Wednesday, December 7, 2016

TOT - The Braves, Rafael Soriano, and December 7 Have a Connection

Via Wikipedia Commons
Transaction of Today...December 7, 2006 - The Atlanta Braves traded Horacio Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for Rafael Soriano...December 7, 2009 - The Atlanta Braves signed Rafael Soriano as a free agent.

Typically, I only have one transaction to review, but since these two involved the same player, I figured we could make an exception.

As the 2006 Winter Meetings kicked off, John Schuerholz knew he needed to give Bobby Cox more pitching. The follow-up to the Baby Braves of '05 had fell flat after a 6-21 June just about wrecked any hope the Braves had of competing in 2006. Left-hander Horacio Ramirez was actually one of the few bright spots Atlanta had in June after allowing just ten earned runs over five starts during the month. He had made just two starts up until that point because of injury and would make just eight more starts before his final game on August 7th. He ended the season with a 4.48 ERA.

His failure to stay healthy only compounded similar problems with the rest of the rotation. A team known for pitching finished with a 4.60 team ERA, which ranked 10th in the NL. The rotation was problematic, but the bullpen was pretty ugly, too. While Bob Wickman provided some stability after he was acquired midseason, the Braves had little in terms of talent to get the ball to him.

In a similar position across the country was the Seattle Mariners. They had finished 2006 with a nearly identical record as the Braves. While their offense was plenty abysmal and their bullpen was no great shakes, they were really searching for anyone to fill out their rotation. Felix Hernandez had just arrived and did his best to lead a staff with Jarrod Washburn, Gil Meche, and Joel Pineiro behind him.

There was some thought that the Mariners could take Rafael Soriano out of the bullpen without trading him. Soriano had came up in 2002 as a starter and wanted to give starting another try. However, the Mariners graded him as a talented arm that wouldn't handle the stress of starting. Considering they needed starters more than setup relievers, trading Soriano made a good deal of sense.

Ramirez, however, was an odd piece to get in return for Soriano. Both players were arbitration-eligible (Ramirez for the second time) and there was some thought that the Braves, even as strapped for pitching as they were, would non-tender Ramirez rather than give him a raise from the $2.2M he earned in 2006. It wasn't even like Ramirez was the crafty lefty managers like to have in their staff - the Mariners already had Washburn. Yet, Seattle went for HoRam and the Braves got Soriano (and saved a million in the process).

Ramirez would start 20 games for the Mariners. For many Mariner fans, that was about 19 too many. After April, the lowest Ramirez could push his ERA to was 5.89. Amazingly, Bill Bavasi not only tendered Ramirez a contract for 2008, but gave him a raise. And then, weeks before the season was to begin, the Mariners released Ramirez. Three months later, Bavasi would be fired. Shockingly, as bad as this trade was, it hardly ranks among the worst moves Bavasi made. That might explain why there were so many petitions demanding Bavasi's dismissal before it ultimately happened.

Meanwhile, Soriano became part of a re-worked bullpen for Atlanta. In addition to bringing back Wickman, the Braves also added Mike Gonzalez from the Pirates and with the help of a better season from Chuck James, the Braves finished third in the league in ERA. Soriano was a big part of that. In 71 games, he had a 3.00 ERA and 70 K's in 72 innings. He walked just 13 unintentionally and while he was vulnerable to homers - he surrendered 12 - he gave the Braves a steady force in the late innings - especially after wrestling the job away from Wickman.

Expectations were high for Soriano in 2008. However, his velocity was hit-or-miss. He was injured for most of the first two months, a significant part of June, and finally saw his season come to a close in early August. The dynamic duo of Gonzalez and Soriano could never stay healthy long enough to be used together.

That finally changed in 2009. Gonzalez pitched in 80 games while Soriano was used 77 times. While the Braves would fall short of a return trip to the playoffs, one couldn't look at Soriano. He K'd 102 in 75.2 innings and walked just 23 unintentionally. His FIP for the season was 2.54. The 29 year-old had finally came into his own as an elite closer.

That brings us to the second part of today's Transaction of Today. Both Gonzalex and Soriano were hitting the free agent market and Atlanta felt confident that both would leave for big free agent deals and offered each arbitration so that they could at least gain some draft pick compensation. Scott Boras, who represented Gonzalez, convinced his client to decline arbitration and Gonzalez later found a big contract with the Orioles. That part worked.

However, on this day seven years ago, the Braves re-lived the Greg Maddux saga. They were sure Soriano was a goner. They were even moving on. Five days before Soriano shocked them, they had added Billy Wagner to the bullpen and a day later, announced that they had signed Takashi Saito. Bobby Cox was fairly sure what the late innings were going to look like and then, Soriano shocked them.

There was no way the Braves could either afford to keep Soriano, nor find room for him. This is a team that would later non-tendered Ryan Church and Kelly Johnson before dealing Javier Vazquez. Wagner was their splurge. Saito was their mini-splurge. They would later add Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske just to give them warm bodies at first base. Soriano was just not a fit for the Atlanta Braves of 2010.

With that in mind, four days after Soriano shocked the Braves, they sent him to the Tamp Bay Rays. Like Philadelphia before them, Tampa Bay knew the Braves had no leverage. They didn't have to give them anything and simply offered left-hander Jesse Chavez, a pitcher the Rays had acquired a month before from the Pirates. The Braves had no other choice but accept the paltry offer and wave goodbye to Soriano.

Chavez would pitch in 28 forgetful games for the Braves as a long reliever before being included in a five-person deal with the Royals. He would later find success as a starter for the A's and most recently re-upped to return to the Dodgers, who acquired him from the Blue Jays last year. As for Soriano, he would go to his only All-Star Game as the Rays' closer and would pitch in the playoffs for the first time. The next offseason, he signed with the Yankees to be Mariano Rivera's understudy. The latter's injury in 2012 actually led to Soriano taking over and excelling.

Soriano would later become the guy who untucked his shirt for the Nationals, where he logged 75 saves over two seasons. He spent 2015 struggling to find work and not looking all that good once he did with the Cubs. He tried to make the Blue Jays roster in 2016, but after looking like he would be on the outside-looking-in, Soriano retired last March 20th.

Of course, the Braves were a bit better off than having to trade someone else to fit Soriano on their roster like they did with Maddux. And that five-person trade Chavez was part of ultimately paid dividends as Rick Ankiel helped in center field for the Braves and hit a big postseason homerun so I guess that's better than hoping you land something big with draft pick compensation like the Braves got with Gonzalez. Still, when Soriano accepted arbitration, you know John Schuerholz had a panic attack wondering how they would deal with this unexpected development.

No comments:

Post a Comment