For Soriano walking away from $14 million is not without risk
The landscape of baseball has been changing. As soft caps get placed into the CBA and teams dive deeper into the world of Sabermetrics, players begin to get evaluated differently. Right now the biggest need for teams is finding a middle of the lineup bat, something you never would have heard 10 years ago when steroids were rampant and home runs plentiful.
But it’s true. Almost every team has a young ace it can build around. And at this rate, most teams have a homegrown arm they can either convert from a starter (Neftali Feliz and then back again) or groom as a reliever (David Robertson) to eat the ninth inning appropriately.
That’s why the huge contracts to closers rarely include long years and high dollars (except for maybe Jonathan Papelbon who will make $13 million annually with a vesting option for 2016 and is closing games for a team who didn’t make the playoffs and is looking to shed payroll).
Should Soriano Stay?
Rafael Soriano presents an interesting case in New York. Logic states he was one of the best closers in baseball in 2012. Soriano posted a 2.26 ERA and closed 42 games in 67.2 innings with an excellent 1.16 WHIP and no playoff mishaps. This side of Fernando Rodney, it’s hard to argue there were many better shutdown closers who did it all season (Craig Kimbrel, Jim Johnson and Aroldis Chapman could be thrown into the discussion, too).
But he also gets paid pretty handsomely.
In 2014, Soriano stands to make $14 million in the final year of his contract and will be turning 33 years old in December.
Right now, Soriano closes for a perennial contender in a high profile division, in the biggest market in the world and would make 14 million dollars at age 33 and would still be a free agent before his 34th birthday.
Mariano Rivera is no longer guaranteed to return and Soriano would almost assuredly be part of a terrific bullpen (the Yankees have had a top bullpen for multiple years now) with an elite setup man. There is no reason to believe he can’t repeat the year he just had provided he pitches in the ninth inning.
Now let’s look at the alternative; the open market.
Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson are both coming off missed 2012 seasons due to injury, but were both dominant when healthy. Matt Capps has always been consistent, but mostly consistently mediocre. Huston Street present a cheaper alternative for the role and then there is always the potential trade or promotion from within. Grant Balfour had his option picked up by Oakland, so he is no longer available
While not a strong class, 2014 is actually worse. Brian Wilson will need to demonstrate his talents again after missing this year with injury and it’s unclear if Sergio Romo will want to hand over the role after just winning a World Series and delivering an elite performance most of the season.
Joe Nathan will be turning 41 years old and then outside of Joel Hanrahan, there is not a particularly attractive option and that’s assuming the Pirates don’t think they can contend and want to keep Hanrahan or extend him. That’s also assuming Hanrahan can deliver outside of Pittsburgh or in a deeper playoff run.
Even more than that, the teams interested in a high priced closer would be teams willing to spend money on a luxury who think they can compete and don’t already have an elite closer. That eliminates the entire AL East (even the Yankees can turn to Robertson or hope Rivera returns so they won’t bid against themselves this time.)
With Jose Valverde‘s situation in Detroit yet to be resolved, it’s unlikely Tigers would spend money on Soriano but it’s a possibility. The Marlins are more likely to blow up the team than spend on another high priced closer in light of the Heath Bell disaster. The Cardinals never seem to spend big on a closer.
That leaves Detroit, Arizona and maybe Los Angeles though it’s unclear whether an elite closer is the next place the Dodgers want to open its suddenly huge wallets. If Texas lets Josh Hamilton walk (which is likely) it might look towards shoring up the bullpen, but it’s more likely it will look to replace some other positions first. Plus, Texas has a deep farm system.
So Soriano opting out is essentially betting at age 33, he can’t do what he did at age 32, that he will get paid more than Jonathan Papelbon was paid in his prime in a year when closer’s were considered more valuable, and that he will get enough money over multiple years to take the risk a small market for his services will pay him better than a guaranteed 14 million dollars in 2013.
Pitch one more elite season for a contender in an elite market and division or look for your payday with a stronger Free Agent class at a time when your position is not in particularly high demand or a need for many teams?
The decision may be a little less obvious than Scott Boras would like you to believe.