One would have to imagine that following a fantastic 2012 season by doing the impossible, filling the shoes (or rather, cleats), of Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano was making the smart call by exercising his player opt-out and rejected a one-year tender by the Yankees in order to seek a more lucrative, long-term deal outside of New York. And with Scott Boras as his agent, few doubted he would get exactly the deal he wanted from some owner who desperately wanted a championship. Except here we are: it’s now the middle of January, 2013, and Soriano has no deal. In fact, there is almost no market for him given the parameters of the new CBA. With reports lately that the Yankees have no interest in bringing back their one-time closer, the question still remains: should the Yankees re-sign Soriano?
Just a quick recap for those of you playing at home: Soriano had an 2.26 ERA in 69 games, recording 42 saves to just four blown saves in the process, even though he only served in the role starting in May. In over 67 IP, he allowed just 17 runs and 55 hits, finishing with a 2-1 record, logging 69 Ks on the year. Also, Soriano had WHIP of 1.167, and issued only 24 walks, four of which were intentional. He also had a 2.6 WAR, a very respectable figure considering that Soriano only pitched 67 innings on the year. This is even more remarkable when observing that Soriano’s gmLI was 1.6. (Note: An average pressure situation is 1.0; above 1.0 is high pressure, while below 1.0 is lower pressure. Further, his Soriano’s RAR rating was 23; for purposes of comparison, in 2011, Rivera was worth an RAR of 24 over 61.1 IP. Again, it goes without saying that this was a successful season.
Even at 33 years old, Soriano would be a welcome addition to many clubs in order to bolster their bullpen. Part of the success that the Yankees enjoyed during the regular season came from solidness of the bullpen. At this point, the Yankees are losing Soriano, but basically supplanting him with Mo. While on paper, that sounds fantastic — swapping a great closer for the greatest closer — it may not work out that way. Bear in mind that Rivera is 42, and despite his success at his age, he is coming off ACL surgery. While football fans look at Adrian Peterson’s season in the NFL and can hope for the same for Mariano, Peterson’s story is remarkable because of the rarity of his quick recovery to full form, resulting in a career-best season. That said, Peterson is almost 20 years younger than Rivera. Even if Rivera is able to complete a full season with no setbacks, there is really no telling that he will return to the almost-perfection that he was prior to the injury. (That said, one can argue the same about any player from one year to the next, let alone pitchers, let alone older pitchers.)
Soriano’s position works against him as an individual, but works directly in the Yankees favor. Due to his free agent status, any team that signs him, since he was offered a tender by the Yankees, will lose a draft pick as compensation to the team the player is leaving (in this case, the Yankees). While that isn’t saying much, particularly in a crapshoot draft like MLB has, it does matter somewhat.
However, what is important is that the value of that draft pick will be deducted from the amount of money any individual team can spend on its draft class. This is critical in that it may make the difference between signing a prospect and having him go back to college — at which point he will re-enter the draft the following year and you risk 1) losing the pick and 2) having him go to another team in the next draft. If you still don’t think that matters, go and ask the Pirates and their would-have-been 2012 draft pick Mark Appel if money available to sign drafted players is important. As such, Soriano is a virtual pariah. No team wants to lose a pick, but no team wants to lose money it can use on those picks. It’s a lose-lose. Combine that with the fact that Soriano is older, and is a Boras client, which, by very definition means lots of years and lots of money. No one is biting.
Enter, the Yankees. Having Soriano on the team would increase depth at an already strong position. While Brian Cashman has said that he isn’t looking for bullpen help at this point, his most assuredly is looking for a DH/righty bat off the bench. That component of the roster is something that could be acquired via trade by drawing on the bullpen depth — say, by trading Boone Logan, or other bullpen piece which would be rendered expendable by signing Soriano. There’s been some speculation that the Nationals are looking into trades for Mike Morse, who might make sense for the Yankees’ very specific need.
It’s just one example, as that is the most-seen name floating around these days, but the premise remains: a good LOOGY is a commodity, while bats can be expendable. Adding Soriano might allow the Yankees to add in other areas. Further, should the Yankees choose to re-sign Soriano, they would not lose a draft pick under the CBA, given that they were the team he was leaving, nor would they lose money towards their draft signings. There is no draft-related disincentive for them to not sign him. Also, again: no one is biting. Boras may have bitten off more than he can chew, giving the CBA parameters and the market. Soriano could come pretty cheap. The Yankees hold the leverage on this one, but it’s up to them if they decide to exercise it after having over-paid for a set-up man, and then having him opt-out of his contract.
All of that said, I am not entirely sure the Yankees do it. Brian Cashman seems very committed to one-year deals, and anything involving Soriano would likely be for multiple years, thereby increasing the dollars committed in 2014 when the luxury tax hit comes into play. It might not be the best thing for the Yankees considering the finances involves, or the current construction of the team, but then again, given the circumstances involved, a cheap, good reliever isn’t the worst idea ever — particularly if doing so can free up players to trade and fill other voids. So, be heard, Yankees fans: do you think the Yankees should re-sign Rafael Soriano?