hangoverDespite Stuart Sternberg’s assertion that “The bank is full…There is no $7 million closer showing up,” a $7 million closer just showed up. The Rays traded Jesse Chavez (received last month for Aki Iwamura) to the Braves for Rafael Soriano. In order to complete the deal, the Rays and Soriano agreed on a one-year deal for about $7 million.

Now that we have had a night to sleep and ponder, let’s take a look at what we like about the deal and why fans should still be worried…

What to like about the deal

SORIANO SHOULD BE BETTER THAN HOWELL: In 2008, JP Howell was one of the top 10 relief pitchers in the AL. In 2009, he was one of the worst closers in the AL. Did he just have a bad season? Or is Howell not cut out to be a closer? Even in his great 2008 season, Howell was only worth 1.5 WAR. A healthy Soriano should be worth at least 2.0 WAR and could be worth 2.5-3.0.

THE RAYS GOT THEIR CLOSER: There has long been this myth that the Rays are a team that does not believe in having a designated closer. That simply is not true. Andrew Friedman and Co. have always said they would love to have a closer, they just couldn’t afford the going rate and felt the money could be better spent elsewhere. Theo Epstein did not win a World Series in Boston until he scrapped his closer-by-committee and signed free agent Keith Foulke. And now Friedman has finally decided that if the Rays are going to take that next step, they needed to spend a little more on somebody that records the three most important outs of a game.

RAYS KEEP THEIR DRAFT PICKS: The Rays signed the second best relief pitcher available and it did not cost them their first-round pick next June. Soriano was a free agent, but accepted arbitration from the Braves because his status as a Type A free agent would have cost his new team a first-round or second-round pick and may have limited how much other teams were willing to offer. By accepting arbitration, Soriano got a raise and the Rays got to keep their top pick.

SORIANO MAKES THE ENTIRE BULLPEN BETTER:  If the Rays wanted to make an upgrade at shortstop, they would have to weigh the cost of a new shortstop against the net gain in talent between Jason Bartlett and the new shortstop. But in the bullpen it is different. While Soriano will take Howell’s role, he is not taking his job. Soriano should be a more effective closer than Howell, but the net gain in talent is from whoever would have been the 7th reliever (Jesse Chavez?) and Soriano. And that difference is huge. With Soriano on board, the rest of the bullpen moves down a slot and raises the talent level of each position.

THE RAYS ARE WILLING TO SPEND: Every indication the Rays had given in the past 6 months was that the 2010 payroll was not likely to rise over the 2009 opening day payroll of $63 million. And with so many arbitration cases and players expecting big raises, that meant the Rays were more likely to trim contracts than to add to the payroll. But the addition of Soriano brings the projected payroll close to $70 million and suggests a commitment to winning this season.

Why we should be worried about this deal

SORIANO HAS A FRAGILE ARM:  Tommy John surgery cost him most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. A shoulder injury landed him on the DL in 2006. And an elbow injury had him on the DL three times in 2008 and cost him most of the season. The good news is that he was healthy in 2009. Then again, he has never had consecutive healthy seasons.

RAYS WILL STILL TRY TO TRIM PAYROLL: The Rays spent $63 million on payroll last season and claimed to have borrowed from future payrolls to do so. With attendance below expectations in 2009, $7 million is lot for the Rays to spend on a relief pitcher. Are the Rays willing to go to $70 million, or does somebody else need to be traded? We like Soriano as closer, but we like it a lot less if it means the Rays have to trade Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena to make room in the budget.

The Rayshead Army has every right to be excited about this move as the Rays are a better team today than they were before the Winter Meetings started. But we need to keep in mind that Soriano is no guarantee and the off-season is still very young.

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13 Comments

  1. John says:

    I'd be okay with a Pena trade to free up some salary, but not CC. I love Carlos, but there are cheaper options that can produce reasonable first baseman numbers (Willy Aybar as an in-house replacement would not even be a horrible move). True, there won't be the majestic homeruns, but there also won't be the 0-13 w/ 12 K stretches. And the decrease in "it's high, it's deep, it's...caught on the warning track" will be good for the old ticker.

