January 19, 2011
The Rafael Soriano Ramifications
The past few months have been trying for the New York Yankees. A season that ended short of the World Series, being spurned by free agent Cliff Lee, the messy Derek Jeter contract negotiations, and questions regarding Andy Pettitte's passion to pitch in 2011 are a few of the issues that have surrounded them. Only Charlie Sheen had it worse these past few months (although he may beg to differ). We expected a quiet off-season in Flushing, but we anticipated the Bombers would introduce at least one big name prior to spring training. They remained quiet until late last week when Rafael Soriano was added to the bullpen. While at first glance this was nothing more than the addition of a set-up man, it was actually a move that has ramifications throughout the roster.
The contract (3 years/$35 million) certainly seems absurd for a set-up man, even though Soriano led the AL in saves in 2010 (45) and posted a 1.73 ERA. Soriano presumably had options to sign as a closer for $10+ million per year. So if the Yankees wanted him to be their bridge to Rivera, they had to pay him like a closer (and we all know they had some extra pennies lying around after missing out on Cliff Lee). By signing Soriano, the Yankees may have found their late inning specialist for this season and next, their closer in the post-Rivera era, and simultaneously added to their starting rotation.
Outside of Mariano Rivera, the Yankee bullpen was suspect in 2010. Until Kerry Wood came to town mid-season, there was no clear cut set-up man for Rivera. Wood left for Chicago earlier this off-season and the Bronx Bombers have had a void to fill ever since. Soriano, who was the closer for the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays last season, is already battle tested in the toughest division in baseball.
Life after Mariano Rivera has been both contemplated and feared by Yankee fans for the past five years. But Rivera's rubber arm has held up through the age of forty-one. This off-season, Mo signed a two year/$30 million deal. Is that his final contract? Probably, but we thought that last time he signed a contract. But if it is, Soriano would have one year left on his deal when Rivera retires and could slide right into the closer's role.
With Andy Pettitte informing the Yankees not to expect him in spring training and Cliff Lee residing south on the Turnpike, there are a couple of holes to fill in a Yankee rotation that struggled down the stretch. With Soriano now owning the eighth inning, Joba Chamberlain may very well slide back into a starting role. His path from starter to reliever to starter to reliever and now potentially back to starter is not ideal for career development. But if the Yankees can lower their expectations and accept him as a number four starter, this could be a seamless transition.
But, hey, maybe in two years, Rivera is still posting an ERA under 2.00, Rafael Soriano does his best Carl Pavano impression, and Felix Hernandez is winning a Cy Young award in pinstripes. If that's the case, then what's another $11.5 million/year for Rafael Soriano? Probably about the same as an extended weekend in Vegas for Charlie Sheen.
*Pete is a Montauk resident, producer at ESPN Radio 1230AM, and host of "The Pete Mundo Sports Talk Show", live on your airwaves, 88.7FM WEER Hamptons Community Radio Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7-8PM. Pete can be reached via e-mail at Peterfmundo@gmail.com.