When the New York Yankees lost star closer Mariano Rivera to a serious knee injury in early May, there was concern that nobody would be able to fill his shoes. As it turned out, that should have been the least of the team's worries, as Rafael Soriano was terrific in the role.
Now the Yankees have to worry about losing him. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports Soriano is likely to decline his player option for next season, allowing him to hit the open market as a free agent over the winter.
At first glance, it might not seem like a major issue. The Yankees are expecting Rivera back at full strength in time for next season and, if all goes according to plan, he'll return to his usual ninth-inning role in 2013.
Yet, there are a lot of question marks about Rivera's ability to maintain the same level of dominance upon his return. He has over 600 career saves with a 2.21 ERA since coming to the major leagues with the Yankees in 1995.
It's been an incredibly impressive run, and nobody would be shocked if he returns to form next season. That said, it's important to remember he'll be 43 by Opening Day, and nobody can pitch forever. New York needs to have a backup plan in place.
As Soriano illustrated this season, he's the perfect man for the job. He finished the season with 42 saves while blowing just four chances and had an ERA of just 2.26. Instead of crumbling under the pressure, he actually thrived in the pressure-packed situation.
He's the type of player that's built to survive the New York spotlight. He doesn't get caught up in all the drama and theatrics that go along with being a Yankee. The right-hander just goes about his business and, more often than not, gets the job done.
Since he's coming off such a terrific season, it's no surprise that Soriano is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal. That shouldn't deter the Yankees from bringing him back, however. He will be a key piece of the bullpen regardless of Rivera's status.
As the playoffs showed, New York's front office has some work to do during the offseason in order to get the team back to a championship level. The last thing Brian Cashman and Co. should want is to let yet another hole develop on the roster.
The Yankees should open the checkbook and meet Soriano's demands. His performance throughout the season proved he can handle the task of replacing Rivera if necessary.
There aren't many relief pitchers capable of making that claim.