This player preview was written by Stephen Peele, who posts here as sdp.
The ridiculous lopsidedness of the Rafael Soriano trade took a bit of a hit last year as Soriano was down and out with arm problems for essentially the entire season. Soriano, entering the first year of an attractive two-year, $9MM deal, only pitched fourteen innings as he eventually opted for season-ending nerve-transposition elbow surgery. Soriano was just one of a slew of Braves pitchers who needed to go under the knife in 2008.
For a good portion of his first season in Atlanta, Soriano was lights out and flat out filthy. Whether fatigue set in or whether the league started to figure out the former American League reliever, Soriano hit a spell where his fastball appeared flat and it seemed like he was giving up big home runs every time he took the mound.
When disgruntled closer Bob Wickman was designated for assignment on August 24th, 2007, Soriano assumed the role for the remainder of the season and excelled. Soriano closed out the season by picking up a win and four saves over 14.1 innings while only allowing four hits, one earned run, and collecting nineteen strikeouts. All in all, Soriano ended up turning in an excellent initial season with Atlanta, pitching 72.0 innings with a nasty 0.861 WHIP and a ridiculous 4.67 K/BB ratio. The Braves acted quickly to what they saw in Soriano and bought out his first year of free agency, signing him to the aforementioned contract.
Coming into camp in 2009, Soriano has missed a couple of weeks early on due to an "upper respiratory infection" but said that his arm is "[almost] 100 percent." However, he made his first appearance in live baseball last Tuesday against the Astros in which he pitched an inning, giving up a hit and striking out one.
Truthfully, Soriano remains a big question mark because of his health history (he also had Tommy John in 2004). Can he keep his arm healthy? Will he be able to be as productive as he was in 2007? If he can stay healthy, there is no obvious reason why he won't be able to be the excellent reliever he was in 2007. However, it's going to be largely a "wait and see" game with Soriano.
Soriano is due $6.1MM this season and is a pending free agent. With guys like Stephen Marek and others coming through the system, it figures this will be Soriano's final season with Atlanta.
Thanks to Stephen for a great preview of Soriano.