Should the Cleveland Indians Sign Rafael Soriano?

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Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Indians Should Add Soriano

The Cleveland Indians have announced that Austin Adams will be joining Anthony Swarzak in the bullpen.  Neither Swarzak nor Adams looked all that impressive last year and both struggled at times this spring.  Both seemingly made the club because the other competitors for spots in the bullpen simply weren’t any better.  C.C. Lee looked like a shoo-in to win a job early but struggled with command. Armstrong has no big league experience and vets like Bruce Chen and Scott Downs really struggled (with the latter being released).  So while the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen still looks like it should be a strength, the depth behind the first six doesn’t look too appealing.

In steps Rafael Soriano who’s thrown at least 60 innings each of the past three seasons (and five of the past six).  He’s also averaged 39 saves the last three seasons while maintaining a WHIP of 1.23 or better.  He has over 200 career saves to his name as well.  Needless to say, he’d bring a lot of experience to the backend of the Tribe bullpen.  Even at the age of 34 last year he showed he’s still got it, posting numbers comparable to that of Cody Allen.

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Soriano was even better in the first half of the season converting 22 of 24 save opportunities and posting a 0.81 WHIP, 0.97 ERA, and 2.43 FIP while striking out nearly a batter per inning.  No Tribe reliever came close to those numbers in the first half of the 2014 season and no Cleveland Indians reliever has the level of back-end bullpen experience that Soriano would bring.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to sign Soriano is to ensure that Cody Allen isn’t the “closer” or at least not pitching the 9th inning regularly and racking up saves.  Why would it be a good thing to keep Allen from getting saves?  The Answer: Money.  Cody Allen will be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2015 season and he could be in line for a big payday if puts up similar statisics as in 2014. We saw it with Chris Perez a few years ago, and like it or not, but saves get closers paid in arbitration. Get the saves, be called the “closer”, and you’re in line for $3-4M or more to start out.  Bryan Shaw, a statistically similar reliever the last few years, only got $1.5M his first year as he lacked saves.  The difference between $1.5M and $4M may not sound like much, but remember that each subsequent year of arbitration builds on the prior. $1.5M likely only turns into $2-3M whereas $4M could turn into $6-7M.  Chris Perez was looking at possibly $10M in arbitration his last year and was ultimately non-tendered and released by the Indians.  Keeping Allen out of the “closers” role can save the Indians lots of money in the long-run.

There’s also non-financial reasons to want Cody Allen out of the 9th inning.  It’s not a stretch at all to call Allen the Indians’ best reliever. Great strikeout rates and does a great job at limiting baserunners and runs. However, just because he may be the best reliever doesn’t mean he should always be saved for the 9th inning. Francona has already hinted that he likely won’t strictly use Allen in the 9th, but at times use him in the first high leverage situation that arises in a game.

"“This year, if we go three days without him pitching, that fourth day, if we’re in the game, we could pitch him in the first leverage situation. We might lose the game in the ninth, but if he pitches and we get there, we’ll give ourselves a chance.  And it will keep him on a schedule — that’s really important to him.”"

Having a guy like Soriano who can close those games in which Francona turns to Allen in the 7th or 8th inning.  Guys like Atchison and Shaw could easily pitch the 9th in those games but having that veteran “closer” who has the mental experience to close out games can’t and shouldn’t be overlooked.

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