Rafael Soriano Rumors
The upcoming class of free agents figures to present an interesting study in the way teams are evaluating relievers these days. After Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, many of the most recognizable names are closers or relievers who have previously closed.
Modern analysis suggests it's foolish to invest heavily in relief pitchers due to their limited contributions and volatility in year-to-year production. But someone has to get those crucial late-inning outs, and the temptation for a team that thinks it's a contender to throw a lot of money at a guy who's coming off a year in which he posted a minuscule ERA or eye-popping strikeout rate is often too great.
Undoubtedly, suitors will use a variety of criteria to evaluate free-agent closers, one of which will be usage. Because usage can encompass so many things -- innings, appearances, pitches, "high-stress" pitches, and so on -- it's tough to say which is the most accurate reflection of a pitcher's workload; of course, this debate continues on for starters, too.
During the season, with the launch of CloserNews.com, we began keeping an eye on relievers who had pitched on three (and four) consecutive days, as that seems to be the breaking point for when most relievers must be rested. We've tallied that up here in a spreadsheet, along with a few other measures (standard and otherwise) of reliever usage, for the upcoming class of free-agent closers.
The objective here isn't to make any bold proclamations based on who threw the most innings; I may as well pen the inevitable mea culpa right now if it were. Rather, there are some interesting tidbits of note here, a few things to file away as these relievers ready themselves for free agency and teams prepare to bid.
- Heath Bell and Francisco Cordero were the only two of this group to pitch on four consecutive days in 2011. Bell is the only one to do it twice.
- Bell's abundance of pitches certainly seems to correspond with his dip in strikeout rate (7.32 K/9 in 2011 vs. 9.22 for career). Looks like he was having trouble putting away hitters, at least relative to his past performances.
- Francisco Rodriguez paced the group by pitching on three consecutive days six times.
- Heavy usage is not unusual for K-Rod, though. He's pitched fewer than 65 innings only once in his nine full big league seasons, the red herring due to an off-field incident in 2010.
- Info was culled from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
Two Yankee legends were born on October 20: longtime Yankee Stadium PA announcer Bob Sheppard (born in 1910) and number #7 himself, Mickey Mantle (born in 1931). As coincidence would have it, both Sheppard and Mantle debuted at Yankee Stadium in 1951.
Here's the latest from the modern-day Bronx Bombers....
- There haven't been any negotiations between the Yankees and C.C. Sabathia since the end of the ALDS, reports Ken Davidoff from Newsday. The club "told Sabathia to take his time in sorting things out," though the Yankees hope to begin talks before the trigger date of Sabathia's opt-out clause, which is three days after the World Series ends. Davidoff writes the Yankees would rather give Sabathia a larger annual salary in a new contract rather than add more years.
- The Yankees are "very likely" to pick up Nick Swisher's $10.25MM option for 2012, reports ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews, though they may wait "until the very last minute" (i.e. three days after the World Series) to do so.
- If Eric Chavez retires, Matthews reports the Yankees are weighing whether to make rookie Brandon Laird the primary third base backup or to acquire a veteran like Casey Blake for the spot. Blake's $6MM option for 2012 was bought out by the Dodgers for $1.25MM two weeks ago, making him a free agent.
- Scott Boras, Rafael Soriano's agent, tells Matthews it is "highly unlikely" that Soriano will opt out of the two years and $25MM remaining on his contract with New York.
- The Yankees can't be blamed for their lack of pitching acquisitions at the trade deadline, writes Joe Pawlikowski of the River Ave Blues blog, given the lack of obvious upgrades on the market.
- C.C. Sabathia's investment in the Yankees is not "in the same universe" as Derek Jeter's, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post points out. The Yankees are hesitant to tie themselves up with long-term deals, but there should be common ground for the Yankees and their ace. Sherman proposes a number of deals that could work for both sides, including a five-year, $125MM contract with a vesting option for a sixth year.
- Though the Rangers would have interest if Sabathia hits the open market, Sherman explains that they aren't likely to be among his most aggressive suitors.
- The Yankees don't seem inclined to add three years to Sabathia's contract to keep him in New York, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. Sabathia has four years and $92MM remaining on his current deal and he will likely opt out after the World Series. Sabathia's weight gives the Yankees some concern about another seven-year deal.
- The Yankees are beginning their scouting meetings today, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. Front office members will discuss possible acquisitions and provide GM Brian Cashman with the information he needs to create his offseason plan.
- Marchand notes that free agent starter Hiroki Kuroda is a possible fit for the Yankees. Though Kuroda appears to prefer the Dodgers if he continues playing in MLB, the Yankees have had interest in him before.
- Rafael Soriano will not opt out of the two years and $25MM remaining on his contract, though there's nothing official yet, according to Marchand.
