Friday, January 14, 2011

Yanks Sign Rafael Soriano

Normally I would be against this kind of deal, bigtime. Not the Rafael Soriano the player, but him at this money (3/$35). The only time you sign a reliever to this kind of deal is when you need a closer, and there are some who think the Yankees already have one of those.

The reason I'm okay with this deal is because Soriano is not just a set-up man. He has a second role as Mariano Rivera protection, should he need it. After all, Rivera is 41 years old. While he is showing few if any signs of decline, it would be silly to assume that just because he hasn't yet means that he won't. It would be just as silly to wait until he finally does to try to figure out a replacement.

In fact, replacing lineup staples is something the Yankees have not done particularly well over the last decade or so. Right field was a revolving door for a few years after Paulie. Ditto center field after Bernie. If Pettitte does not come back, the rotation will not be immediately prepared for his departure.

You can't wait until these players finally decide to hang them up or start to decline before figuring out a replacement if you want to compete year to year as seamlessly as the Yankees do. You have to start to put those things in place beforehand. The Yankees have been better about this lately, being extremely proactive in both the international free agent market and the draft acquiring catchers and shortstops to hopefully step in after Posada and Jeter. This is accomplishing the same thing with Rivera in a more immediate sense.

And if Rivera does what all Yankees' fans hope he does and dominates for this two year deal and re-ups again, and Soriano doesn't even have to close in the third year of this deal (there are opt-outs after each year and the contract is backloaded, so this is assuming it goes three years), it's not like he doesn't add real value. Expensive value, but considering the dual benefit described above it's not like the Yankees don't have the money for this kind of thing. In terms of that value, Soriano has pitched 284 innings (all in relief) the last five seasons and has a 2.54 ERA over that period with a ton of strikeouts (9.8 K/9) and few walks (2.7 BB/9). He's exactly what you want in a reliever. What's more, he has the best of those seasons in the only year he was in the offensively stacked AL East, tossing up a 1.73 ERA and leading the league in saves for the best team in the American League in the 2010 regular season.

A few more things to note quickly. First, this is another blow to Tampa Bay. Yes, they get the Yankees' first-rounder, and have about a million first-round picks in this draft which means their system will become more stacked than it already is. But this is going to hurt them in 2011. It's one thing to lose these guys, it's another to lose them to division rivals like they did with Crawford and Soriano. Second, per our conversation in this space the other day, what does this mean for Joba Chamberlain? Rotation? Starter? I don't blame the Yankees for not seeing him being able to offer what Soriano does right now, but this certainly seems like an extreme statement about his role in the bullpen. Third, even when Rivera still is closing, this really gives the Yankees an opportunity to not tax him and attempt to keep him fresh for the whole season. If three save situations arise in three days, there is no pressure to send Rivera out there three in a row. Soriano is certainly capable of taking that last day. Finally, there is more than one way to improve a team. The Yankees have a short rotation right now, and the market for starters (via free agency or trade) seems thin right now. So greatly improving the bullpen with Soriano and Feliciano is another way to go about it. Again, normally I wouldn't support doing it at this cost for a non-closer. But the dual benefit is the key.

To that end, Soriano certainly isn't going to be Rivera. Nobody is. But the reality is someone is going to have to close when he no longer does, and you want to find one of the best options you can to do it. Again, I would not be okay with this deal if there wasn't this element here. I commend the Yankees for not waiting until this situation arises to address it. That's the redeeming quality of this deal for me. And if the situation doesn't arise while Soriano is with the Yankees, then that will only mean good things for the Yankees as it means Rivera will still be doing his thing. In that event, it's not like Soriano is going to go underutilized.


Anonymous said...


The only way this signing would be bad is if Soriano got hurt. He's an excellent pitcher and so the money really isn't an issue. He's the best reliever on the market this winter. Was it a lot of money for a reliever? No question. But as you point out he's insurance for Rivera (who has to retire at some point) and then there's this---even if he's just an 8th inning guy, he'll be a GREAT 8th inning guy. There's a lot of value in that. A great bullpen is a huge deal.

The other thing that needs to be mentioned is that teams like the Red Sox and Yankees can go an spend a ton of money on a non-closer reliever. If it works out or not, it's not a big deal. Other teams can't. If the Mariners had done this everyone would wonder what the hell was going on.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

good points gunn. looking into soriano further, there are some peripherals that suggest he won't be as good in 2011 as he was in 2010. he's also a flyball pitcher which can be tricky as a righty in yankee stadium. but he definitely gave himself cushion in these regards, where if he regresses some he can still put up very good numbers. and if he does that, the yankees will have an even better bullpen than the top 10 unit they had in 2010, which as you said is a good thing.

to that end, thinking about this more last night a really big element of this is that the yankees should really have secured the bullpen not just as an area where they don't have a need, but also an area that has a very good chance to be a team strength. the offense should be the same. the yankees' rotation is currently short. we all know that. we've talked about it a lot here and it's been talked about a lot most places. so having the other two areas be strengths helps make up for a lack of starting pitching, and having the other two areas not have needs allows the yankees to really focus on starting pitching in terms of making additions from here to make the team better. both of these things are big.

the gm at work said...

While scouting has improved to the point that the first-round draft picks are more valuable than ever, this is certainly a move that was necessary for the Yankees - if for nothing else, than for Rivera insurance. We've said it for like ten years now, but there will be a point when Rivera becomes human. It would be a shame for the Yankees if that year happens to be this year - but not as much anymore now that they have Soriano.