Analyzing baseball players through the five-tool prism is no longer accurate. Some players can do it all, but lack one skill crucial to their playing careers: not playing the offseason game well. Rafael Soriano stands as the next possible victim of this skill set deficiency, and for the second time in as many winters.
This year actually marks the first time Soriano has hit the free agency market. Soriano stunned the Atlanta Braves by accepting their arbitration offer instead of testing the open market last offseason – a move that resulted in a sign-and-trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. After a successful season with the Rays, in which Soriano led the American League in saves and posted a career best earned run average, he chose to decline the Rays’ offer of arbitration. At this point, Soriano’s mid-season hiring of Scott Boras looked like a masterstroke on the road to riches.
The early bullpen market shaped up in picture perfect form, too. Soriano’s set-up man, Joaquin Benoit, received three years from the Detroit Tigers despite fewer accomplishments and more injuries. A pair of Minnesota Twins escapees received multiple year deals, too. Even J.J. Putz, freshly removed from a prove-it season, inked a worthwhile deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Soriano, though, remained on the market.
All along, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim appeared to be the frontrunners to sign Soriano. Yet, they added Scott Downs and already have Fernando Rodney under contract along with younger arms like Kevin Jepsen and Jordan Walden. The Texas Rangers seemed like a potential landing place after losing Cliff Lee, but chose instead to sign Adrian Beltre and take a chance with Brandon Webb. Even dark horses, like the Baltimore Orioles – where Soriano would have reunited with former set-up man Mike Gonzalez – and the Boston Red Sox – prior to signing Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks – settled on other end-game options.
Soriano is not the only worthwhile reliever on the outside looking in, as teammates Grant Balfour and Chad Qualls remain, as do Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes. The New York Yankees hold legitimate or non-existent interest in Soriano depending on which source is talking. Otherwise, though, the Soriano market appears thin with no signs of obesity on the way.
A player with the free agent skill, so to speak, knows when to grab the pen and sign the necessary paperwork. Agents should assist – if not override – a player’s ability to read the market. Geoff Blum, for instance, appears to be not so skilled on the field, but skilled off the field – if only because his performance is enhanced by a cunning agent. In most cases, Boras appears to be the best agent in the game. In this particular case, though, one has to wonder if Boras overplayed his hand by waiting.
Of course, Boras may separate himself from other agents and pull a three-year deal worth $30 million out of his back pocket within the next few weeks. If nothing else, Soriano may have to take another one-year deal, therefore setting himself up for one more crack at a pot of gold. After all, the third time is the charm.