- Joe Pawlikowski of River Ave. Blues explains that Yu Darvish makes sense for the Yankees because they can use their most abundant resource (money) to add a potential star who fits their offseason needs. Bidding on Darvish wouldn't require the Yankees to surrender a draft pick and wouldn't prevent them from bidding on free agent pitchers such as C.J. Wilson.
- Ivan Nova remains an SFX client, after switching to Legacy Sports for two days, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick (Twitter links). As MLBTR's Agency Database shows, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez are also SFX clients.
With a month and a half remaining in the regular season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post takes a look at a few subplots facing the Yankees as they prepare for the playoffs and the subsequent offseason. Let's check out the highlights....
- Nick Swisher's OPS sat at .649 heading into June, but he's posted a .941 mark since then. Given his improved play, the Yankees will likely view his $10.25MM option for next year as reasonably priced, and bring him back.
- It's nearly a certainty that C.C. Sabathia exercises his opt-out at season's end. Sherman sees the 31-year-old asking for a raise, from the four years and $92MM he'll have left, to no less than the seven years and $161MM he originally signed for.
- Rafael Soriano has allowed one baserunner in six outings since coming off the DL, leading Sherman to wonder if the righty's opt-out could become a factor this winter. Considering how strong the relief market will be, I can't imagine even Scott Boras finding a deal better than the two years and $23MM Soriano has remaining on his current contract.
- There's no guarantee Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia are Yankees next season, but Garcia projects as a Type B free agent, meaning the club figures to at least offer him arbitration.
- Speaking of starters facing free agency, Jason Marquis tells Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that he'd love to represent his hometown and pitch for the Yankees or Mets. Taking into account their divisions and home parks, the Mets may be more appealing for Marquis than the Yanks, but either way, Marquis suggests he'll "explore that avenue when the season is done."
As Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes and Rafael Soriano work their way back from injuries, their general manager is surveying the trade market for possible targets. Yet Brian Cashman doesn’t see many quality arms available, so he expects his strongest pitching reinforcements to come from within the organization, according to Newsday’s Ken Davidoff.
"I'd be shocked if I could trade for anything better than what I'm getting off the DL, both with starters in Colon and Hughes and in the bullpen with Soriano," Cashman said.
The trade market develops quickly, especially in late July, so the Yankees may find an elite starter or reliever on the market eventually. They’ll look everywhere for possible upgrades with an emphasis on improving the rotation, according to Davidoff.
C.C. Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers in the league, Colon and Freddy Garcia have been pleasant surprises and A.J. Burnett has been passable. Fifth starter Ivan Nova has a 4.19 ERA with 5.0 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 56% ground ball rate in 86 innings. Though Brian Gordon has been fine as a spot starter, the Yankees presumably want to limit their reliance on him. As a group, the rotation ranks 12th in MLB with a 3.81 ERA (3.84 xFIP).
After a rousing come-from-behind win last night, the Yankees are atop the AL East by a half game. The latest on the club:
- A third MRI on Rafael Soriano's elbow has prompted the Yankees to send the pricey reliever to see Dr. James Andrews, report Mark Feinsand and Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News. The writers note that this marks Soriano's sixth elbow-related DL stint; he's a survivor of Tommy John surgery and ulnar nerve transposition surgery. I'm not sure what surgeries are left, but the decision by Hal and Hank Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to overrule GM Brian Cashman on this signing is looking bad. If the team's bullpen depth is compromised due to the Soriano injury, Cashman might be forced to throw more money and/or prospects at the situation.
- A baseball official reviewed video of the procedures done on Bartolo Colon's elbow and shoulder, physician Leonel Liriano told Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger. "I feel that they know that everything is good," remarked Liriano. MLB has been concerned that Colon's stem cell therapy could have involved the use of HGH.
- Our 2012 contract issues entry for the Yankees was published a week ago, check it out. Many key players have unresolved contract situations.
- Our post on each team's draft picks reveals that the Yankees are one of 14 teams with two picks within the first 90. The Yankees will sit out until pick #51 overall, the longest wait for any team aside from the Tigers. The draft is less than two weeks away.
In his Baseball Notes column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo says baseball stadiums should dial back the between-innings entertainment, arguing that the on-field action is engaging enough. He also has a few hot stove notes to share:
- An American League scout says if the Mets hear an offer they like for Jose Reyes, they'll take it: "They can’t afford not to and let him leave as a free agent and not get value for him."
- Cafardo points out that Rafael Soriano seems unhappy in a setup role and does have an opt-out clause at season's end. However, as Cafardo suggests, it seems extremely unlikely the right-hander would leave $25MM on the table when no other team would match that.
- The Braves would like to add some offensive insurance in case Chipper Jones' knee doesn't hold up all season.
- Brett Myers "seems to have Yankees written all over him," Cafardo says. Once Jim Crane's ownership group officially takes over, the Astros' trade deadline intentions will become clearer. At this point though, it's hard to imagine the team, whose 16-30 record is the National League's worst, not being sellers.
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.
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.
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.
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."