2.5MM, Marlins – Choate has been excellent so far; the lefty specialist has an 11K/2BB ratio and a 1.50 ERA in his first 14 appearances as a Marlin.

The early results are disappointing, as Wheeler and Soriano are dealing with injuries and Benoit hasn’t come close to replicating his 2010 performance. The results will likely improve for Wheeler and Benoit, who have been unlucky so far. But this group probably won’t reproduce the 2010 performances that helped the Rays win the AL East. Reliever performance is simply volatile, even for pitchers who appear to be safe investments.


Upcoming Player Options

Teams covet options and are reluctant to provide them to players when it's not absolutely necessary, so there are about ten times as many club options as player options coming up after the season. Here's a look at the four upcoming player options and whether they're likely to be exercised:

  • Marco Scutaro, Red Sox – If the Red Sox don't exercise Scutaro's $6MM option, he can remain in Boston for $3MM instead of taking a $1.5MM buyout. Top shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias is now at Triple-A and could position himself to take over the regular shortstop job in 2012. Scutaro, who turns 36 before the offseason, may be choosing between free agency with a $1.5MM buyout or a backup job with a $3MM salary.
  • Ryan Dempster, Cubs - With a typical season (200-plus innings, sub-4.00 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 48% ground ball rate) Dempster would be one of the top pitchers available in a weak free agent class. He'll be 34 after the season, but that's how old Ted Lilly was when he signed his current three-year deal.
  • Rafael Soriano, Yankees – Soriano can opt out and collect $1.5MM or exercise his $11MM player option and stay in the Bronx for another year (or two). Agent Scott Boras did well to bypass GM Brian Cashman and find his client a player-friendly deal last offseason and it's hard to imagine a better opportunity arising for Soriano, even if he reproduces his tremendous 2010 numbers. Soriano's leverage will be reduced with so many quality relievers hitting free agency at once.
  • C.C. Sabathia, Yankees – Sabathia will be the top free agent starter if he opts out and, with respect to Dempster, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson, it's not that close. Sabathia can exercise a four-year, $92MM option if he gets hurt, has an off-year or decides free agency is too much of a hassle, but the early expectation is that he'll opt out. It's a win-win decision for the big left-hander.

Rafael Soriano’s Contract

Opt-out clauses and player options often result in no-win situations for teams, as in the cases of A.J. Burnett and J.D. Drew in offseasons past.  Both players were performing well enough to opt out and score much bigger contracts, a path that C.C. Sabathia could follow after the 2011 season.  My initial reaction when Scott Boras negotiated two opt-outs within Rafael Soriano's three-year, $35MM deal with the Yankees was that the team made a major concession.  However, upon a closer look I'm not so sure.

The most baffling aspect of Soriano's contract is the suggestion that his $11.67MM average salary represented a drop in his price tag.  If that's a discount, I can't imagine what Boras was asking for at the beginning of the offseason.  In January, it wasn't even clear that Soriano had a second serious suitor.

Soriano

Had he not saved 72 games over the last two seasons, I imagine Soriano's salary would have been around $6MM a year, about half what he got from the Yankees and the going rate for a top setup man.  Closer inflation is the reason I don't expect Soriano to opt out of his contract at either of his chances.  If he puts up a strong 2011 season but saves fewer than ten games, what team would pay him more than the two years and $23.5MM left on his contract?  If Soriano sets up for Rivera in 2012 as well, what team would offer him more than $12.5MM for one year?  Soriano needs to hope for relief contracts to take additional leaps forward in the next two offseasons.

The main benefit to Soriano is the chance to try for a longer term after the '11 or '12 seasons.  But if you factor in a reduced setup man salary on a new deal, I'm still skeptical that he'd risk opting out.  A strong 2011 might allow Soriano to find a three-year deal for around $25MM, but that's not a big enough improvement over the two years and $23.5MM that would remain on his current deal.  Getting three years as opposed to one after the '12 season has added appeal, but the Yankees backloaded Soriano's contract so that it'll still be a tough choice for him.  For Soriano to have a clear reason to opt out at either point, he may need to be coming off a season in which he dominates and racks up 30+ saves.  Since Rivera is 42 now, that is possible.

Soriano is an injury risk, and I've seen the argument that the opt-out clauses ensure he'll remain with the Yankees if he suffers a major injury.  That would have been the case anyway on a normal guaranteed three-year deal.

Aside from the Yankees bidding against themselves, the biggest concern about the Soriano contract is the potential erosion of GM Brian Cashman's autonomy, as he was said to be opposed to signing Soriano due to the loss of the #31 overall draft pick to the Rays.  Co-owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine reportedly made the final decision to sign Soriano, though Wallace Matthew's source insisted:

"Cash has not lost one iota of credibility or autonomy over this. There has been no loss of faith in him at all. Cash is in charge of all baseball operations, but he would never in a million years tell you ownership doesn't make the final decisions. It's their money, not his."



