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New Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano to have impact on entire bullpen

ST. PETERSBURG — Rafael Soriano is obviously a huge boost to the bullpen, his 43 saves more and ninth-inning arsenal better than anyone else the Rays have.

The confluence of circumstances that made Soriano available on a one-year deal, with no loss of draft pick, minimal trade cost and for less salary than they paid Troy Percival and Chad Bradford, allowed the Rays to add the one piece they expected to lack.

"It's a luxury that other teams can afford," team president Matt Silverman said. "And it's something while we can't necessarily afford it at all times, we're going to enjoy having someone like him."

Plus, he makes the rest of their bullpen better.

"He will fit in nicely with our group," manager Joe Maddon said. "Another high-leverage guy to help us get back to playing playoff baseball."

With Soriano handling the ninth, the other relievers all drop down a rung in terms of assignments and should all be more effective for it.

Though exact roles will evolve, it's logical to expect LHP J.P. Howell and RHPs Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler to be used in key seventh- and eighth-inning situations; LHP Randy Choate and RHP Lance Cormier for earlier spot duty; and the long man (Andy Sonnanstine? Mitch Talbot?) for just that.

"There's definitely a trickle-down effect," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We had our eyes on different guys, but I don't think any that make us feel as confident about our bullpen heading into the season as we do right now."

Friedman takes it a step further, saying they should be in better positions to rally for more comeback and walkoff wins with the improved bullpen keeping games tighter longer.

The Milton-Burrell show: Soriano's addition, and requisite stretching of the payroll, doesn't necessarily diminish the chances of a Milton Bradley for Pat Burrell trade (have you heard about that?) since both make $9 million in 2010.

But it certainly doesn't make it more likely. The issue already was Bradley's 2011 salary, and with the Rays essentially borrowing from that pool to pay Soriano, they're not going to take on more of Bradley's money.

(Or, having extended themselves to win in 2010, if they really think Bradley gives them a significantly better chance than Burrell, maybe they would.)

Despite all the chatting, blogging and Twitter-ing at the winter meetings, there has been no substantial change in position, and chances for a deal are 50-50.

Silverman said Friday that "there aren't any other major deals on the table." Friedman said it will "take a little bit more creativity" to make further improvements and "there's definitely a chance that, for the most part, this is the team that we go into April with."

Rays rumblings: From someone who knows, Carl Crawford fully expected — and had absolutely no issue with — his option being picked up, despite what some New York Web site claims. … A Cubs fan group is suggesting $3 donations be sent to team offices to pay off Bradley's salary. … The theory the Rays are making a big push in 2010 because the Red Sox are vulnerable has some merit; even Sox GM Theo Epstein acknowledged — relatively speaking — they're in a "bridge period" waiting for prospects. … Soriano's $7.25 million salary is the second highest ever for a Rays pitcher; Wilson Alvarez got — not earned — $9 million in 2000-01. … The Rays have interest, but not much hope, in signing Cuban LHP Aroldis Chapman. … Agent Scott Boras said there has been no contact regarding free-agent-to-be Carlos Peña.

New Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano to have impact on entire bullpen 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 8:49pm]
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