DETROIT – The Cubs will be adding a big-name reliever to a bullpen operating without a set closer: Rafael Soriano.
The Cubs finalized a minor-league deal with Soriano on Tuesday, structuring it with a prorated $4.1 million base salary and $4 million in incentives. So if the 35-year-old right-hander comes up for half the season – a realistic timeline – then he would make roughly $2 million guaranteed.
The Cubs hope they will be getting the lights-out pitcher who put up a 0.97 ERA for the Washington Nationals in the first half of last season, not the one who lost the closer’s job and had a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break.
“I have no idea what he’s going to look like,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 6-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. “He’s down in the Dominican and has to go through some paperwork to get out of there. I think once he gets up here, we’ll have a better understanding.”
Soriano earned his only All-Star selection while pitching for Maddon on the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays, posting a 1.73 ERA and saving 45 games for the American League East champs.
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Despite fading down the stretch, Soriano still finished with 32 saves last year. He’s pitched in five postseason series with the Rays, Nationals and New York Yankees, where he filled in for – and worked alongside – the legendary Mariano Rivera.
Soriano is coming off a two-year, $28 million contract delivered by super-agent Scott Boras. Soriano apparently grew frustrated with the waiting, recently dropping Boras and switching to Octagon Baseball, which has a Chicago office, several Cubs as clients and a managing director, Alan Nero, who represents Maddon.
“He really knows how to pitch,” Maddon said. “I would like to believe that he would be able to impart his pitching wisdom on a lot of those guys on how to pitch hitters, and how to pick your poison.
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“Oftentimes, after a game, the next day, he and I would talk about the hitters he had faced, and he’d tell me what he was thinking going into the game. I was always impressed with what he saw from the bullpen.
“So beyond his ability to help us pitch and win games, he’s really good at observing and knowing what to do versus hitters. And I’d like to believe that’s going to be part of his value.”
Maddon likes to get creative with the bullpen and not do everything by the book. The manager appears to be leaning toward a closer-by-committee with some combination of Pedro Strop, Jason Motte and Hector Rondon, who’s been demoted after his struggles in the ninth inning.
Will Soriano factor into the closer’s role at some point?
“I have no idea – I honest to God don’t,” Maddon said. “I just want him to be well, and obviously get here and help us. And (then) we’ll make that determination.”