Steinbrenner On Jeter, Luxury Tax, Burnett, Soriano

It doesn't take much to coax Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner into giving his thoughts on the state of the franchise and baseball as a whole.  The outspoken part-owner sounded off on a number of topics to reporters today, writes Bryan Hoch of MLB.com..

  • Steinbrenner seems worried about the team's drive to win, saying "I think maybe they celebrated a little bit too much last year," the co-chairman said. "Some of the players are too busy building mansions and other things and not concentrating on winning."  Shortstop Derek Jeter built a mansion in Florida during the offseason after negotiating a new three-year, $51MM deal.  When asked if the comment was directed at the team captain, Steinbrenner insisted that he wasn't singling anybody out.
  • The Yankees' 2010 payments as a result of luxury tax and revenue sharing programs are expected to total about $130 million, Steinbrenner said.  He continued to say that the Yankees are allied with other major market teams on the issue and believes that Commissioner Bud Selig wants to "correct it in some way."  Hoch noted that in a recent interview on Boston's 98.5 the Sports Hub, the commish said that he is happy with the system as it stands today.
  • Steinbrenner says that pitcher A.J. Burnett seems "very hungry" for a bounce-back season.  Last year, Burnett turned in a 5.26 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9.  The 34-year-old right-hander is set to earn $16.5MM annually through 2013.
  • Skipper Joe Girardi, closer Mariano Rivera and several hitters were consulted on the idea of signing Rafael Soriano, Steinbrenner said.  Last week, Rivera said that he had not been consulted about the signing but was happy to have the reliever aboard.

Heyman On Fielder, Papelbon, Rays, Giants

Prince Fielder is looking to join the $200MM club and the Red Sox considered trading Jonathan Papelbon to the A's or White Sox, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. Here are the details and the rest of Heyman's rumors:

  • Fielder is looking for at least eight years and $200MM or so when he hits free agency after the season, according to Heyman. Not surprisingly, the Brewers don't like the idea of committing that much to their first baseman.
  • The Red Sox talked to the A's and White Sox about Jonathan Papelbon. Boston appeared willing to offer Rafael Soriano a one-year deal and make him their closer. If the sides had agreed to a deal, the Red Sox would have sent Papelbon elsewhere, likely to Oakland or Chicago
  • The Rays, who are moving toward a deal with Johnny Damon, have also considered Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Russell Branyan and Nick Johnson.
  • The Yankees hope to hear from Andy Pettitte soon, but the lefty is still mulling retirement.
  • The Giants appear to be nearing a one-year deal with Andres Torres. As our Arb Tracker shows, Torres filed at $2.6MM and the Giants countered with $1.8MM.
  • Heyman says there's "scuttlebutt" that the Rangers could look to lock Josh Hamilton up on a multiyear deal. 
  • Heyman talked to executives about Joey Votto's new deal and arrived at the conclusion I reached after talking to insiders earlier in the week: the Reds didn't appear to gain much from their deal with the reigning NL MVP.
  • Heyman points out that Jose Bautista's representatives will have to convince arbitrators to overlook the string of pedestrian seasons that led up to Bautista's mammoth 2010 campaign. For more on Bautista's case, click here.

Yankees Sign Rafael Soriano

The Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract, the team announced today. The deal is believed to be worth $35MM over three years, and will allow the player to opt out after either of the first two years.The Scott Boras client will make $11.5MM if he opts out after year one and $21.5MM if he opts out after year two. The contract does not include a no-trade clause.

The deal comes just days after GM Brian Cashman said that he would not surrender his first round pick to sign a free agent. The Rays will receive New York's first round pick (31st overall) as well as a supplemental first round pick as compensation for their loss. 

The 31-year-old Soriano was the top closer on the market, but he's going to have to serve as Mariano Rivera's setup man with the Yankees. He pitched to a 1.73 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and just 2.0 BB/9 in 62.1 innings last year, the second straight season he's avoided the disabled list. He's battled elbow trouble in the past, including Tommy John surgery back in 2004. Over the last four seasons, Soriano has struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings while walking 2.7 per nine. Although his home run rate has improved in recent years (0.7 HR/9 since 2008), he's an extreme fly ball pitcher (just 31% ground balls in his career). That could give him some problems in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. 

At an $11.67MM average annual value, Soriano will be the fifth highest paid reliever in baseball, trailing only Rivera, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, and Joe Nathan. Jonathan Papelbon's eventual 2011 salary could also factor into that equation soon enough. It's a healthy raise from the $7.5MM Soriano earned in 2010, which came after he accepted the Braves offer of arbitration last offseason. With Billy Wagner already on board, it pushed Atlanta to trade him to Tampa.

SI.com's Jon Heyman adds that the Yankees still have about $20MM to spend before they hit their 2011 payroll limit (Twitter link). That's plenty for a right-handed outfield bat and starting pitching, even if they wait for a salary dump situation to arise during the season.

Heyman originally reported the agreement (all Twitter links). ESPN's Buster Olney and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times added details (Twitter links).


