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.