Boras Finds Rafael Soriano a Home in D.C.

Coming into the offseason, Rafael Soriano had a choice: return to the Yankees in 2013 for $14 million, or opt out, collect $1.5 million, and become a free agent. Consensus around these parts was that Soriano should stay put. Soriano opted out. The Yankees extended to Soriano a $13.3 million qualifying offer, and there was a strong argument that Soriano should accept it and stay with New York. Soriano turned it down and entered the market with compensation reducing his appeal. Many of those players who declined qualifying offers have struggled to find the contracts they wanted. For a while, Soriano’s market, at least publicly, wasn’t developing. It was unclear for a while what was going to happen to Rafael Soriano, and it was easy to conclude that he’d made the wrong decisions.

Soriano just signed a two-year contract with the Nationals worth $28 million. He turned down $14 million over one year, a year in which he wouldn’t close much, and ended up with $14 million over two years, years in which he’ll at least initially be the closer. There’s also a $14 million vesting option at the end, just in case the contract wasn’t good enough for Soriano already. Soriano, and his agent Scott Boras.

Over the offseason, I’ve been trading texts with someone who had a vested interest in where Soriano would ultimately end up. The texts were usually more question than answer, as we couldn’t identify a probable front-runner for his services. Detroit seemed obvious, but Detroit denied interest. Toronto seemed like a possible dark horse. We never identified Washington, although in hindsight, maybe we should’ve. With Scott Boras, it’s not so much about need; it’s about Boras’ ability to convince an organization of its need. It’s evident that Boras and the Nationals have a good relationship, and this is just the latest chapter.

The lesson here isn’t to never doubt Scott Boras. Boras is a fantastic agent, but he isn’t a perfect agent, and he won’t always get his clients what they’re looking for. We’ll see what he does with Kyle Lohse, and we’ll see what he does with Michael Bourn. Those guys might still have to settle. But we figured Soriano would have to settle until he didn’t, and this is Boras’ genius. He’s powerful and he’s persuasive, and he can make something out of very very little. With different representation, Soriano might today be in a very different situation.

If the ends justify the means, Soriano was right to opt out and decline the qualifying offer. He got his multi-year contract. But this isn’t the only justification; this way, Soriano got to enter the market having just been a closer, whereas a year from now he presumably would have given way to Mariano Rivera. That would’ve reduced his value, even though he’s demonstrated that he’s able to close at multiple points in his career. It wasn’t completely irrational. Clearly.

Now, Soriano is a reliever. We can probably agree that he’s a non-elite reliever, and he’s 33 years old with an injury history. Let’s ignore the vesting option; that kicks in if Soriano finishes 120 games between 2013-2014, and Soriano’s never finished 60 games in a season once, let alone twice, let alone consecutively. That’s probably not much of a factor. Still, I think we have to conclude that Soriano probably won’t be worth this contract. No matter how you figure reliever valuation, Soriano’s getting $14 million a year for two years. He’d have to be incredible to be worth that, and then there’s also the matter of the lost draft pick.

But if you begin with the premise that $28 million for two years for Rafael Soriano is maybe a little too risky, you can figure out for whom it’s the least too risky. For which team would that contract make the most sense? And I think the Nationals are the answer. If someone had to gamble on Soriano as a free agent, the Nationals make a whole lot of sense.

Nevermind that the Nationals already had a closer, if not a couple of them. Relievers can occupy different roles, and all of them are important. The Nationals, last year, finished with the best record in baseball, so the pick they’re surrendering is the pick at the end of the first round. As first-round picks are concerned, theirs is the least valuable. There are teams out there with protected high first-round picks, but those teams aren’t really in the market for an aging closer.

