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When you think of dominant closers, Rafael Soriano is generally not a name that comes to mind. However, if Soriano is able to consistently put up big numbers like he did in 2009, then he will have to be in the discussion. When Soriano is healthy, he's a fantastic relief pitcher. But like so many other relief pitchers, Soriano has battled injuries throughout his career, which have stunted his progress.
Let's take a look at Rafael Soriano, the free agent: The Case for Soriano
Soriano really came into his own this season. Simply put, Soriano was lights out this season. Soriano saved 27 games, produced a very respectable 2.97 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.097. He proved that he could be not just a very good relief pitcher, but a potentially dominant closer. -strikeouts
Soriano's strikeout numbers this season were simply ridiculous. Soriano struck out 102 batters in just 75.2 innings and set a new career high by striking out 12.1 hitters/9 innings. Strikeouts are a great indicator of just how dominant Soriano can be when he's healthy.
The Case against Soriano
Soriano's injury history is very concerning. Soriano missed most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2008, Soriano missed most of the season because of elbow surgery. Soriano's injury history makes him a risky bet to stay healthy consistently.
2009 was the first year that Soriano has been a full time closer so the question has to be asked: does Soriano have the goods to be a full time closer or was 2009 just a fluke?
There are lots of closers on the market this offseason, but when you talk about the top closers, there are only two names that stand out: Rafael Soriano and Jose Valverde. When Valverde is on, he's dominant. When Soriano is on, he's dominant. So what will separate these two? In my opinion, Soriano's injury history makes him the riskier choice, even though he's younger. Both guys will get paid, but I expect Valverde to make a little more than Soriano.
Elias Ranking: Type A
My guess is that the Braves will offer Soriano arbitration. Soriano made $6.1 million in 2010 and would be due for a pretty nice raise in arbitration. Even though the Braves might feel uncomfortable paying Soriano $8-$9 million next season, the odds are high that Soriano would not accept the offer and would receive a long term contract elsewhere. If Soriano comes back, then great. If not, then the Braves can at least assure themselves of another two top draft picks.
Here are some comparable contracts: -Francisco Rodriguez (3 years/$36 million) -Brian Fuentes (2 years/$17.5 million) -Kerry Wood (2 years/$20 million)
Fangraphs says that Soriano was worth $9.1 million this season, which seems about right when we're discussing his value on the free agent market. Soriano might not be the premier closer in baseball, but he has the stuff to become one of the best.
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