The Detroit Tigers are 7-1 yet are being lambasted for the same bullpen issues that have caused them grief over the past few seasons. There are reports that Detroit is monitoring free agent reliever Rafael Soriano.
You can’t exactly blame the Tigers for trying to be proactive in upgrading their bullpen, but do they need Soriano?
On the surface, signing the Scott Boras seems like an idea that is somewhere between decent and good. The closer posted 32 saves to go along with a respectable/solid 3.19 ERA over 62 innings in 64 appearances for the Washington Nationals last season. Once again, on the surface the fact that he is available at this late stage is confusing. However, once you look at the reliever’s splits, you understand why.
Rafael Soriano was on fire during the first half of the season. He posted a sparkling 0.97 ERA in 37 appearances, racking up 22 saves. That’s pretty good right? Right.
The next logical question is “how did Soriano’s earned run average shoot to 3.19?” Well, I’m glad you asked, and I’ll tell you, he posted a 6.48 ERA in the second half of the season and on the whole a 4.34 ERA away from home. His opponent’s batting average against him jumped from .153 in the first half to .305 in the second. He surrendered three times as many home runs in the second half.
Was this a sign of age? Was it an anomaly? It very well could be either. Soriano posted a 2.71 ERA form 2006 to 2013 to go along with 173 saves. He eclipsed over 40 saves three times over that span. It may be age catching up with Soriano, or it may be an anomaly.
If one thing is for certain it is that Soriano’s agent, Scott Boras, will look to sell last season as just that—an anomaly. If Boras can do that, he’ll get a quality payday for his client. This prevents the big issue for the Tigers, do they want to give an older closer significant money as somewhat of an impulse buy? Joe Nathan hasn’t been the Joe Nathan of old… yet, while Jose Valverde eventually went down in flames.
If Joakim Soria continues to perform well in a late-inning role, Detroit may feel inclined to entrench him as a long-term solution at the back-end of the bullpen. If he is able to establish himself there, do the Tigers really want to pay him and Soriano top money?
There’s also the question of the Tigers’ need for Soriano. It may be a different story if the Tigers were losing, but things are going well. The team has only lost once and has received solid work from the bullpen. Soria has been good in the ninth while Nathan converted his only save opportunity. The duo have combined for four saves. If Soriano was to be signed, he would be the clear third option behind Soria and Nathan. It also happens that the former National’s worst season as a full-time regular came in 2011 when he was… wait for it… a setup man.
Do the Tigers want to (likely) overpay for a setup reliever who posted a 4.12 ERA in his last season setting up the closer? No. Absolutely not.
Detroit is well-stocked with potential setup relievers. Whoever doesn’t claim the closer role out of Nathan and Soria will serve as the setup man while Bruce Rondon (when healthy) is another name to watch. Additionally, Angel Nesbitt as looked sharp so far and has yet to allow a run. Tom Gorzelanny, another reliever in his first season in Motown, hasn’t allowed a run either. Ian Krol and Al Alburquerque have looked solid while Joba Chamberlain seems to have put last year’s collapse against Baltimore behind him.
The Tigers are well stocked in relief and are preforming well so far this season. They also don’t want to overpay for Soriano. It also poses the fact that if the Tigers felt comfortable with the likes of Rondon, Nesbitt and Soria in the offseason that they felt they didn’t need Soriano. With those pieces preforming well so far, do they need Soriano now?
The answer is no.
It should also be pointed out that Detroit have been here before. Jim Johnson and Joel Hanrahan, two former All-star closers looking to rebound, didn’t pan out in Detroit. The Tigers probably don’t want to play another waiting game like they did with those two.
If signed by Detroit, Rafael Soriano is probably going to be an over-expensive, underperforming setup reliever, something the Tigers don’t need. I’d love to see Soriano prove me wrong and be a moderately priced, impact reliever for the Tigers, but in reality, that probably isn’t going to happen. Detroit should stay away.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.