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Rays & Braves Agree In Principal To Rafael Soriano Trade

Taking a quick timeout from other happenings, I get to cover a move near and dear to my heart. Somewhere between going to bed and waking up this morning, the Rays have all but completed a trade with the Braves that will bring Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for Jesse Chavez. At post time the deal is pending medical approval and no money is expected to change hands.

Soriano looked like he was headed to the top of the free agent relief crop after posting stellar numbers as the Braves part-time closer. He finished the season with a sub 3 ERA as well as a sub 3 xFIP. His 3.43 FIP also shows his above-average-ness. Bolstered by a 93 mph fastball, and a 10 mile separation to his slider, Soriano's K/9 skyrocketed to 12.13 in 2009. Going forward he is more likely to settle around his career number of 9.87, but that's also impressive.

All this good stuff made Soriano a Type-A free agent. The Braves offered arbitration assuming he would decline and they would collect two draft picks. He doesn't throw much of a curveball, so I guess he tossed the Braves a slider when he  turned around and accepted arbitration after the Braves had already handed out over $10 million dollars for 2010 to Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. Soriano granted permission to the Braves to seek a trade and that's what they did.

Braves fans may be disappointed in the return of Jesse Chavez as vision of Reid Brignac danced in some of their heads. However, like the situation the Rays were with Akinori Iwamura when they acquired Chavez, the Braves didn't have much leverage. Chavez is a decent return. He is cheap, has a live arm, and is due for some regression in the home run category that plagued him (I did some work on Chavez/HR here).

With the back end of the Braves pen settled, Chavez gives them a middle relief option that can pitch multiple innings and on back to back days if needed. He also comes with minor league options. In addition to Chavez, the club can take the $7+ million Soriano is set to make in 2010 and spread that elsewhere.

For the Rays, it's hard not to like this deal. I do think Soriano will end up being just a bit overpaid, but not by much. He's unlikely to repeat his 2 WAR of 2009, but should definitely be in 1.25-1.5 area. This puts his estimated value somewhere in between $6-$7 million. As part of terms to complete the trade, Ken Rosenthal reports the Rays agreed to a one-year deal with the reliever for just at or above $7 million.

He is a legit sub 4 FIP pitcher and scouts think his stuff will translate in the American League. He'll probably see some regression in the K/9 category (12.13 in 09, 9.87 career), but hopefully in the BB/9 (3.21 in 09, 2.81 career) as well. If he settles in the 3.5-3.75 FIP, I think the Rays would take that.

Soriano will also quiet the mainstream media's calls for the Rays needing a closer. Thanks to nice platoon split on both sides, he should be in the closing mix on most nights regardless of match up. For his career, he has killed righties to the tune of .168/.236/.284, but handles lefties as well .235/.303/.404. However, with J.P Howell available, the Rays could try and replicate the model Atlanta used at the end of games with Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. Soriano misses a lot of bats with a contact rate well below 80% and can strand runners with the best of them as evident in his 79.1% career LOB%.

Despite possibly carrying the title of closer, Soriano stands a chance of not even being the Rays best reliever. Once again, I expect that honor to go to Howell, who has put up slighly better numbers than Soriano over the past two seasons in the league's toughest division. Add in Grant Balfour and the Rays have a nifty back-end of the bullpen.

Bringing the right-handed Fuego to Howell's left-handed ice, Soriano will be a very good pick up for the Rays even if Stu Sternberg needed a bailout to finance his acquisition.