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January 16, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Soriano Finally Gets Paid

by R.J. Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Kyle McClellan to a minor-league deal. [1/14]

McClellan underwent shoulder surgery last July, but he should be ready for spring training. That’s good news for the Rangers, who reportedly intend for McClellan, Justin Grimm, Martin Perez, and Robbie Ross to compete for the fifth starter’s job. If McClellan fails to win the rotation spot, he could find a home in the Rangers bullpen. Despite an arsenal heavier on depth than power, McClellan’s best years came in relief. At one point, he was mentioned alongside Jason Motte as potential heirs to Ryan Franklin’s throne. He’s never going to close games, yet he could serve as decent bullpen depth.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Re-signed RHP J.J. Putz to a one-year extension worth $7 million. [1/14]

When Putz signed a two-year deal with a club option in December 2010, few expected Arizona to exercise the option. Putz had missed time in 2008-2009 with elbow issues; labeling him an injury risk seemed fair. But the Diamondbacks did exercise that option earlier in the offseason, and now they’ve gone and tacked another year onto their commitment. It’s a merited vote of confidence in Putz. Though he did miss about a month in 2011 due to elbow inflammation, he’s remained mostly healthy and productive.

If nothing else, this extension puts the brakes on a potential Putz trade. Not that it seemed likely to begin with, but the Heath Bell acquisition had the opportunity to foster a closer controversy if Putz struggled and Bell returned to form. Arizona has now demonstrated where its loyalties stand. 

CINCINNATI REDS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed SS-S Cesar Izturis to a minor-league deal. [1/14]

The tune on Izturis hits the same notes it did years ago: he can field, he can’t hit, and he comes cheap. His willingness to ride buses makes him a solid piece of depth for the Reds. Jason Donald figures to serve as Zack Cozart’s backup, but Izturis will be around in case of injury or ineffectiveness—at least through May. The new CBA gives players with more than six years of MLB service time signed to minor-league deals two opt-out chances. Teams can either release the player five days before the season starts, or otherwise pay the player a $100,000 retention fee and then grant them a June 1 opt-out clause.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Jeff Karstens to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. [1/14]

Here’s what I wrote when the Pirates non-tendered Karstens in late November:

 

We live in strange times, times in which the Pirates are non-tendering pitchers with consecutive solid seasons. In truth, Karstens’ numbers belie his true ability. His stuff is mediocre, though it does play up because of his control and pitching know-how. He has a checkered injury history that may stem from a closed delivery, causing him to throw across his body and often miss glove-side targets. Karstens has a small margin for error and no ability to grow worthwhile facial hair, but he should be at the back-end of someone’s rotation next season.

 

That someone is the Pirates. You have to wonder if Karstens’ shoulder woes scared off potential suitors. Otherwise, signing with the Pirates in mid-January for less money than he made last season is a curious move. Karstens figures to take the fourth or fifth spot in Pittsburgh’s rotation, depending on what the Pirates do over the rest of the offseason. He should hit the market again after this offseason, but this time as a regular free agent.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal worth $28 million with a vesting option worth an additional $14 million. [1/14]

Here we have the early favorite for transaction of the year.

Opportunity cost is the end-all, be-all of most transactions. By signing Soriano, the Nationals are paying the opportunity cost of $28 million* and their first-round pick, no. 29 overall. Although this could be a poor trade in a vacuum, where the strength and potential staying power of the Nationals roster is ignored, in reality no team is better suited for this deal than Mike Rizzo’s bunch. Consider this: The only players guaranteed to become free agents before Soriano—even if his option vests—are Mike Morse, Kurt Suzuki, and Dan Haren. This is a good, controlled roster with some potential star upside remaining, depending on how Bryce Harper develops. We can talk about the impact of losing the draft pick and the pool money on the long-term outlook, but until the Nationals make this an annual occurrence then it’s hard to get too worked up about it.

*Jim Bowden reports that some of the money is deferred, bringing the average annual value down to $12 million.

The other big rallying point against signing Soriano is the present strength of the Nationals bullpen. Namely, they have two good-to-great relievers in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. If you view this as a reactionary signing to what occurred in the postseason, then rolling your eyes makes sense. Otherwise, viewing the Soriano addition as picking one over the other is a bad analogy. This is more akin to acquiring the best center fielder available and shifting your current center fielder to a corner than it is to acquiring the best center fielder available and shunning your current center fielder—which, by the way, the Nationals did the former by adding Denard Span earlier in the winter. It’s not about Soriano versus Storen and Clippard; it’s about Soriano versus the random middle reliever he just knocked off the active roster. Besides, Davey Johnson likes having an A and B bullpen to prevent overtaxing his top arms. This addition plays into that strategy.

