When Seattle Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi traded strong-armed reliever Rafael Soriano to Atlanta in the winter of 2006 - and got soft-throwing, just plain soft Horacio Ramirez in return - there was a hail of criticism in the Northwest.
The thing many folks in baseball knew but wouldn't say was this: There was simply no market for Soriano, no matter how hard he threw.
Flash forward four years. Soriano, now 31, is coming off back-to-back seasons as a fulltime closer, first with Atlanta, then with Tampa. His 2010 numbers as a Ray are stunning: a 3-2 record with 45 saves and a 1.73 earned run average.
And there's still no market for him.
One factor may be that in September he switched agents, signing with the much-loved Scott Boras, who immediately began planning a long-term, lucrative contract based on what Soriano had done in 2010. But the teams that could have provided that kind of deal - the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers - all shied away.
"In a one-year situations, or pitching in a contract year, Soriano has been at his best, and his best is pretty good," one American League East general manager said this morning. "The feeling a lot of teams seem to have - right or wrong - is that he's not someone you give a long-term deal."
In his days with Seattle, teammates joked that every year at the July trading deadline, Soriano came down with a mysterious shoulder injury that would miraculously be fine on Aug. 1. In three years with Atlanta, he became a closer only in his final season, nailed down 27 saves and wasn't given an offer when he became a free agent.
Tampa signed him for one year - and $7.23 million - then got a Hall of Fame-type season from Soriano. And when he became a free agent, the Rays waved goodbye.
If scouts, GMs and teammates are right, Soriano is as good as he wants to be - which is very good in on a one-year contract, far less so when he's comfortable. It goes far in explaining why the best closer in the game last year hasn't had a single serious offer this winter, and why he's quickly running out of teams who need him.
Soriano may have no choice but to accept a one-year contract somewhere, in which case he'll probably remain one hell of a pitcher.