Rafael Soriano is still on the free-agent market. In an age where relievers are heavily relied upon and multiple bullpens are insufficient, it’s surprising no team has signed a pitcher of Soriano’s pedigree.
Let’s first acknowledge the downsides. If a free agent hasn’t been signed this close to Spring Training, there must be a reason. Soriano is 35-years-old and has battled two straight inconsistent seasons. He put up a 3.11 ERA in 2013 then a 3.19 number in 2014. His velocity has decreased from the 95 mph range into the 91 mph area. Old age in the baseball world, negative statistical trends and lessened velocity. These are all fair downsides.
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Are these negatives crippling enough to eliminate a bullpen role, though? No chance. Opponents hit .223 against Soriano last year. That’s perfectly acceptable. He logged 62 or more innings in each of the last two seasons. Points for durability. Beyond his four-seam heater with sink action, he tosses a changeup, slider and curveball. He’s never been a reliever who required a dominant fastball. Velocity dips shouldn’t kill his usefulness.
When viewing Soriano, we can focus on the downsides. But these should only be highly visible when analyzing him from a closer or extremely meaningful late-inning role. He’s no longer the Tampa Bay Rays’ closer of 2010 who posted 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA. He’s probably not even the New York Yankees’ staple of 2012 who rocked a 2.26 ERA and a 9.18 K/9 rate.
This is a level of reality even Soriano probably understands. But can he help a contender in middle relief or an occasional late-inning spot? It’s not outrageous to suggest a yes here. He imploded as the Washington Nationals’ closer in 2014. His ERA was 6.48 in the second half of the year. Throwing him in the ninth inning for a team in contention is no longer feasible.
Soriano doesn’t have to be the main weapon, though, he just needs to be an option. For any team unrealistically thinking they can win a World Series with an incomplete bullpen—hey, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers—this is for you, why are you letting this capable bullpen option sit on the market? Soriano won’t demand David Robertson money. Give the guy a single year for $7 million. Sweeten a modest deal with incentives for innings logged.
He might not accept these deals, but contenders should be offering them. Failing to do so could become regrettable as weak bullpens deteriorate down the road. It’s almost time for pitchers and catchers to report, after all, so the leverage isn’t exactly on Soriano’s side. So just make the offer. His acceptance could lock a middle relief spot for any playoff hopeful.