AL East Links: Pettitte, Cashman, Chavez, Red Sox

The latest on the AL East, as teams turn their attention to arbitration eligible players and possible bargains on the free agent market


Yankees Notes: Jones, Damon, Soriano, Rays

Let's check out the latest rumblings from the Bronx….

  • The Yankees have stepped up their pursuit of Andruw Jones, tweets SI.com's Jon Heyman. Heyman previously reported that the two sides were apart on money, despite the team's strong interest in the outfielder. While the Rays and other clubs are still involved, the Yankees appear to be making a push to get something done with the 33-year-old.
  • In the same tweet, Heyman adds that Johnny Damon remains a possibility for both the Yankees and Rays.
  • Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes that Rafael Soriano's $35MM price tag isn't the only reason to be concerned about the signing. Madden questions the right-hander's make-up, but says the Yankees are confident that Mariano Rivera will be a "calming, guiding force" for Soriano.
  • Speaking to Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News, Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said that while Soriano didn't make a great first impression in Tampa Bay, he turned out to be a "consummate pro." "I wish we were the ones signed up for three more years with him," Hickey added.

Rafael Soriano Signing Reactions

The Yankees agreed to sign Rafael Soriano to a three-year deal that guarantees the right-hander $35MM. The Bronx Bombers don't get much of a guarantee from Soriano, who can opt out after year one or year two. The deal sends a first round pick from the Yankees to the Rays and gives the Yankees a pair of shutdown relievers in closer Mariano Rivera and Soriano. Here are some reactions to the deal between the Yanks and the Scott Boras client with the latest reactions up top:

  • ESPN.com's Keith Law points out that the Yankees gave Soriano tons of leverage. It's "a baffling scenario" from the Yankees' perspective, Law writes.
  • The Soriano deal was more ownership-driven than from baseball operations, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Twitter links). The team's front office was split on the prospect of signing Soriano.  WEEI.com's Alex Speier notes that the Soriano signing seems to contradict Cashman's year-old opinion about relief contracts.
  • The Yankees had talked about signing Grant Balfour in a possible sign-and-trade before Soriano and Balfour agreed to their respective deals, according to Olney.
  • Olney suggests there’s a “major divide of opinion on Soriano within the organization, and that [GM Brian] Cashman's autonomy in matters of baseball operations may have eroded.” Olney points out that the Yankees now have two of the six relievers in baseball who earn $10MM or more.
  • Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal feels it's hard to properly judge the Soriano contract since "the Yankees operate on a completely different economic scale from the rest of baseball and can't be used as a comparison point for anything."
  • Tom Verducci of SI.com calls the deal a "smart" one for the Yankees and points out that it doesn't change the way they do business.
  • As Ben Shpigel of the New York Times points out, the Yankees expect the signing to take pressure off of their thin rotation.
  • Kevin Kernan of the New York Post argues that the deal saved the offseason for Cashman.
  • Chad Jennings of the Journal News explains that the deal makes the Yankees better short-term, but not necessarily a lot better. 
  • Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald explores what the deal means for the Red Sox. They will be tough to beat late in games, they'll definitely obtain the Rangers' first rounder for the loss of Adrian Beltre and Jonathan Papelbon could have trouble finding a massive deal in free agency after the season. 
  • FanGraphs' Chris Cwik says "it’s tough to defend any team that gives out such a large contract to a relief pitcher and this instance is no different."
  • My reaction has less to do with the Yankees and Soriano and more to do with Boras. How did Boras get a $35MM guarantee plus two opt-outs for his client in a market that was, by all accounts, pretty dry? It's been a standout offseason for baseball's best-known agent.

Quick Hits: Soriano, Manuel, Galarraga, Angels

Some items from around the majors…

  • The Angels aren't one of the teams reportedly still interested in Rafael Soriano, tweets Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.  The Yankees are "still trying," in spite of their earlier statements to the contrary.
  • Charlie Manuel's agent tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that Manuel and the Phillies have a mutual interest in working out a contract extension before Opening Day.  Manuel has one year left on his current deal, and Salisbury speculates that he's looking for a two-year extension worth roughly $4MM per season.
  • Armando Galarraga is out of options, eligible for arbitration and has probably been squeezed out of the Detroit rotation by Brad Penny, reports Jason Beck of MLB.com.  If Galarraga gets too large of a salary bump in arbitration, the Tigers could choose to trade or just release him before Opening Day.
  • The Angels' quiet offseason has been heavily criticized, but Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com reminds us that the Halos still have a very solid team.
  • If the Twins don't re-sign Jim Thome, Kelly Thesier of MLB.com says the team could return to what it was looking for last winter: a right-handed hitting backup option in the outfield or at first base.  Thesier cites Jorge Cantu and Troy Glaus as possibilities, and we've heard the Padres were considering the same two players.  The Twins could also dip into the rest of the DH market, or look to upgrade their bullpen.
  • There isn't much historial evidence to suggest that Josh Beckett will return to his ace form over the long run, writes John Tomase of the Boston Herald.