New York Yankees: Why Rafael Soriano Is Certain for Big Things This Season
After ineffectiveness and injury, Soriano saw the younger David Robertson seize the opportunity and take his job from him. Now, Soriano finds himself as the seventh-inning guy and an expensive one at that.
Soriano has a new year coming and plenty of motivation to get back on the mound and show why he was once considered one of the top relievers in all of baseball.
Here's why Soriano is bound to have a big season in 2012.
Strong Finish to 2011
There's no question that Soriano had struggles in the beginning of the season and when he was actually on the mound, he wasn't very effective.
But towards the end of the season, Soriano began to show the 45-save form he displayed in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays. In September, Sori went 13.2 IP, allowing five runs and three of those runs were in one inning against the hot, playoff-bound Rays at the end of the month.
Without that shelling, Soriano's September would have been much better looking on paper.
And as for October, Soriano pitched to an impressive 1.93 ERA when it mattered most. Don't let a clutch home run off the bat of Delmon Young in the ALDS take away from an overall strong finish to the season.
By all indications it looks as if Mariano Rivera will retire after the 2012 season and that means the Yanks' closer spot will be open for the first time in an eternity.
Those won't be easy shoes to fill, but Soriano has shown the ability in the past to give it a shot. He'll have to compete with David Robertson during the season and still might have a chance to win the job if he pitches well enough.
Even if he can't win the closer's role, Soriano can still be the setup man which is what he was originally paid to be. I always thought he was really signed to be the eventual successor for Rivera and it looks like he still might have a chance to do just that.
But he'll have to earn it.
Not to mention, it's never too early to be playing for a new contract as Soriano will find himself in free agency come 2014.
What baseball player doesn't want to come out firing after a bad season in the MLB and I don't have any reason to suspect that Sori will be any different.
Soriano knows he's better than the way he pitched in 2011 and he damn-well wants to prove it to the same fans that booed him last season. He'll be fully motivated to prove the naysayers wrong and show he still has what it takes to be a dominant reliever.
It'll be impossible for Soriano to live up to his contract as long as he's the seventh-inning guy and the only real way he can earn back the respect he's lost would be to take his job back. Even then it's easy to make the case he's overpaid but you get the idea.
It won't be easy to knock off D-Rob after a dominant showing last season and pride in his ability may be the only thing left for Soriano to reclaim.
Yankees' announcer John Sterling would tell you that you can't predict baseball until he's blue in the face, but he's certainly speaking the truth.
I wouldn't even begin to predict perfect health for any athlete during any given season but Soriano did finish last season strong physically. When he got consistent time on the mound late in the year, Sori was a much more reliable reliever.
Missing as much time as Soriano did makes it tough to get into any kind of consistent rhythm and in turn, a player might not hit the old "midseason form" until later in the season which is what seemingly happened to Soriano.
With the combination of Soriano, Robertson and Rivera, the Bombers will have one of the best bullpens in the MLB once again. With the re-addition of Joba Chamberlain into the bullpen, the Yanks will be looking at five-inning wins for their starting pitchers.
I fully expect D-Rob to be sharp again in 2012 so the only way Soriano will get back into the setup role is if Rivera has to do a stint on the DL.
Also, keep an eye on the trade market. The Yankees have been trying to cut back payroll and if Joba can make a successful return from major surgery and return to a consistent form, Soriano and his big contract will be expendable.
There's always a market for closers and if the price is right, it isn't impossible to see Soriano playing for a different team at the trade deadline.
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