Turn Back The Clock: January 18th, 2011-Yankees Sign A Closer


And you’re thinking to yourself, “Really?” Yes, really. Against the outspoken opposition of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, the Yankees, looking for a possible heir to the throne held by longtime closer Mariano Rivera, sign the previous season’s league leader in saves, Rafael Soriano, to a three-year, $35 million dollar deal. Soriano would be coming over to the Bronx from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he recorded 45 saves in 2010. 

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But there was a catch: there always is as it seems these days with contracts that would normally BENEFIT the Yankees: the opt-out clause. The Yankees burned themselves when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his deal, only to watch the Yankees fall all over themselves, bid against themselves, and reward the guy for holding them hostage, by giving him a larger, more lucrative contract than the one that had made him the highest-paid athlete in the history of professional sports.

We also can’t forget about how the Bombers have been burned by one-time ace C.C. Sabathia. He and his family were unsure about living and playing in New York, as Sabathia is a west coast guy. So the Yankees, needing an ace after missing the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1994, gave him an opt-out as well. When he threatened to test free agency, the Yankees once again, ponied up the cheddar, and rewarded a player for greediness, and look where that has left them.

As for Soriano, he knew he’d be getting paid like a closer to be insurance for the aging Sandman. His first season in the Bronx didn’t go quite according to the blueprint. Posting an ERA of 4.12, he looked lost at times, and his lack of confidence in every pitch he threw was vastly apparent. It almost seemed as if he was melting under the hot lights of the Big Apple, and that this deal may indeed have been a bad one.

Fast-forward to the following season, 2012. Kansas City, Missouri. As was his ritual, Rivera was shagging fly balls in the outfield, when he collapsed on the warning track at Kaufman Stadium, tearing his knee up, and ending his season. The first person to get a crack at Rivera’s job was not Soriano, but rather David Robertson. After a couple of ineffective outings and an injury of his own, only then did Soriano take his rightful place as the closer.

In 67 2/3 innings pitched, Soriano posted a 2-1 record, with an ERA of 2.26 and 42 saves. The Yankees didn’t miss a beat while Rivera was gone, and the Yankees advanced to the American League Championship Series, where they would fall to the Detroit Tigers. Proving once again that Soriano was among the elite closers in the game, he, like A-Rod and Sabathia before him, used his opt-out clause and chased greener pastures, landing in Washington, D.C. as the newly-minted closer of the Nationals. The Yankees made little, if any effort to retain Soriano, wishing to shed some payroll in a meager attempt to get closer to the $189 million payroll threshold.

The Yankees haven’t been back to the postseason since, and while Soriano departed, Rivera returned for one more glorious year, rode off into the sunset, and passed the baton to homegrown talent, Robertson. D-Rob had a solid first year in the closer’s role as the heir to Rivera, only to decline the Yankees’ qualifying offer this winter, and left the Bronx where he is now the closer for the Chicago White Sox.

Something unfamiliar is going to happen for the first time in a very long time. Starting with Soriano, then back to Rivera, then on to Robertson, and now heading into this season, either Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller, or perhaps a combination of both, the Yankees will have their fourth different closer in as many seasons. Now think about that for a minute. It was this day, four years ago, that the Yankees brought Rafael Soriano to the Bronx, in today’s Turn Back The Clock.