Rafael Soriano to the Nationals—Conspiracy Theories and Truth

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Rafael Soriano has agreed to a 2-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. There is significant deferred money and a third year option that automatically kicks in based on games finished in 2013-2014. You can read about the details here.

Let’s look at the ramifications, theories and reality of the Soriano signing.

Did Scott Boras hoodwink the Nats again?

Boras represents both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper—both of whose contracts will eventually be an issue for the Nationals—along with Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Accompanying that, there’s the concept that he’s using the same Svengali-like sway he has on his clients to hypnotize Nationals’ owner Ted Lerner into overpaying for a player he doesn’t need.

Boras’s ability to convince Lerner that this (Werth, Soriano, the Strasburg shutdown) is what the club needs to be successful certainly helped, but Boras is a businessman whose clients are his main motivating factor and if the Dodgers, Yankees or whomever had presented a better deal for Soriano, he would have taken it. Boras didn’t make any promises to package his players and make Harper, Strasburg or anyone else more signable for the Nats because, apart from probably being both illegal and against MLB rules, he’s not going to cost one player to serve another one. Sure, he’ll plan and steer clients to certain destinations that will pay that player the most money and simultaneously open up a spot in the prior location for another client, but that’s different from overtly saying, “Sign Soriano and I’ll make it worth your while with Strasburg and Harper later.”

It didn’t happen.

For Rafael Soriano

Boras’s intent was to get Soriano a 4-year, $60 million deal. If Soriano reaches his incentives for games finished (and barring injury or poor performance, he will), the deal will be $42 million for three years. That’s not $60 million over four, but given the market and the draft pick compensation that was attached to Soriano serving to scare away suitors who were unable or unwilling to swing the dowry, it’s a great deal for the pitcher.

The planets aligned perfectly for Soriano in 2012. He was an afterthought as the seventh inning man for the Yankees but the following happened:

  • Mariano Rivera’s knee injury
  • David Robertson’s brief foray as the Yankees’ closer left him with a look on his face like a victim of the creepy kid from The Ring
  • Soriano took over as Yankees’ closer and pitched brilliantly
  • He had the opt out in his contract

All of these factors secured more money and a guaranteed closer’s role for Soriano and it’s with a team on the short list to win the World Series—something that as of now cannot be said about the Yankees. Had he returned to the Yankees, his role would have been either the eighth or back to the seventh inning. His numbers and financial opportunities would’ve suffered for it in his next chance at free agency and his age would affect his marketability as well.

He had his chance to get paid and, wisely, he took it.

For the Nationals

Is Soriano something of an overkill? Yes, if—and it’s a big if—Drew Storen’s elbow is healthy and, more importantly, his head isn’t still muddled by his disastrous game 5 meltdown in the NLDS loss to the Cardinals in which he blew a 2-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning. He wound up surrendering 4 runs as the Cardinals won the game and the series.

Presumably, his elbow isn’t the problem. His head might be.

Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson saw firsthand what can happen to a pitcher who blows a game like that when he was managing the Mets and they rallied against Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi in 1986 in both games 6 and 7 of the World Series and Schiraldi’s career as a significant contributor was essentially done after that. Johnson likes to have a deep bullpen, but he also likes to have a closer he knows isn’t going to panic in a big game. He had that with the Mets and Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco and Randy Myers; he had it with the Reds with Jeff Brantley; and with the Orioles with Myers again. There might have been that underlying fear with Storen that he wouldn’t recover.

Soriano’s not exactly trustworthy in the playoffs either, but he did replace Rivera and do the job in New York, doubly-massive pressure situations.

The argument could be made that the Nationals, if they no longer trusted Storen, could simply have switched roles between him and Tyler Clippard permanently. Clippard closed in Storen’s absence and even after Storen returned last season, so he can do it. But when Rivera got hurt and the Yankees stuck Robertson in the closer’s role adhering to a misplaced rule of succession, it was a mistake. Robertson, like Clippard, did the heavy lifting in the seventh and eighth innings as the set-up man. It won’t be a glorious role until there’s a catchier and more definable stat than a “hold,” and until these pitchers are paid commensurately for the job they’re doing, but it’s sometimes more important to have a good set-up man than the closer, whose job is to accumulate saves and whose main attribute is to handle the job mentally. Clippard can close, but he’s more valuable setting up.

Historically, Johnson has also liked using more than one closer, so it’s possible Storen might get a few save opportunities. With Soriano’s mentality, though, that too would be a mistake. As the “established closer paid to get the saves,” Soriano doesn’t want to hear statistical reasons as to why he’s not pitching the ninth inning in a save situation. He wants the ball and he wants the saves. If anyone else is used in the ninth inning when Soriano is healthy, feeling good and available, he’ll see that as a threat, making it a potential long-term issue.

Johnson will use Soriano to close. Period. It’s not because he doesn’t want to think for himself or do something against new conventional orthodoxy, but because it’s easier for him and the team to do it that way.

The draft pick and the money

According to Forbes, as of September 2012, Ted Lerner was worth $3.9 billion. He’s 87-years-old. Could the player the Nationals would draft at 31 in the 1st round make a difference to them in Lerner’s lifetime? Possibly. Is it likely that the player will be more useful than Soriano? No.

Maybe they’re going to package Storen with Mike Morse in a trade to get another starting pitcher and a lefty specialist; maybe they’ll use them to bolster the farm system with better prospects than they would have gotten in the 2013 first round. If that’s the case, then they’ve benefited themselves in multiple ways.