Then there’s the matter of the Nationals arguably being the best team in baseball right now. It’s close, and there’s a lot of error-bar overlap, but the Nationals are among baseball’s top World Series contenders in 2013 and, presumably, 2014. They have the most to gain from roster improvements, and Soriano makes them better today. It’s clear now they had money to spend, and looking at their roster, it’s not like there are a lot of areas for improvement. They’re solid all the way around, and they could’ve used a bullpen boost and a rotation depth boost. Soriano is their bullpen boost. The Nationals’ bullpen now has more overall ability, and a greater ability to withstand injury or under-performance. The Nationals signed Soriano with both the regular season and the playoffs in mind.

This also has the side benefit of giving the Nationals a little more flexibility in Michael Morse trade negotiations. There’s less reason for them to target a late-inning reliever, and they’re now more able to consider moving Morse for a prospect or two. Or a fifth or sixth starter. Soriano doesn’t change everything about the Morse talks, but it’s a factor.

Drew Storen is a good reliever, nevermind his postseason meltdown. Tyler Clippard is a good reliever, too, and so is Craig Stammen. Soriano is another good reliever. He struck out a quarter of the batters he faced in 2012, and he’s coming from a small park in the American League. He could get hurt or he could underperform, but he does make the Nationals a better team, and doing that was a challenge given the way the Nationals’ roster already looked. And those other good relievers will still throw their higher-leverage innings. There’s room for Soriano, basically.

Mathematically, this is probably an overpay. The Nationals are in a situation where they don’t have to worry too terribly much about a slight overpayment. They’re fantastic, and a World Series championship justifies an awful lot. They’re in a better spot now.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


52 Responses to “Boras Finds Rafael Soriano a Home in D.C.”

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  1. EricL says:

    Don’t decent-but-not-great teams have the most to benefit from roster improvements, as each marginal win for them is more valuable? The 88th-91st wins are, I think, more important to a team than the 93rd+ wins are. If that’s the case it would seem the Nationals, or any elite team, shouldn’t be overspending when they’re already dominant.

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    • David says:

      “The most to gain” and “Some gain” are not the same thing. From an economic standpoint … call it payroll, or marginal wins, or whatever … Soriano is an overpay. Barring a major injury or meltdown in the Nats bullpen at least. But it’s still SOME gain, even if that gain is only insurance. If you are the Pirates you have to chase the most gain because you don’t have many dollars to use. When you’re the Nats, your payroll ceiling is more or less up to your owner. Overpays are fine so long as you’re not chasing ROI

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        This signing is an investment of $28 million on 25ish innings of postseason work over the next two years. And if Soriano gives them 25 good innings in the 2013-14 playoffs, the overpay is justified.

        I know this signing was not the rational product of Drew Storen’s meltdown, but that shadow still hangs over the team.

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      • EricL says:

        Well, sure David, but take a look at paragraph 9 (4th from bottom), sentence 3.

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    • Jaker says:

      Some faulty logic there as you’re dealing in absolutes and assuming that the Nationals are somehow a lock to win 93+ games. No team is a lock to win that many games. Injury, under-performance and luck all factor into the equation. Adding Soriano could very well be what gives the Nats their 91st win.

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      • EricL says:

        No, I’m disputing a specific premise from the article.

        Specifically this part:

        “Then there’s the matter of the Nationals arguably being the best team in baseball right now. It’s close, and there’s a lot of error-bar overlap, but the Nationals are among baseball’s top World Series contenders in 2013 and, presumably, 2014. They have the most to gain from roster improvements…

        The notion that the best teams in baseball are the ones that have the most to gain from roster improvements (and are therefore the best candidates to “overpay” for them) seems wrong. The teams that should be willing to do such an overpay are the marginal playoff contenders, as each additional win is worth more to their franchise than each additional win is to elite teams.

        This isn’t 2013 Nationals specific.

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      • munchtime says:

        Eric, you confused the best ROI with the most to gain. Those upper 80s wins are the best ROI because that is where the biggest impact is on playoff hopes. Washington has higher goals than that, where ROI is a secondary concern. If Soriano is the difference between winning and losing the World Series, the dollar value of his contract is irrelevant.

