Six years ago, Rafael Soriano was traded, straight up, for Horacio Ramirez.
Tuesday, Soriano became the highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball.
Yes, Scott Boras has done it again.
Soriano’s two-year, $28 million deal to become the Washington Nationals’ closer affirmed no less than 10 Hot Stove truths:
1. Boras usually — but not always — finds a way for his high-profile clients to get paid. As he repeated to me in a text message Tuesday: “Talent has no wristwatch.”
2. In baseball, the market has a perpetual upward trend. Salary is often more directly linked to when a player becomes a free agent than actual career achievement. So, among all relievers in the game today, Soriano’s contract has the highest average annual value at $14 million. He moved ahead of Jonathan Papelbon’s $12.5 million; Papelbon has enjoyed the better career but had the misfortune of becoming a free agent one year earlier. (Mariano Rivera’s last contract, at $15 million per year, still holds the reliever record.)
3. The Nationals are quite obviously going all-in for a world title in 2013. They preserved Stephen Strasburg for a future that has arrived. They didn’t want to take any chances that (former) closer Drew Storen would have a competitive hangover after the Cardinals’ stupefying rally against him to pilfer Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
4. If the Nationals fall short this year, it won’t be because they are short on cash. I have never forgotten something principal owner Mark Lerner told me last July: “We’ve never let dollars get in the way of us making decisions that will help this organization.”
5. Due in large part to Truth No. 4, the Nationals hold Most Favored Nation trade status with the Boras Empire. Soriano will join fellow clients Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa in the Washington clubhouse this year. (Unconfirmed reports say Boras will soon renegotiate Teddy Roosevelt’s contract for the Presidents Race at Nationals Park.)
6. As the Phillies continue to age and the Mets mind their money carefully, the Nationals could become an enduring power in the National League East. Most prognosticators will pick Washington to win the division this year, ahead of Atlanta … unless, of course, the Braves trade for Justin Upton. Then it may be time to recalculate.
7. The Detroit Tigers, viewed as candidates to sign Soriano by many in the industry, maintain that rookie Bruce Rondon — who has never thrown a pitch in the majors — could be their closer in 2013. Of Soriano, Detroit club president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, “We did not seriously pursue him, and (this news) does not change our bullpen situation.” Dombrowski said the reports on Rondon in the Venezuelan Winter League were “very good,” although his numbers were ordinary (4.41 ERA, 16 hits, six walks and 19 strikeouts in 16-1/3 innings).
8. The New York Yankees, who used to outbid teams for free agents they didn’t really need, have moved wholeheartedly into the draft-pick collection business. By losing Soriano to the Nationals, the Yankees have added a second compensatory pick after the first round. (Nick Swisher’s departure for Cleveland brought the first.) The Yankees are looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder but remain mindful of the mythical $189 million cap for 2014.
9. Now that they’ve solidified the back end of their bullpen, the Nationals have a comprehensive 25-man roster. Of course, they could — and probably should — trade Mike Morse before Opening Day unless there’s a spring training injury. With Soriano, they have the flexibility to move Morse for the best package, period, rather than targeting a closer in return. Seattle still needs a bat and has interest.
10. Boras has two major free agents left, starter Kyle Lohse and outfielder Michael Bourn. Care to bet against him finding a good deal for each? The Rangers like Bourn, as long as the term is sufficiently short. Lohse would be an ideal fit for the Brewers, but they don’t seem to want to pay him. That’s OK. Someone will.