The Nationals aren’t building. They’re built. Any player they drafted at number 31 isn’t going to be a significant contributor to this current group unless they draft what they just signed—a short reliever. And the likelihood of a college draftee closer showing up and taking over as the Nationals’ closer and anchoring a championship team in 2013-2014 is almost non-existent. The number of college closers that have been drafted as closers and made it to the big leagues quickly to contribute significantly starts with Gregg Olson and ends with Chad Cordero. It’s more probable that they’d end up with a Jaime Bluma—a great closing arm that never made it.

They have the money and the draft pick was negligible. They’re a better team today with Soriano than they were yesterday without him and the 31st pick in the draft. The Nationals are trying to win right now and, considering what was available, Soriano helps them to do that better than the other options. There were no conspiracies nor was it buying for its own sake. They wanted to improve immediately and that’s what they did.

//

Advertisements

Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

//

2011 Feels More 1975 Than 1986 And The Rangers Will Win

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Post-game note: Naturally, hours after I wrote this the Cardinals beat the Rangers to win the World Series. Even with that, the following is an interesting bit on the 1975 and 1986 World Series along with proof that even the most brilliant of us can be wrong; or the most idiotic can be right. Where I fall in there is yet to be determined. Probably both.

Two of the most dramatic game sixes in World Series history happened in 1975 and 1986.

Last night, 2011 joined those two great series in memorable worthiness.

Carlton Fisk‘s “body english” dance down the first base line as he willed his long drive off of Reds righty Pat Darcy off the foul pole just above the Green Monster in Fenway Park has become one of the enduring images and stories in the history of baseball.

But there was an even more dramatic and important moment earlier in that game as pinch hitter Bernie Carbo homered with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score.

In 1986, the Mets dramatic comeback from two runs down with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Red Sox culminated with Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball dribbling through Bill Buckner‘s legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run.

In 1975, the Reds came back the next night and beat the Red Sox 4-3. After leading 3-0 into the sixth inning, Tony Perez hit a two-run homer off a super-slow curveball from Red Sox lefty Bill Lee to make it 3-2; Pete Rose singled to tie the score in the seventh; and the Reds took the lead in the ninth on Joe Morgan‘s bloop hit to center field.  Carl Yastrzemski flew out to Cesar Geronimo in center field as the Reds finally whacked the albatross of unmet expectations off their backs; Reds pitcher Will McEnaney repeatedly leaped into the air, spinning his arms in joy as the ball descended into Geronimo’s glove and celebrated in Fenway Park.

1986’s game 7 saw the Red Sox jump out to a 3-0, second inning lead as well on back-to-back homers by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman. Sid Fernandez relieved Ron Darling for the Mets and electrified the crowd, striking out four in 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. The game was quieted down sufficiently with Fernandez’s performance to set the stage for a comeback; the Mets rallied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Knight homered off of Calvin Schiraldi to lead off the bottom of the seventh; the Mets scored two more runs to extend the lead to 6-3; the Red Sox scored twice in the top of the eighth; Darryl Strawberry hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning to make it 8-5. Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the series, then flung his glove into space in a memory that will forever be entrenched in the minds of Mets fans.

There are similarities to both series for both teams playing their game 7 tonight.

The Cardinals win in game 6 was more reminiscent of the Red Sox win in 1975 than that of the Mets in 1986; last night’s game had so many twists, turns and comebacks that the only way it could end was on a walk-off homer.

But as dramatic as the Fisk homer was, people tend to forget that the Reds finally validated their place in history the next night.

After having lost in the World Series in 1970 and 1972; being bounced in the playoffs by the supposedly inferior Mets in 1973, the joke was that the Big Red Machine was equipped with a choke.

The Rangers are in a similar position as those Reds. They blew a game and championship they thought they’d already won a year after losing in the World Series; they thought they’d still be celebrating and now need to come back, play another game and win to prove that their back-to-back American League championships aren’t worthless; that the well-rounded team they’ve constructed isn’t going to go down as a disappointment that falls apart in the big moments.

Before those championships, the Reds stars—Rose, Morgan, Perez and Johnny Bench—hadn’t won anything in a team sense.

The Rangers stars—Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz—are looking for similar validation.

These Rangers rely on a decent starting rotation and ultra-deep bullpen always on call; so did those Sparky Anderson-managed Reds.

There was a sense of foreboding hovering around the 1986 Red Sox from such a devastating defeat and constant reminder of how something always seemed to go wrong to ruin whatever chance they had at finally breaking The Curse. They were destined to lose and they did.

As resilient as the 2011 Cardinals have been, they haven’t played particularly well this series—in fact, they’ve been horribly outplayed. The should’ve lost last night.

The Rangers are starting Matt Harrison tonight with C.J. Wilson on call in the bullpen set to play the Sid Fernandez-role if Harrison gets into trouble. There’s a decided on-paper disadvantage on the mound with Chris Carpenter pitching for the Cardinals.

But that won’t matter.

With that gut-wrenching loss behind them and their ability to overcome drama, on field and off, the Rangers are tougher than they’re given credit for; I don’t get the sense that the Cardinals are a team of destiny like the 1986 Mets.

And that’s why the Rangers are going to win tonight and make game 6 a dramatic and exciting footnote rather than a turning point to an unexpected championship.

//