The Dodgers May or May Not Be Interested in Rafael Soriano, & Here’s How They Can Get Him

rafael_soriano_throws_yankeesBuster Olney stirs the pot:

That’s not really “news” so much as it is an acknowledgment of what’s been happening behind the scenes all winter, with Jim Bowden single-handedly creating and quashing the rumor back in December. I heard through the grapevine that the Dodgers actually requested Soriano’s medial records a few weeks ago, though it’s unclear if that was just due diligence that they’d do on anyone they were discussing, if they didn’t like what they saw and backed away, or if they just stalled on contract negotiations.

That makes me think that Olney’s 20% figure is actually pretty close, because while I think the Dodgers have considered it, I don’t think it’s all that likely that they end up with him. Still, it’s fun to think about, because Soriano, who turned 33 last month, would be quite the addition to any bullpen. Using almost exclusively a fastball and slider, Soriano has a 527/160 K/BB in 502 innings over 11 big league seasons, including three of the last four (2009/ATL, 2010/TB, 2012/NYY) spent as a closer. He’s not getting younger, but it’s hard to argue against a career 2.78 ERA / 3.30 FIP, and the thought of a strikeout arm like that alongside Brandon League & Kenley Jansen & Ronald Belisario & J.P. Howell is just beyond tantalizing, to the point where the Dodgers would have one of the unquestioned best bullpens in the league.

So what’s the downside here? Well, Soriano opted out of his $14m option with the Yankees, then declined a $13.3 qualifying offer. That’s right, not only does he want massive dollars, he stands along with Michael Bourn & Kyle Lohse as one of three remaining free agents who will require a first-round pick — and all three have been connected to the Dodgers with varying levels of veracity. Even if I wanted to pay Soriano that kind of cash — which I don’t — the added kicker of losing a first-round pick makes it untenable in my eyes.

And yet… this team is built to win in 2013, and I can’t argue that Soriano makes that more likely. If we split the difference between “Soriano isn’t going to get the deal Scott Boras thinks he is” and “the Dodgers don’t seem to care about money”, what do you end up with? Two years, $22m? Maybe with a player option for a third? You can rationalize ways to get around the money, I suppose, but I can’t deal with giving up the pick.

…unless you don’t have to. What if the Dodgers worked out a “sign-and-trade” with a team without such a risk at stake? That’d be a club which either has a protected first-round pick (Astros, Cubs, Rockies, Twins, Indians, Marlins, Red Sox, Royals, Pirates and Blue Jays) or a team like the Angels who already lost their pick for signing a tendered free agent. In Cleveland’s case, since they lost their second-round pick for signing Nick Swisher, it’d actually be only their third-round pick.

The idea here is that another team would sign Soriano (or Lohse, or Bourn, though due to the overstuffed rotation and presence of Andre Ethier, they’re exceptionally less likely) to a deal that the Dodgers find acceptable, then immediately trade him to the Dodgers for some sort of return that compensates them for the lost pick. There’s several obvious fits there, because we all know the Dodgers are trading Chris Capuano and/or Aaron Harang, and it’s not hard to see one of those clubs preferring ~180 decent innings in 2013 for the who-knows-what a pick that isn’t even in the first round might bring down the road. While it’s true that newly-signed free agents can’t be traded before June 15, they do have the right to waive that restriction, and so it’s win / win / win. The Dodgers add to the team without losing their first pick. Soriano gets to negotiate with additional teams without having that pick hanging over his head. The trading partner gets some value out of a process that they otherwise would have had nothing to do with.

There are of course various schools of thought on whether a sign-and-trade is even legal under baseball’s rules, though the prevailing feeling seems to be that baseball would not prevent a deal that benefits all sides unless it was especially egregious. (Soriano himself was in a similar situation a few years ago, when he surprised Atlanta by accepting an arbitration offer that they had no intention of honoring, then immediately was traded to Tampa.)

Again, this is really unlikely to happen, and there’s a good argument to be made that it shouldn’t. Still, if money really is no option, and the team wants to do everything it can to improve in 2013… Soriano in the bullpen is an intriguing option.

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Unrelated: the Dodgers have apparently made an offer to nearly 36-year-old Dennys Reyes, who debuted in the bigs with 25 games for the 1997-98 Dodgers before being included in the Paul Konerko deal. He’s been on ten other teams in the 14 seasons since. He didn’t pitch in the bigs in 2012 and the offer is presumably a non-roster invite; though he has offers from Toronto & Baltimore as well, he seemingly prefers to return to Los Angeles, so that may be imminent.