ESPN and MLB are reporting that Thursday morning the Tampa Bay Rays will send recently acquired RP Jesse Chavez to the Atlanta Braves for closer RP Rafael Soriano in a Winter Meetings deal, pending physicals.
Soriano will turn 30-years-old on Dec. 19. He signed with the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 1996 and made his Major League debut on May 10, 2002. On Dec. 7, 2006, he was traded to the Braves where he was a lights-out closer in 2009, amassing 27 saves with an ERA of 2.97 that season. For his career, he's pitched 332.2 innings, with a 3.51 K/BB ratio.
Soriano was eligible for free agency this season; however, he decided to surprisingly accept arbitration from the Braves (who had just signed RP Billy Wagner and RP Takashi Saito) rather than testing the market, and gave the Braves permission to trade him immediately afterwards.
This trade marks the first of what has been a mostly quiet Winter Meetings for the Rays, where rumors flew like fastballs, but no swings were taken. However now, with the trade of essentially Akinori Iwamura's ghost to Atlanta for a top-notch closer, the Rays are showing that they are determined to win.
Soriano throws your usual power closer pitches. A 92-94 MPH fastball that reaches 96 at times, a slider that sits in the low-80s, and, while sparingly used, a low-80s change. His fastball produced a 12.1 percent swing-and-miss rate last season while his slider sat at 16.4 percent. For comparison, current closer RP J.P. Howell's curve generated 19.5% empty swings, which is to say Soriano's stuff is just as confounding to opposing batters.
Raffy will cost about $7 million in a one year deal in 2010, making the payroll now extremely tight for the Rays in the following weeks, and almost kills any chance of another big name being added to the team. However, with a trade of the Rays' Rule V pick (Red Sox RP Armando Zerpa) to the Dodgers for cash on Thursday, there is a little more breathing room.
Matched up with Howell and RP Grant Balfour, the Rays now have an extremely potent game-ending tandem; Howell will supposedly play a set-up role to closer Soriano. The Braves however seem to be getting the short end of an incredibly lop-sided trade; Chavez is a more-or-less untested relief pitcher who didn't have knock-out stuff in his majors experience, to say the least. Nevertheless, Soriano is a welcome addition to the Rays family.