Will Mariano Rivera return to the Yankees in 2013?
The New York Yankees were counting on having Mariano Rivera back as their closer next season.
That belief was based on Rivera's own words after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while shagging fly balls during batting practice in Kansas City on May 3.
But apparently, MLB's all-time saves leader has been having some second thoughts during his six months off due to injury. As ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand reported, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the press that Rivera informed the team that he doesn't know if he'll come back next season or retire.
If Rivera decides not to come back, that obviously changes the Yankees' offseason plans. Despite coming back from a serious knee injury, the prevailing thought was that he would be the team's closer next year at the age of 43.
With his uncertainty, Rivera joins another 40-year-old pitcher, Andy Pettitte, in limbo as the Yankees begin to prepare for next season. If both longtime veterans decide to call it career, how will the team replace them?
Here are six suggestions for trades or free-agent signings the Yankees could make to fill those two openings on their roster.
This certainly wouldn't be a flashy, exciting move. It would be the status quo, in fact.
But bringing back Rafael Soriano seems like a no-brainer if Mariano Rivera decides to retire.
After Rivera got hurt, Soriano took over as the Yankees closer (following a brief flirtation with David Robertson in the role) and excelled. He saved 42 games in 46 opportunities while striking out 69 batters in 67.2 innings.
Yet as the New York Post's Joel Sherman reports, Soriano is likely to opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $14 million.
“There is a strong chance that he would have tremendous value as a free agent,” Soriano's agent, Scott Boras, told Sherman.
Boras is right, of course, even if this tactic might appear to some as greedy and opportunistic. The free-agent market for closers in 2013 stinks. There are some relievers who could be worth taking a chance on, but Soriano would be a sure thing if he was available.
If Soriano wasn't already with the Yankees, he is the closer they would go after. That's why the Yanks have to keep him, even if it means playing Boras' game.
Had Matt Garza not developed a triceps injury before the July 31 trade deadline (which was later diagnosed as a stress reaction in his right elbow), it's possible that the Yankees would have acquired him from the Chicago Cubs.
Garza was likely an appealing trade target for Yanks GM Brian Cashman because of his experience pitching in the AL East while with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 94 starts with the Rays, Garza compiled a 3.86 ERA and strikeout rate of 7.1 per game.
Trading for Garza might not happen until spring training, as the Yankees would surely prefer to see if his arm is right and how he's throwing before trying to make a deal. Garza is a 200-inning pitcher capable of 200 strikeouts if healthy.
But Cubs president Theo Epstein wants to get something in return for Garza rather than let him go for nothing as a free agent after next season. And Garza would fit nicely in the middle of the Yanks rotation.
The Yankees probably wouldn't have to give up as much in a trade now, since Garza is only under team control for one year. That doesn't give Epstein the same negotiating leverage he had at this year's trade deadline.
If the Yankees don't want to trade for a starting pitcher, plenty of capable arms are available on the free-agent market.
Jake Peavy will likely be one of them as the Chicago White Sox don't figure to pick up his $22 million option for next season, preferring to buy him out for $4 million and see if they can re-sign him for a less expensive price.
But according to ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine, Peavy may be able to fetch a three- to four-year contract on the open market. He posted a 3.37 ERA for the White Sox in 32 starts. Though Peavy finished with an 11-12 record, he threw 219 innings and averaged eight strikeouts per game. He'll turn 32 next year, meaning he should have some quality seasons left.
The competition for Peavy's services could be fierce. But if the Yankees really want him, they rarely lose a bidding war unless the player just doesn't want to play in New York.
Peavy has made it known that he doesn't like pitching in Yankee Stadium, but he might feel differently if he played for the home team.
If the Yankees decide to let Rafael Soriano go via free agency, there aren't many top-tier relievers on the open market that can replace his production. But there are a few reclamation projects that could be worth taking a chance on.
Ryan Madson was set to be the Cincinnati Reds closer this season before suffering a torn ligament in his elbow that required reconstructive surgery. Prior to that, he'd signed a one-year deal for $8.5 million, presumably with the intent to have a great season and then find the multi-year contract he couldn't attract last winter.
Madson has an $11 million option for next season with the Reds, but they'll almost certainly buy him out for $2.5 million instead.
Following Tommy John surgery, Madson will have to prove he's healthy again and capable of handling a major league reliever's workload. To do that, he'll probably have to settle for another one-year contract at a lower-market price.
But if Madson has a good season and puts up good numbers, he should be able to cash in after the 2013 season. The beneficiary of that performance would be the Yankees and they wouldn't have had to pay much for him. It would be a winning proposition for both sides.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are one of the few MLB teams that has a surplus of starting pitching.
Top prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs could be ready to join Trevor Cahill, NL Rookie of the Year candidate Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin next season. That could make No. 1 starter Ian Kennedy expendable.
Kennedy, a former Yankees prospect before being traded to the D-Backs in 2009, regressed after a 2011 season during which he compiled a 21-4 record and 2.88 ERA in 33 starts. He also struck out 198 batters in 222 innings.
But this season, Kennedy went 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA. While he struck out an average of 8.1 batters per game, his hit rate and home run rate both increased.
The right-hander is arbitration-eligible for the first time next year, which means his salary will increase significantly over the $519,500 he made this season.
For a team like the D-Backs that wants to keep costs down, not to mention their abundance of young starting pitching, trading Kennedy before he gets expensive might be an appealing move.
To the Yankees, however, a pitcher under team control for three more seasons is the sort of addition the team might like to make as it tries to avoid the luxury tax in 2014.
Re-signing one of their starting pitchers might not be grabbing a free-agent pitcher off the market, but the Yankees should do all they can to bring Hiroki Kuroda back next season.
Kuroda signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Yanks, providing the No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia that the rotation needed. During the second half of the season, he was arguably the Yankees' best starter, going 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA.
For the year, Kuroda posted a 16-11 record and 3.32 ERA. In his two playoff starts, he compiled a 2.81 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 16 innings.
Kuroda will be 38 next year and thus won't require a long-term deal. He's the perfect stopgap until one or two of the Yankees' pitching prospects develop. But with his 2012 performance, he proved to be far more than a placeholder. Even if Kuroda is a short-term solution, he's a solution nonetheless.
The Yankees should re-sign Kuroda regardless of whether or not Andy Pettitte decides to retire. But if Pettitte doesn't return, Kuroda becomes even more important to the starting rotation. Unless he decides to go back to Japan, the Yanks can't afford to let him walk.
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