Comparing the Nationals’ Top Three Relievers, 2010-2012 and 2013 Projections

Pitcher

ERA

FIP

FRA

PECOTA ERA

Soriano

2.50

3.26

3.63

3.05*

Drew Storen

2.96

3.13

3.43

2.93

Tyler Clippard

2.82

3.23

3.60

3.04

*Soriano’s New York-based projection

Here’s the forgotten worm in the apple: Storen and Clippard are hardly locks. Storen threw 30 innings last season while Clippard has more than 250 innings since 2010. Soriano is no lock either, but the Nationals have positioned themselves to have at least one or two good relievers, and perhaps three if they all remain hearty and hale. With Soriano in tow, the Nationals can now pace Storen and Clippard without handing high-leverage innings to middle relievers. It’s hard to look at this signing and come away thinking the Nationals are worse for the road. Yes, Rizzo is paying a hefty cost, and yes maybe he got played by Scott Boras; or, rather, by Boras getting Nationals owner Ted Lerner involved in negotiations. But the Nationals are an elite team adding one of the best players at his position, and they’re doing it without harming the rest of their roster or hamstringing their budget. 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

lmarighi

I appreciate the context on the Nationals deal, R.J., as I started scratching my head about it as soon as I saw the headline. Put in context, it makes some sort of sense. It made the Nationals better, even if the cost was high. And a better ball-club is the real goal of the winter, right?

Jan 16, 2013 05:36 AM
rating: 2
 
Lindemann
(852)

I think the keys for the Nats were:

1. In addition to Storen's injury to start the season, Clippard was clearly gassed at the end of last season. The training wheels will be off Jordan Zimmermann this year, but Strasburg is still going to be babied a little to get through the year. Many bullpen hands will make lighter work.

2. Ted Lerner is 87 years old and worth nearly #4 billion. He was a Senators fan during their tenure in D.C. He's a businessman, and he knows about cycles. If he smells a championship, clearly he can find a way to shake loose a few nickles.

Jan 16, 2013 06:18 AM
rating: 5
 
Lindemann
(852)

edit: $4 billion

Jan 16, 2013 06:18 AM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

I have to agree "in context" (which is always the proper way to analyze anything) this is a good deal for the Nationals. The team is loaded with youth under control at every position, so if any team can afford to lose a draft pick, even under these draconian terms where you lose the signing money too, it's this one. Plus, if your first draft pick turned out as well as Soriano, you'd be happy. Lastly

I point to the other Nationals news item, Golden Boy Steven Strasberg's limit has been raised to 200 innings. 6 innings a start over 33 starts is 198 innings. Strasberg may fullfill the traditional ace role of putting his team in a position to win most of his starts, he's not fullfilling the other traditional role of giving the bullpen a night off. This makes the need for the elite reliever that much more urgent, and well worth the loss of the pick.

Jan 16, 2013 07:03 AM
rating: 2
 
comish4lif

Just wanted to point out that last year was Jordan Zimmermann's second season after the Tommy John surgery, and Zimmermann threw 195 2/3 innings and made 32 starts.

I'd expect them to treat Strasburg pretty much the same way in 2013.

Jan 16, 2013 07:43 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

Just for fun, check out Gio Gonzalez's GS/IP for the past three seasons:

2012: 32 / 199.3
2011: 32 / 202.0
2010: 33 / 200.7

The guy is a solid six and out - the variation of IP's on his 2012 game log is remarkably low.

Looks like the Nats will be running the 6+1+1+1 pitcher strategy on a regular basis, with their light-workload starters and a trio of shutdown relievers.

Jan 17, 2013 00:24 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

David Schoenfield said there was a tweet that Soriano has the third lowest WHIP among pitchers who threw at least 500 innings since 1920. Not sure if that's true, though I did find Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner with lower WHIPs.

Jan 16, 2013 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
jcjohnson

I think Bowden's report, which I assume to be accurate, erases any hedging on the cost aspect of this deal. Essentially, the Nats are paying Soriano $7 million/year in '14 and '15, and then a bit more than $2 million/year from 2018-'25. By then I won't be surprised if $2m is less than 1% of their player payroll.

Jan 16, 2013 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

so what does Lerner care about that, he'll be dead by then--gives new meaning to the term 'deferred'.

Jan 16, 2013 22:02 PM
rating: 0
 
prs130

Still not clear who's coming out of the bullpen to face the likes of Freeman, Heyward, Howard, and Utley.

