If nothing else, say this about Rafael Soriano: he's the only one involved in the weird trade triangle this off-season that has stayed in the major leagues all season. Akinori Iwamura is in Triple-A after one of the ugliest stretches of baseball in the league's recent memory and Jesse Chavez would be too, if not for an injury to Chris Resop. Whether a player has been optioned down or not is often not the best measure of performance; after all, other issues can lead to a demotion, but in this case it fits. Soriano has been the best player of the three by far.
Through his first 100 batters faced in Rays' garb he sent 25 to the dugout out from strikes and five to first with free passes. A five-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty nifty, as is Soriano's 9.5% whiff rate and 2.43 FIP. He's been good. Very good. The only blemish on his record isn't so much a blemish but just reality; he's just not going to continue giving up homers on 3% of his fly balls.
When the Rays inked Soriano, some bad rap existed. He enjoyed the nightlife in Seattle quite a bit. John Smoltz said during the off-season that a one-year deal is for the best, since it will keep him motivated. Another familiar with Soriano said he was a pain in the neck during exhibition season, but would bring it when it mattered. And you know what? Soriano was a bit of a pain in the neck during spring; he suffered a neck strain and missed time. He was insistent that he only needed a few outings before he'd be ready to go. And you know what else? Soriano was right just like the source; he only needed those few outings and he really has been a delight during the season.
He's a very quirky individual; one that enjoys cuisine. His results from the mound make him analogous to a black mamba; but in reality he's closer to a sloth. He moves slowly; whether between pitches, on his way from the dugout to the bullpen late in games, or preparing to warm-up once he reaches his destination. Perhaps Soriano is simply deliberate and precise with his movements; as to not waste energy on unneeded movement. Soriano's face gives no indication that he differentiates between opponents, games, or situations. Frankly, he may not even know what team he's on or what day it is based on his expressionless stare.
But none of it matters. If nothing else, those attributes make him more endearing and interesting. Relievers come and go at breakneck speeds. Often they blend together in stuff, appearance, and personality alike. Grotesque delivery or character flaws are really the only things that separate them; like Randy Choate reading Twilight. Fifteen years from now, nobody will remember what Choate did during his time in Tampa Bay, but some will remember that he read Twilight while in the clubhouse. And his legacy will be upheld by mockery; and rightfully so.
Soriano, though, Soriano is something. He manages to get away with a careless demeanor that lands others in constant Heater lambasts. The strut, the deliberateness, it's all just part of a package that suggests Soriano lacks doubt; which makes him inhuman, but really he's just inhumane towards batters. He knows who and what he is. He knows his job. The Rays don't have to flash his nickname on the scoreboard like they did with Al ‘El Asesino' Reyes; nor do they have to dim the lights and blare Godsmack such as with Troy Percival. Soriano provides the swagger on his own.
Considering Soriano's contributions (he's already at the brink of 1 WAR) and added context (helping in the playoff hunt, replacing J.P. Howell, etc.) he's been the opposite of the Roberto Hernandez signing. Not that Hernandez was poor, but giving up a first round pick while guaranteeing more than three years and mega money to a mid-30 year old closer while you're an expansion team reeks of idiocy. You know what the funny thing is though? A few weeks ago Hernandez was at the game. And I know that because just about everyone knew it as they saw him walking towards the concourse. They swarmed him like bees, getting autographs, pictures, handshakes, everything. Hernandez attends quite a few games so it's not like he's a random former player, but the larger point is that it took Hernandez three seasons with the Rays and notable appearances since to reach the status as the Rays' most recognizable former reliever. Soriano's going to have that crown on lock months from now and he won't even care.