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    • KillaTapes says:

      Haha! There's been so many times where I'll be in the kitchen making some food or something with the game on in the other room, and Dwayne Staats makes his home run call- I run out with excitement, spill mustard on the floor, and then- it's caught.

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  2. TD says:

    Re: JP Howell.... He went more then 2 months giving up zero earned runs in all but one appearance(May 24th-July 28th). His ERA on the season was 2.84. A high majority of his poor performances came late in the season. He was shut down late in the season due to a fatigued arm. He had never been a reliever prior to 2008. He threw a ton of high leverage innings in 2008, had a short offseason that included the WBC, then he wore out down the stretch. Having said all of that, his ERA on the SEASON was 2.84. Half of his blown saves were prior to the 9th inning and in non-traditional save opportunities.
    So say what you will about him bing one of the worst closers in baseball, but I respectfully disagree.

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    • yes, take out the high-leverage save ops that he blew and he was not one of the worst. He was average. But then again, Troy Percival was average in 2007 without any high leverage save ops.

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  3. Joel says:

    Making the bullpen better makes the $7 million a little easier to swallow. Obviously none of the positives will matter if he misses a lot of time with injury; but I'm pretty sure any established pitcher we ever sign will always have a red flag. We can't afford the perfect guy - unproven youngsters and risky veterans are the lifeblood of the cash-strapped team.

    The difference is I wasn't ever confident about Percival closing games even when he was healthy. With Soriano, performance is hardly in question.

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  4. As you always say Prof, Friedman never makes moves in a vacuum. Either they've decided to spend a little more or they're going to make another move for some salary relief.

    Honestly, I think they're willing to go a little bit higher on the payroll this year in order to gamble that this is the year that the AL East is vulnerable. I think the Red Sox are in a transition period that could leave them less than stellar. As for the Yanks, they're a good team but their pitchers threw a lot of innings very late last year. The could be vulnerable, especially early in the year.

    I also think that this is the year Longo really becomes a superstar. I mean the type of superstar that makes everyone around him play better. He's had 2 years to get his feet wet in the league, now is the time for him to take his game to the next level. If the Rays make sure there are no glaring holes (catcher,DH,closer), than he could carry this team.

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    • TD says:

      I keep reading people say the Red Sox are vulnerable. This by no means is a slam against you, but I dont see it. They have the same staff returning(essentially). They are looking to add Beltre, who should be a monster at Fenway(defensively and offensively), they've upgraded SS with Scutaro, and they may be adding Holliday(who they prefer over Bay).

      Lets wait to see how the offseason goes before we determine the Sox to be vulnerable.

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  5. Justin says:

    No two consecutive healthy years?

    Uh oh.

    If he blows up on us, we're screwed. Seriously screwed.

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    • TD says:

      Screwed? It's only a 1 year deal. If he gets injured, the Rays are in the same position they have been the past seasons....which isnt a horrible thing.

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  6. Gus says:

    I would think that Stu and Andrew would be run out of town on a rail if they traded Pena or Crawford to make room for a new player (different story if they are out of it in June). They are looking at this is as a one year plan -- if 2010 goes haywire, they are rebuilding again. But it is a long overdue move to try to get somebody who throws hard in the closer role, who has done it with some success before, and to add something to the payroll.

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    • Greg says:

      I agree. I think they will take on the extra payroll and reevaluate before the trade deadline. If we fall out of contention, someone probably has to go. But I don't necessarily think this signing will cause the dominoes to fall.

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  7. Don says:

    Funny story....My wife likes the Rays but knows little about baseball!
    Yesterday I told her the Rays got a new pitcher!
    She said..."They don't need a new pitcher"
    I said..."NO not a starting pitcher..but a relief pitcher, one who could
    pitch (good) late in the game"
    She said..."Well... its about time!" Amen!

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