Blue Jays take a worthwhile gamble on Rafael Soriano


Only a year removed from being a valued closer with the Nationals, it’s conceivable the Blue Jays may have found a late bargain bin steal in Rafael Soriano.

The Blue Jays are still adding to the competition in Dunedin, and were at it again Sunday by bringing in Rafael Soriano for a look this spring. Soriano has signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, and will join the ever-growing field of candidates hoping to crack the major league roster.

Now 36, Soriano didn’t do much for his stock in 2015, waiting until June to sign on with the Chicago Cubs, then only appearing in 6 games before a DL stint with shoulder inflammation essentially ended his season. He was released in September and failed to catch on with another team for the stretch run.

The former All-Star will look to secure a spot with the major league roster and prove that he still has something to offer in the bigs. Only a year removed from being valued closer with the Nationals, it’s conceivable the Blue Jays may have found a late bargain bin steal in Rafael Soriano.

What Made Him Successful In the Past

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Soriano was a highly successful closer from 2009-2014 with the Braves, Rays, Yankees and Nationals. Over the course of 384 appearances, Soriano got it done in both the AL & NL with 191 saves, a 2.82 ERA and was worth a WAR of 6.6. He was even signed as the once heir apparent to Marino Rivera‘s throne as the Yankees closer, and performed well in the role during Rivera’s missed 2012 season, due to injury.

The Dominican has primarily relied on a 4 seam fastball sitting in the 91-94 MPH range paired with a plus slider. Soriano used to toy with other pitches, but used a steady diet of the fastball/slider combo since joining the Yankees, perhaps with Rivera’s influence (Rivera famously threw only one pitch, the cutter).

One of the many problems during his brief stay with the Cubs last season was a reported lack of velocity on his fastball. He’ll look to find the pop on the pitch, and regain the confidence that made him so successful earlier in his career. Even as recently as 2014, Soriano saved 32 games for the contending Nationals, and finished with a 3.19 ERA.

What His Signing Means For the Jays

Not much likely. It’s a harmless look at another formerly successful veteran, and a worthwhile one in this writer’s opinion. Many GM’s have the philosophy that a player brought in on a minor league contract is never a bad gamble, and that’s exactly the case with Soriano. One could argue that it’s an especially worthwhile roll of the dice, given how recently he pitched well, and his history of success in the AL East.

Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have also shown that they’re willing to turn over every rock, and check every cranny for serviceable bullpen options. With 5-6 bullpen jobs appearing to be locked down, Soriano will have to prove he’s got something left to give, in order to make the roster. He’ll battle the likes of Steve DelabarDavid AardsmaRyan TeperaPat Venditte, and Joe Biagini, Bo Schultz, Ryan Tepera, and to lesser extent Gavin Floyd, Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Chavez.

There can be significant, underrated value brought to MLB rosters in February, with many players seeing the opportunities getting smaller as opening day nears. The good news is Soriano and his agent see Toronto as a team worth joining, even on a small contract. That’s a welcome change of reputation from years past. The bad news is Soriano and his agent see a potential opportunity in the bullpen, meaning the Jays have a few unanswered questions going into 2016.

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In all likelihood, the right hander will be hard pressed to make the team. The Blue Jays already have plenty of late inning options, regardless of how the 5th starter battle works out, and Soriano appears to be a redundant piece of the puzzle. It is possible he impresses enough in camp to stick with the roster, but he’ll have to show signs of 2014 and earlier, in order to beat out the other talent options.

Entertaining Side Notes

  • Soriano battled recent trade acquisition Drew Storen for the role of closer, while both were in Washington. Storen should have no issue fighting off Soriano this time around.
  • If he makes the team, the Blue Jays will be Soriano’s third AL East team.
  • Soriano signed the largest contract for a non-closing reliever, when he inked a 3 year, 35 million dollar contract with the Yankees in 2011.
  • Yankee GM Brian Cashman remarked upon signing Soriano in 2011, “I think 29 teams would love to have Rafael Soriano thrown down their throats”, among other negative comments.