Soriano will find a new home, but where?
High demand, low supply of proven closers should prevail over new compensation rules
Going into the offseason, one of the premier closers of this free-agent class was clearly Rafael Soriano.
Now, in mid-January, Soriano is THE premier closer of this free-agent class, but he is still unsigned, available, searching for a new employer.
What gives? Like two other primary free agents still available, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, Soriano could be a victim of new compensation rules.
Because the Yankees made the requisite $13.3 million qualifying offer to Soriano, the team that signs him would lose a Draft pick. Now, under the new rules, that team would also lose a portion of its Draft bonus-pool money. Lohse has stated publicly that these regulations probably have had a negative effect on the market for him. The same thing may be true for Soriano.
Still, you would think that with the demand for quality closers remaining greater than the supply, Soriano would still be a very salable commodity.
Soriano opted out of the last year of his contract with the Yankees, passing on a $14 million salary. With Scott Boras as his agent, and a significant track record also on his side of the argument, Soriano's prospects for a major deal seemed genuine enough.
Talk about saves: He helped the Yankees salvage an entire season in 2012, after the unthinkable happened and Mariano Rivera was lost for the season. Soriano stepped up from his setup role and produced 42 saves in 46 opportunities with a 2.26 ERA.
This was not an aberration. In 2010, with Tampa Bay, he had an ever better season as a closer, going 45-for-48 in save opportunities with a 1.73 ERA. Soriano is 33. He's healthy. There is no reason to anticipate any sort of decline in his performance in the foreseeable future.
And yet, there he is, available. He won't come cheaply, and even in an era of widespread prosperity in the game, that remains an obvious consideration for some teams.
Plus, if he was simply interested in pocketing $14 million in 2013, he would have stayed with the Yankees. But with Rivera projected to return, Soriano would have been relegated back to the setup role. His vocational goals had grown beyond that level and justifiably so.
There has been no shortage of rumors regarding Soriano's next place of employment. There just hasn't been anything resembling a signing. What makes sense at this juncture?
A team with legitimate postseason hopes, but without a proven closer, would seem to be a logical landing place. Both the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays fit this description, although both have already spent considerable sums in bolstering their rosters. But these two clubs do fit the profile for this pitcher.
Other teams that have frequently been mentioned as potential Soriano suitors include the Angels, the Rangers, the Nationals and the Dodgers. The Dodgers have added plenty of pitching, and it may be that they are automatically mentioned now in any discussion of a club spending a large amount of money. But Soriano would be a more established closer than anyone currently on the Dodgers roster.
The same could be said of the Nationals' closer situation, but their pitching was the solution, not the problem, last season. The Angels have added a closer, Ryan Madson, but he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers have added Joakim Soria, who also had Tommy John surgery. But they still have Joe Nathan, so there doesn't appear to be much more need, or room, in their bullpen.
Other reports have Soriano catching on with the Colorado Rockies. This might be a case of putting the cart before the horse. Given the rest of the Rockies pitching staff, there might be a shortage of classic, ninth-inning closer situations available this season on this club.
Suggestions of Soriano returning to the Yankees seem to miss the point of this whole free-agent exercise. But it must be conceded that the Yankees are the one team that could sign Soriano without forfeiting a Draft pick and bonus-pool money. But the Yankees, determined to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014, also are not searching for ways to hand out any additional lucrative, long-term deals.
But at the end of this process, given Soriano's success in his last two seasons as a closer, it is difficult to imagine him not landing a substantial contract, with a contending team. The clock is ticking on this notion, but the circumstances -- proven ability as a closer, combined with the game's healthy economy -- are still very much in Soriano's favor.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.