One of the best free agents left on the market found a new home on Tuesday as closer Rafael Soriano agreed to a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals. This move has no bearing on the Indians whatsoever (unless the Nationals were interested in Chris Perez or Cleveland secretly planned to trade Perez and sign Soriano), but it does reinforce how great the Nick Swisher signing was.
Though half of the payments will be deferred, Soriano is guaranteed a $14 million annual salary for 2013 and 2014; he also has an identically priced vesting option that he should have no trouble reaching if he stays healthy. If that $14 million figure sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what the Indians are paying Swisher each season from now through 2016 (and possibly 2017) under his newly inked four-year, $56 million deal.
According to FanGraphs, a win’s worth of production costs about $5 million on the free agent market (though Indians President Mark Shapiro put the figure at nearly double that). Using that standard, Swisher has been worth more than $14 million four years in a row and six of the last seven seasons. By contrast, Soriano has been worth exactly $13 million…since 2010, a span of three years. He’s never once topped $10 million in value.
But forget sabermetrics, just think of it in general terms. Swisher will play 150 games (he’s played at least 148 seven years in a row), get 600 plate appearances, and hit somewhere in the middle of the order. Soriano will throw 60 innings at the ends of games that his team will almost always win anyway. And while Swisher’s contract will take him to an older age, Soriano has a year on him now so their average ages for the durations of their contracts will be the same—Soriano will actually be older on average if his 2015 option vests.
If you’re spending $14 million a year on a single player, would you prefer to put it towards a star everyday player or a reliever who’ll come into the game only once every series? The Swisher deal already looked like a reasonably priced signing in a free agent market that had gone mad with spending, but with Soriano’s contract now able to serve as a direct comparable it now looks like a steal.