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      • Jim says:

        You’re only thinking of wins in terms of regular season, and making the playoffs. For the best teams, the playoffs are a given — what really matters is how well you do once you get there. Under those circumstances, a closer is just about the most valuable player there is.

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    • Tomcat says:

      The surplus value of Strasburg, Harper, Zimmerman, Span, Gio, Ramos, Desmond and Espinosa means that the likely overpays of Werth, Laroche, Haren and Soriano is fine in that their existence on the payroll is not costing the Nats a chance at acquiring a better player for the money.

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    • LK says:

      I’ve heard people make the argument that relief pitchers are fungible during the year but can be extremely valuable in the playoffs. If you buy into that, then an elite reliever is probably most valuable to the team that is most likely to make the playoffs, which is probably the Nationals.

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    • Careless says:

      If you assume a team is going to make the playoffs, the top end of its talent is significantly more valuable, because that’s going to be what’s used to go for a WS

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  2. Scott says:

    Is Soriano better than Henry Rodriguez? Yes

    Did they spend money they should have used elsewhere? Probably not (at least for 2013)

    These moves where good teams “pile on” talent at whatever expense almost can’t be viewed through the lens of a normal FA deal. If you have the money why not spend it? I am sure giving up pick #31 and getting him for the whole season is better than trading closer to MLB prospect(s) for a bloated reliever contract at the deadline.

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  3. David says:

    I like the notion that this puts Tyler Clippard on the trading block. He’s had a pretty good three year run, but was craptastic in the second half … the mileage might be starting to pile up a bit. Still, Clippard + Morse might be able to fetch a pretty decent piece in return.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Clippard 2012

      First half–37.1 IP–0HR–.218 BABIP
      2nd half—-35.1 IP–7HR–.305 BABIP

      First half–.148/.234/.203, 10.4 K/9
      2nd half—-.255/.327/.461, 10.4 K/9

      The strikeout and walk rates remained the same, but his BABIP overcorrected and he was much easier to hit.

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      • chuckb says:

        I’m not sure if you were trying to imply that luck was a factor but, while it might have been a factor, it’s not likely that it was the factor. 7 hr in the 2nd half probably wasn’t all bad luck.

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  4. AverageMeansAverageOverTime says:

    From what I gathered the Yankees were willing to add an additional year after 2013, maybe but Boras and Soreno wanted 4 years. Doesn’t really seem a win for them since they did have to settle for two at the same amount. Still two years guaranteed is better than two years maybe.

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    • AaronB says:

      It’s 2 years at the same amount, plus the extra $1.5 million buy out, so even if the Yanks added 1 year at $14 million, Soriano will receive more money (and more in annual salary) than he would have if he stayed with the Yankees.

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      • AverageMeansAverageOverTime says:

        He would have made $14 million this year under his old contract. The buy out is a plus for this year. But when you’re agent says he can get you 4 years if you op out and you have to settle for 2 that’s not a win in my book. At best it’s a wash. Especial after you deduct agent fees which I think is somewhere around 10%.

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      • TKDC says:

        My understanding is that he got a 1.5 buyout for this year from the Yankees (weird that he gets money for opting out), so he is actually making 15.5 million. The 14 million for 2014 is also now guaranteed, so I have a very hard time understanding how this is a wash for him.

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  5. AaronB says:

    Is there any added value in keeping him off the rosters of other teams that the Nats may end up facing in the playoffs?

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  6. Bill says:

    hmmmm, I guess Boras figured that he could get another two year deal for Soriano when he’s 35. I figured he was turning down 3/30 and people called me crazy…

    I still say Bourn is turning down 5/75, but I’m thinking he may have to accept something similar to that in the end. We shall see.

    Lohse turning down 13mil was laughable. He’s a 3.5/4 ERA guy Nl/AL with durability issues and 2000 ip on the odometer. He’ll maybe get a Guthrie type deal.

