- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 175 lb.
- Debut May 10, 2002
- Final Game July 30, 2015
- Born December 19, 1979 in San Jose, San Pedro de Macoris, D.R.
Rafael Soriano had a tremendous season as the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. He won the American League Rolaids Relief Award and was named to the All-Star team after saving a league-leading 45 games with a 1.73 ERA. He gave up only 36 hits in 62 1/3 innings. It was his 9th season in the major leagues, and while he did not exactly come out of nowhere, it was well above his previous performance up to that point.
Soriano first reached the major leagues in 2002 with the Seattle Mariners, after having been signed by them as an amateur free agent in the Dominican Republic in 1996. He was an outfielder and first baseman in his first couple of professional seasons with the AZL Mariners, but turned to pitching after struggling to a .167 batting average in 1999. He was almost exclusively a starter in the minor leagues: 66 of his 68 appearances from 1999 to 2002 were as a starter, and he was used in that role in his first taste of the big leagues as well. He was 0-3, 4.56 as a rookie, then had a very good sophomore season in 2003, finishing at 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 40 games, all of them as a reliever. He gave up only 30 hits in 53 innings, during which he struck out 68 batters and walked only 12. Blessed with an overpowering fastball and only 23, he seemed to have a bright future as a top reliever ahead of him, but injuries derailed his career for a time. He only pitched 6 times in the majors in 2004, and then 7 times in 2005, before finally being healthy again in 2006. He pitched in 53 games that year, with a 2.25 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 60 innings.
The Atlanta Braves, known for their ability to uncover budding pitching talent, then pried him from the Mariners in a trade for Horacio Ramirez, who, while he had had a bit of success as a starter, was nowhere near as talented as Soriano, and would do little for his new team. Soriano, for his part, continued to pitch well. He recorded 9 saves in 71 outings in 2007, going 3-3, 3.00. However, injuries set him back again in 2008, when he only pitched 14 times, going 0-1, 2.57. He was healthy again in 2009, and, getting his first significant opportunity to close games, answered with 27 saves, a 2.97 ERA and a career-high 102 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. However, he was now becoming expensive, and the Braves were on a budget and were unwilling to commit to Soriano for the long term. He thus signed a one-year contract with Tampa Bay, where he had his tremendous season in 2010.
A free agent once again, and now determined to cash in on his success, Soriano signed a long-term deal with the New York Yankees before the 2011 season. He knew of course that he would not be the closer there, since the great Mariano Rivera had a stranglehold on the job. But Mariano was already into his 40s, and his heir apparent Joba Chamberlain was struggling with injuries, so there was a possibility to install himself as the set-up man and insurance policy in case something happened to Mo. It was not the case in 2011, as Mariano was his usual outstanding self, and Soriano in turn struggled in his first season in the Bronx. His ERA shot up to 4.12 - the worst since his rookie season, not counting the 3 1/3 innings he pitched while injured in 2004. He struggled with his health again, being limited to 42 games, and only struck out 36 batters in 39 1/3 innings. While he was injured or struggling, he was passed by young David Robertson on the depth chart. In the ALDS, he pitched 3 times, and only gave up a single hit in 4 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers; however, that hit was a solo homer by Delmon Young in the 7th inning of Game 3 on October 3rd which broke a 4-4 tie and handed him the loss. He began 2012 as the 7th-inning specialist in the Yankees bullpen, pitching much better than in his first season. When the unthinkable happened and Rivera went down with a season-ending injury in early May, it was Robertson who stepped into the breach. He quickly earned the save in his first outing as the closer, and it seemed that he was about to grab onto the position for years to come, but everything unraveled quickly: he blew his next save opportunity, then felt pain in his ribs in his next game, being forced onto the disabled list. Rafael then took over the top job, and quickly asserted himself by converting his first two save opportunities. He never slowed down, registering his 40th save of the season against his former team, the Rays, on September 16th, in the heat of the pennant race, to reach the mark for the second time of his career. He finished the year with 42 saves, third in the AL behind Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney, and an outstanding 2.26 ERA. He did not allow a run in 4 1/3 innings in the postseason, but the Yankees were unable to give him any leads to protect either. After the season, he decided to opt out of the final year of his contract, wanting to cash in on his excellent season by obtaining a long-term deal from a team that would guarantee him a spot as the closer. On January 15, 2013, he signed a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals for $28 million.
Soriano had a couple of productive seasons for the Nationals. In 2013, he saved 43 games while putting up a mark of 3-3, 3.11 and striking out 51 batters in 66 2/3 innings over 68 appearances. He followed that in 2014 with a 4-1 record, a 3.19 ERA and 32 saves as the Nationals won the NL East title. He struck out 59 in 62 innings. He pitched twice in the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, giving up only 1 hit in 2 1/3 innings, but not getting an opportunity to save a game. He became a free agent after the season but, at 35 years old, could not find a team in the off-season. He finally signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs on June 9th and then headed to the minors before he could return to the big leagues. He pitched 7 times between the AA Tennessee Smokies and AA Iowa Cubs, not allowing an earned run in 7 innings, then was added to the major league roster on July 20th. He went 2-0, 6.35 in 6 games, then was released in early September. He went to spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016, but opted to retire on March 19th.
- AL All-Star (2010)
- AL Rolaids Relief Award (2010)
- AL Reliever of the Year Award Winner (2010)
- AL Saves Leader (2010)
- 30 Saves Seasons: 4 (2010 & 2012-2014)
- 40 Saves Seasons: 3 (2010, 2012 & 2013)