Soriano is the kind of luxury the Nats can afford for the next two years, but they've still got a LOOGy-free bullpen. A playoff team should have two LOOGys, not zero.

Jan 16, 2013 08:35 AM
rating: 1
 
bobbygrace

Agreed -- this article changed my view of the Soriano signing, but one piece of missing context is the Nationals' decision in December not to re-sign Sean Burnett, saying that he "was not a fit financially." Burnett is a solid lefty reliever (caveat: he recently had a bone spur removed) at a lower price point. How does signing Soriano make more sense for the Nats than re-signing Burnett?

Jan 16, 2013 08:48 AM
rating: 3
 
bobbygrace

P.S. I should cite my source:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2012/12/12/the-details-of-sean-burnetts-contract-with-the-angels/

Jan 16, 2013 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

If the playoffs are where your worries lie, a LOOGY is probably the easiest piece for a contending team to add around the trade deadline. If no internal option distinguishes itself, I don't think the Nats will trouble too hard finding someone come July.

That said, you'd still rather be sitting where Atlanta is in this regard, with O'Flaherty, Venters, and Avilan.

Jan 16, 2013 09:48 AM
rating: 2
 
NattyFan

Career OPS+ versus left-handed hitters:

Tyler Clippard - 85
Drew Storen - 95
Craig Stammen - 94
Zach Duke - 85
Bill Bray - 79

If Bray is healthy and makes the team, there's your LOOGY. Otherwise, it's a pretty well-rounded bullpen that gets both right-handed and left-handed batters sufficiently.

Jan 16, 2013 10:19 AM
rating: 4
 
BarryR

Additionally, Clippard actually is more effective vs. lefties, both last season and over his career.

Jan 16, 2013 11:35 AM
rating: 1
 
BPKevin

Concerning Rafael Soriano, I wonder if anyone is happier than the Yankees? By Soriano/Boras refusing the qualifying offer; New York didn't owe any buy out money, they don't have to pay a ridiculous salary to two closers and they now get Washington's first round 2013 draft pick. Please correct me if I am wrong on any of that.

Jan 16, 2013 09:46 AM
rating: 1
 
Kevin Ebert

The Yankees don't get the Nationals 1st round pick. They get a compensatory pick after the 1st round. The Nats pick is eliminated from the draft order.

Jan 16, 2013 10:37 AM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

Yeah, but that's a difference of three picks. Nats surrender 1-29, Yankees gain 1-32 (supplemental). That's a huge score for Cashman.

Jan 16, 2013 22:14 PM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

Correction: Nats surrender 1-30. It's a difference of two picks.

Jan 16, 2013 22:15 PM
rating: 0
 
NJTomatoes

What about Soriano's supposed strong preference to be THE closer and not the setup guy? Admittedly, I've never seen him quoted on this and am basing this on what I believe has been reported. If true, will there be a disruption to team love, peace and understanding?

Jan 16, 2013 10:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Arm Side Run

The best case scenario is that Soriano is worth 2 wins, maybe a little more, over the next two seasons. Even considering the marginal value of wins to a team like Washington, it doesn't seem like $28 million (or $24 million if Bowden is correct) is worth it, especially when you factor in the value of the lost draft pick as well. I get that Soriano is one of the more "reliable" relievers... but he's still a reliever. This wreaks of another Boras swindling

Jan 16, 2013 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BarryR

This was probably an easy sell. Let's write the scenario, shall we?

Boras: If you had Soriano last year, you would have been in the World Series. And you will be in the NLDS this year and if it's game one and you go into the ninth inning with a one run lead, who would you rather send out there, Drew Storen or Rafael Soriano? If you have to use Storen and it's a repeat of last year..well, you can buy something nice with money you saved, but it won't be a pennant.

Lerner looks at Rizzo. Rizzo shrugs.

Rizzo: It's your money.
Lerner: Yep. Make this happen.

***********
For all of Mariano's greatness, what makes him the best reliever ever, no questions asked, is his spectacular greatness in the postseason. That's where the pressure is highest. That's why Billy Wagner, for all his career numbers, wasn't a really great pitcher. Now Soriano doesn't have that much closer experience in the postseason, but he has gone through two pennant races and been pretty effective in October. When you're as rich as Lerner, there's no need to be cheap. He can't take it with him.

Jan 16, 2013 11:58 AM
rating: 3
 
davinhbrown

in other news.... the Pirates found a way to get out from under the Liriano contract that was never official, and shockingly save money.

Jan 16, 2013 14:41 PM
rating: 0
 
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