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    • Justin Whitlock says:

      I doubt that. He has pitched roughly 400 innings at a 3.50 FIP the past two seasons. Guthrie has also pitched roughly 400 innings, but at a pathetic 4.48 and 5.10 FIP. To compare the two is just irrational.

      Loshe’s problem is the draft pick compensation. You will chalk that over if your talking an absolute game changer (i.e. Hamilton). But the fringe guys just do not justify it and thus the reasoning behind the previous system having the “B” classification or giving a 2nd round selection. To have to give up the same pick regardless of whether the player is Hamilton or Loshe is just illogical. I have no idea what will come of him. He may realistically end up with no deal and MLB having to intervene as they did the the relievers that were getting hammered last year. Loshe has been worth 11.3 and 16.1M the last two seasons, I think he deserves something in the 3/35M range but right now that is just not going to happen. You remove the pick attached to him and it happen tomorrow, IMO.

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      • BJsWorld says:

        It was his choice. He could have accepted a generous $13M contract but didn’t want it. I can certainly understand his rationale, and the system is least fair to those right on the value bubble, but it all comes down to his decision to risk a guaranteed payout.

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  7. Justin Whitlock says:

    Look, baseball has been forever change since the somewhat weird entry of Magic Johnson to baseball. I think we will all agree that what has taken place of the past two years is nothing short of mind boggling. The Yankees have always thrown their weight around, made the playoffs, and stacked their championships on top of one another. Those days are gone. California is a large nation by itself with the highest median income in the country. The Dodgers have built, one could easily argue, the best team in the history of baseball. These days, your not just put together an extremely talented team and letting the wins compile. Their is a new echelon that will separate the great teams from the unreal teams. The Giants will likely be one of the last of a great team holding their own. It took a fake MVP candidate and winning a seemingly endless amount of win or go home games and that was without the reinvented Dodgers and Angels. It took the stars to align for the Nationals to construct an uncanny team without spending 150M. Adding a Grienke to a rotation of Kershaw, Beckett, Ryu, Billingsley, Cuapano, and Harang was just absurd. D.C. has a pretty steep median income also and I think Mr. Lerner said I will see your superstar and raise you one. Will it work? I don’t know. But they have a team that, on paper, matches up with any in baseball and now a guy who will absolutely shut down opposition in October.

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  8. Sam Gonzalez says:

    Stupid is justifying this.

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  9. rubesandbabes says:

    I don’t agree that it is cool or relevant to down Soriano as a player WE ALL CAN AGREE is a non-elite reliever.

    K/9 career: 9.45

    ERA career 2.78

    40+ save years = 2

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    • Josh says:

      How his ===D taste?

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      • Mike says:

        I agree with Rubesandbabes. Soriano has the third best WHIP of any pitcher in the last 90 years with 500+ innings. He’s dominated hitters in any inning at every stop, regardless of role. He’s a beast.

        Assuming the Nats can control the emotions and injuries to those now demoted, this move can shorten games. Worked well for the ’96 Yankees; it could work just fine for the 2013 Nats.

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  10. pft says:

    Boras is a genius.

    I had to laugh when I saw all those articles on Boras losing his touch last week on other sites because of all his unsigned clients. His difficult clients tend to sign late, that’s his MO.

    Napoli should give him a call.

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  11. GrassRockFish says:

    So, apparently half the salary is deferred until 2018-25 (!?) If that’s true, I’m guessing that means the Nats were willing to go 2/20 (or whatever the present-day value of the deferred money would work out to), and they’re doing Boras a favor by letting him claim to get a $14M AAV.

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    • Esoteric says:

      It’s roughly $11.8 million AAV with the deferred money and inflation. (Quite a bit less if the U.S. starts minting $3 trillion dollar platinum coins…)

      So what was billed as a 2/28 contract is, in reality a 2/23.5 contract (or perhaps less). Not bad, Rizzo.

