Bye-bye Soriano, hello uncertain 9th inning
By now, everyone knows that Rafael Soriano is a free agent. To make matters worse, he has signed with super (jerk) agent Scott Boras, meaning they will try to get the most money they can for the All-Star closer. The Rays won’t be able to sign him, he is simply asking for too much money (thanks to our now limited budget). This is going to hurt the Rays immediately because of the importance of the closer in the league today. So where do the Rays turn to fill the void left by Soriano? Let’s take a look at 3 possibilities.
First is Joaquin Benoit. Benoit burst onto the scene this year in the set up spot behind Soriano. Very few teams wanted to sign Benoit after his off-season surgery, but give it to the Rays who took the low cost risk and signed him. Benoit was dominate from his first pitch and continued the strong showing into the playoffs. Benoit is a free agent and several teams will be calling him, there is a slight chance he could return and would instantly be the favorite to close games.
J.P. Howell is a name everyone keeps throwing out there and rightfully so. Howell was a dominate pitcher before missing all of last season with shoulder injuries. If he is able, and the key word is if, returns from injury, he might be a candidate for the job. Howell has a good fastball and great movement on his pitches, but he may not be at full strength on his return and will be limited on the number of innings he can throw. He might be the closer in two seasons unless the Rays sign a low cost free agent or bring someone up.
Then there is Jake McGee. The hard throwing left hander came into the Rays bullpen late in the season and really never had a chance to get a lot of innings under his belt. McGee throws hard and throws strikes, everything you want in a closer. The drawbacks on McGee are his youth and lack of experience. He was a rookie last season and is still untested. No one is sure how he could perform in the bottom of the ninth with pressure or how he can handle a full season. McGee will certainly get a chance in spring training, but I don’t expect him to be the closer (may be set up man).
There are others that could come in, such as Balfour, but this isn’t their specialty and the Rays do have some options at closer, just not the instant save like Soriano was. There is probably no chance the Rays sign Soriano, so the options at closer are limited and most likely the Rays will go with a closer-by-committee approach for the season (the genius of Maddon at work). It could be a rough year during the ninth inning for the Rays unless they find someone who can fill the void left by Soriano.