Trade speculation surrounding the Yankees in recent days has centered on starting pitching, but their most pressing need is bullpen help.
With Joba Chamberlain continuing to falter in the all important eighth inning role and his ERA approaching six, memories of his dominance are fading fast. Joakim Soria, one of the most underrated closers in baseball, is available and can solve the eighth inning dilemma as well as succeed Mariano Rivera whenever he rides off into the sunset.
Despite Chamberlain’s struggles, he still has value on the market as evidenced by Arizona demanding him from the Yanks in Dan Haren trade talks.
Chamberlain’s velocity has returned, and, although his slider is nowhere near as sharp, his performance issues could be a result of being used as a human yo-yo, vacillating from the bullpen to the rotation and back over the years.
Meanwhile, Soria has established himself as a lights out closer for the beleaguered Royals. He saved a career-high 42 games for Kansas City in 2008 and has never blown more than four opportunities in any season. He’s averaging 10.58 strikeouts per nine innings and has exhibited impeccable control throughout his career.
Soria won’t come cheap, and Chamberlain would likely have to be a starting point in negotiations. The Yanks were unwilling to include the enigmatic Chamberlain in the Haren trade, but should not hesitate to do so in this scenario.
As opposed to Haren, Soria is in the midst of a very affordable contract. Soria is making $3 million this season and is due $4 million in 2011. Afterwards, he has three club option years for $6 million in 2012, $8 million in 2013, and $8.75 million in 2014.
Since Rivera is still as effective as ever, Soria may not get the opportunity to close for the Yanks until 2013, but because setup men are so vital to playoff success, acquiring him would be a shrewd move. Also, he isn’t paid like an elite closer until 2013, which makes the indefinite waiting period much more tolerable for the Yanks as they carry a super setup man.
Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, and one of the many impressive young arms the Yankees possess in the low minors could be enough to land Soria. While it’s a steep price to pay, it’s well worth it to fortify the bullpen immediately and answer the omnipresent question of who will replace the invaluable Rivera when he’s done.
While the health of Andy Pettitte is a concern, Pettitte has said he feels better of late and has been lobbying the Yankees to return earlier than originally anticipated. The Yankees, of course, should remain cautious with Pettitte, and their comfortable hold on a playoff spot allows them to.
If Pettitte is back by late August as scheduled, the Yankees will not require another starting pitcher anyway. Further, passing on adding another starter would enable the Yanks to leave Phil Hughes in the rotation all season to avoid a recurring nightmare that they’re experiencing with Chamberlain.
Hughes is blossoming this year as a frontline starter and should not be toyed with. Even though he ran into a wall of sorts after May, Hughes is working through his issues and should be permitted weather the adversity while remaining in the rotation. The innings limitation is enough of an obstacle to overcome without questioning his role, too.
One criticism of Soria is the lack of experience he’s had pitching in big games and the playoffs. He’s surmounted every challenge put before him and is still just 26 years old. Although some fail under the bright lights, Soria is certainly worth the risk.
Who could resist the possibility of recreating Rivera to John Wetteleand 14 years later?