One reason the New York Yankees are not—and should not be—interested in re-signing reliever Rafael Soriano to the four-year, $60 million deal he's reportedly seeking is because there are plenty of bargains to be found on the free-agent market.
Two former closers, in particular, are the sort of low-risk, high-reward proposition the Yankees should be making as they try to keep their spending low and their payroll within range of the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014.
At the end of October, the Kansas City Royals declined Joakim Soria's $8 million option for 2013, giving him a $750,000 buyout instead. Soria missed all of this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
San Francisco Giants reliever Brian Wilson may soon join him in free agency. The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman reports that the Giants don't want to bring back Wilson for 80 percent of his 2012 salary, equaling $6.8 million. Wilson is also coming off reconstructive elbow surgery and Sergio Romo is now entrenched as the Giants closer.
Either pitcher could be a nice low-cost replacement for Soriano in the Yankees bullpen. Both Soria or Wilson could also serve as a backup closer for Mariano Rivera. But which of them would be a better fit?
Shortly after hitting free agency, Soria's agent let it be known that his client would be willing to pitch in a setup role for the Yankees because of the opportunity to play with Rivera.
As of yet, however, the Yankees haven't contacted Soria about such a possibility. Perhaps general manager Brian Cashman is waiting until after the team re-signs Rivera before making another move for the bullpen. Additionally, he may be waiting to see how the market develops for Soriano.
Meanwhile, Wilson's preference is reportedly to return to the Giants. But San Francisco doesn't want to just pay him without knowing how healthy he is.
The team would like to sign Wilson for a much lower base salary and give Wilson the opportunity to earn his former paycheck back through various incentives. Wilson, however, thinks his seven seasons with the Giants—four of which were excellent—warrant more financial reward.
To be certain, Wilson's act would be big—and possibly become unbearable—in New York. The man loves having a camera and microphone in front of him and plenty of those would follow him around in the country's biggest media market. If Wilson wanted to keep his brand thriving, the Yankees would probably be the best team for him.
However, a big part of Wilson's brand would end up in a trash bag if he signed with the Yanks. The team has an infamous policy against players sporting any more facial hair than a mustache. Wilson's beard would have to go if he donned the pinstripes. But frankly, doesn't Wilson need to get rid of that monstrosity anyway?
Wilson's act probably plays far better around Giants teammates who are accustomed to his quirky personality. With a straightlaced team like the Yankees, he might have to tone his personality down a bit.
The Yankees would presumably have no such concerns with Soria. He's a quieter, less showy personality who just does his job and leaves it at that.
The most controversial thing ever associated with Soria was a nickname that Royals fans gave him, tabbing him "The Mexicutioner." But the reliever eventually asked for the nickname to be retired because he was concerned about it being associated with the extreme violence taking place in Mexico.
That's a guy who will probably fit in a clubhouse with Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Rivera much better.
But what about from a baseball standpoint?
Both Wilson and Soria have struck out batters at approximately the same rate over their careers. Wilson strikes out 9.6 batters per nine innings, while Soria punches out 9.7 per game. Either one would be an excellent choice to bring into a tight, late-inning situation that requires a strikeout.
However, Soria distances himself from Wilson when it comes to walks and hits allowed per nine innings. During his five major league seasons, Soria has averaged 6.9 hits and 2.5 walks per game. His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is 1.043.
Compare that to Wilson, who's averaged eight hits and four walks per game. His WHIP is 1.338.
If we're talking about a setup reliever, the pitcher who allows fewer hits and walks is probably the way to go. Soria thus looks better suited for such a role with the Yankees.
I've argued in a past article that the Yankees could arguably get by without either Rivera or Soriano in their bullpen next season. But we now know Rivera is coming back. David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain should be capable setup men. The Yanks are also already working in a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery in David Aardsma.
But if you're of the belief that a bullpen can never have enough live arms, and Cashman has operated that way in the past, then signing Soria or Wilson makes sense. Soria would probably be a better fit with the Yankees' way of doing business, however.
The Yankees GM has done this with his starting rotation, taking chances on pitchers like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Why not do it with the bullpen as well?
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