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      • pft says:

        With Sorianos injury history what would you rather have, 1 yr at 14 million or 2 years at 11.8 million per year. Also, there is a vesting option so if by some miracle he stays healthy and effective for 2 years, he gets a 3rd year.

        This despite the fact he cost the Nats a draft pick worth 5 million or more

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      • matt w says:

        Just to note, that’s not how trillion dollar platinum coins work. If the country coins a lot of money and it sits in its account at the Federal Reserve, it doesn’t drive up inflation.

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      • Esoteric says:

        With Sorianos injury history what would you rather have, 1 yr at 14 million or 2 years at 11.8 million per year. Also, there is a vesting option so if by some miracle he stays healthy and effective for 2 years, he gets a 3rd year.

        This despite the fact he cost the Nats a draft pick worth 5 million or more

        The vesting option is a non-issue. It requires Soriano to FINISH 60 games per year (120 over two years), which he hasn’t done once in his career. And if by some miracle he actually manages to reach that milestone, he’ll be worth the option year.

        Also, the valuation of the draft pick at $5,000,000 is more than a little premature. Draft picks are valuable, no doubt, but for a team in win-now mode the 31st pick in a draft that doesn’t even look all that promising is little more than a crapshoot.

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      • Cliff says:

        matt w, you are forgetting expectations (i.e. the only thing that matters for inflation)

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      • BJsWorld says:

        matt w … it absolutely would impact inflation. A green light to coin more capital without any interference from Congress?

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      • TKDC says:

        2/23.5 is much better than 1/14 (and really it is a choice of 2/26, which includes the 1.5 from the Yankees, over 1/14.5, which was the 1.5 plus the 13 qualifying offer).

        This would almost always be the case for a 33 year old reliever, but is especially so when there is a good chance said reliever would not close the following year. How much could Soriano possibly expect as a 34 year old set up man?

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  12. ncb says:

    This move may make sense if the only lefty in the Nats pen wasn’t Zach Duke…

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    • Luke Appling says:

      Interesting allocation of resources; that Washington chose to invest in Soriano while letting both LHPs Tom Gorzelanny (2/$5.7) and Mike Gonzalez (1/$2.25) go.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Check out Clippard’s, Storen’s, and Stammen’s splits against lefties. Stammen actually has a reverse split.

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  13. If Rafael Soriano is worth this contract, what would Craig Kimbrel earn on the open market today? I would feel okay about signing Kimbrel to a contract like this, but he is way more valuable than Soriano in this fictitious scenario. Are we preparing for a future where a guy like Kimbrel earns $60m over 3 years?

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  14. LHomonacionale says:

    A few things not mentioned:

    -The Nationals have relatively little payroll commitment for the 2013-2014 seasons compared to other teams who also expect to contend means they have more flexibility in regards to payroll than other teams looking to add value at this point in the offseason. The other side of the coin, 2015 will be the last seasons of arbitration eligibility for the oldest pieces of their young core (Desmons, Zimmerman, et al.). After that the Nats will need the flexibility, and have only one FA commitment into that time (Werth).

    -The two years are functionally paid at $7m each, with the other half of the contract paid over five years starting in 2018. This makes half the contract practically negligible in terms of financial planning. Inflation aside, even on this schedule the Nats will be finished paying Soriano before the Mets have paid off Bobby Bonilla.

    -The value in improving the club by increasing payroll versus moving future talent. The team is performing on the cheap now at least in part because the best pieces of the farm system were moved for young, team-controlled talent in Gio Gonzalez, and another piece this offseason in Denard Span. If the Nats don’t raise payroll to improve the bullpen their farm system will bear further costs, either in trades or premature promotion.

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  15. James Jones says:

    ZimmermanN is where the surplus value is. Zimmerman just signed a long FA deal last offseason.

    Come on people!

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  16. El Jocko says:

    Any thoughts on Davey Johnson’s A/B closer theory? It seems like picking up Soriano positions the Nats to implement that system and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was one of the driving factors in making this move. But does the whole A/B closer thing actually work?

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