The thought of these Rays paying a reliever $7M is still fresh and decisively odd. Sky Kalkman and Dave Cameron - two baseball analysts with respect levels from me beyond quantification - discussed the concept on Twitter yesterday afternoon. I'll summarize in paragraph form because after the last four days I am sick and tired of 140 characters or fewer.
Rafael Soriano is probably worth at least $7M next year, assuming he gets plenty of high leverage innings and pitches like the rough projection from yesterday suggests. Regardless, this is the Rays. This is the team of getting the most bang for their buck. Well, yes, but at the same time, the Rays have done such a fantastic job of loading up on depth - cheap depth - and worthwhile starters that there's simply no other place to upgrade, meaning splurging on Soriano isn't as bad because it's not like they're robbing another position of need to pay one with less impact.
Which is exactly why I agree with Dave.
Since the Rays are in a position to do more than challenge for a playoff spot, the marginal value of an extra win becomes worth more than if they were an 80 win team looking for win number 81. Say the Rays just went from a 92 win team to a 94 win team, that's worth a lot in terms of playoff probability. Between the Numbers estimated that a playoff appearance is worth $25M, which trumps $7M three times over. Squeaking another win or two out of a strapped roster is more important now than ever before.
Which is exactly why I agree with Sky.
I am a fan of Soriano. I am a fan of acquiring him for Jesse Chavez. I am a wee bit skeptical at spending $7M on him when his absolute upside might be three wins. Instead, what if the Rays spent that money on Rich Harden. The likelihood of getting no production would've been substantially higher, but so would the potential upside. Plus, how much better is he then Wade Davis? Well then, what's the value of keeping Davis down and avoiding Super-Two status? And what if Harden stays healthy for the entire seasons by some stroke of divinity?
This is also the reason Milton Bradley has long been appealing. He'll come cheaper because of injury concerns, and if you get that one special year. Watch out. Of course, you could also go the other route and minimize risk rather than maximize reward; this is why Brad Penny gets as much money as Harden despite being nowhere near as good. We can go on and on about this, at the end of the day, Soriano combines the two lines about as well as any free agent reliever available did.
This issue isn't black and white in the least. Let's face it, 2010 is going to be the last year with this core. Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Soriano, and potentially Pat Burrell are due for free agency after the season. The odds of keeping all of them is something like 0.02%. In many ways, if the Rays are ever going to go all in, this is the year to do it. Further, it's only $7M. Only in the sense that there is no future loss here. They didn't trade Reid Brignac or Jeremy Hellickson or Jeff Niemann for Matt Capps. They didn't trade J.P. Howell for him. They gave up a reliever with some upside who could morph into Soriano if everything strikes just right.
Even some trivial things come to light. Do you realize the Rays are paying Soriano the same amount they paid Chad Bradford and Troy Percival combined last year? Who doesn't take that swap? And the potential for draft picks is pretty tasty. Of course, if the Rays turn around tomorrow and trade Crawford for Will Venable I'll raise some eyebrows, but barring a clear out salary dump of someone important, I guess this really doesn't hurt the team either way.
If nothing else, the complexity of thought raised by this move beats the hell out of "Gabe Kapler signs for one-year, $1.05M".