On Thursday evening, La Velle E. Neal III reported that two sources within the Twins organization had confirmed that the club was indeed on the lookout for bullpen help (Stu touched on it this morning). It could be one arm or two, but the message is clear: Minnesota wants to bolster their bullpen.
It's hard to argue. In spite of a strong back-end with Glen Perkins and Casey Fien, and in spite of a quantity of options for the other spots, there is very little in the way of experience with a track record of success; Brian Duensing took a step backwards in 2013, and Tim Stauffer could get off to a slow start.
Neal's article states that the team will explore options via trade but also the waiver wire, as teams make their final cuts before the regular season kicks off next week. But a good reliever cannot be had cheaply, and pitchers on the waiver wire are there because they weren't good enough for their original team. Could the Twins turn to free agency to find an answer?
Relief options are a bit thin on the ground. At this time of year the best options have already found new homes, and the list of pitchers bears that out: Heath Bell, Kyle Farnsworth, Joe Beimel, Sean Burnett. Not very inspiring, except for one name at the end of the line. Rafael Soriano.
Soriano was transitioned out of Washington's closer role down the stretch last year, but he did save 117 games from 2012 through 2014. He did that while averaging 67 appearances, including 60 strikeouts in an average of 65 innings. The 2.84 ERA and 3.36 FIP look pretty good, too. Of course Soriano is also 35, was looking for a multi-year contract heading into free agency, really struggled in the second half of 2014, and has lost a bit of velocity on his fastball. He's also a Scott Boras client. So it's not like he's the obvious answer here, and it's far from a sure bet that he'd have interest in coming to Minnesota in the first instance.
The benefits of targeting Soriano could still plentiful, however. He should bring stability to the latter end of a ballgame, and should something happen to Perkins there's every possibility that Soriano would be able to step into the role. He could become a trade asset as we move into June and July, particularly since his market value is flat-lining as evidenced by his inability to land a job all winter long.
Maybe the club could improve the bullpen through a trade, although Minnesota has an assortment of relief prospects on the verge of being ready, from Michael Tonkin to Zack and Tyler Jones to Nick Burdi and Jake Reed. Unless Mike Pelfrey can be successfully exchanged for a quality relief pitcher, my instinct is to not trade bankable assets for a relief pitcher. Similarly, hoping for a quality reliever to slip through waivers is a gamble; if the team feels it absolutely needs to improve the bullpen, waiting at the waiver wire seems a similarly dubious proposition.
All of which is a long way of saying that there's no easy way of finding a good relief arm at this time of the year, whether that's through trade or waivers or free agency. Many teams know who their best pitchers are and will be on lock down as opening day nears, having found a balance in the rosters they've spent all winter building, meaning that the cupboards are a little bare.
Soriano isn't the answer. But he's an answer...even if I'm not convinced he's the right one.