The New York Yankees, asleep for much of baseball's offseason, have finally made a big move, signing closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal. Soriano, 31, will serve as the setup man to current Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, and could also replace Rivera should he retire at the end of his current two-year contract.
Under the terms of the deal, Soriano can opt out after both the first and second years of the contract. He will receive $10 million in the first year, with an additional $1.5 million should he opt out. In the second year, he'll receive $11 million, with an additional $1.5 million if he opts out. In the third year, Soriano will make $14 million.
After losing out on the best free agent pitcher available, Cliff Lee, earlier in the offseason, the Yankees desperately needed to find a way to strengthen their starting rotation. They have yet to sign a starting pitcher, but the addition of Soriano gives them both strength and depth in their bullpen, almost ensuring that any lead they bring into the sixth inning will stand up.
Soriano will join Rivera, along with David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano to form one of the best bullpens in baseball.
However, despite the tremendous need to improve their team heading into 2011, the Yankees might not be getting the best deal here.
The first thing to look at, of course, is the money. The Yankees are going to pay Soriano closer money to be a setup man.
Soriano led the majors in saves (45) last season, but his agent Scott Boras had said that Soriano would be open to a setup role. Boras called the idea of Soriano setting up for the Yankees "a different scenario" because the Yankees already have the greatest closer in MLB history, Mariano Rivera.
"I don't think there is a team in baseball where [Soriano] could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees," Boras said.
In mid-November, the Detroit Tigers signed another reliever, Joaquin Benoit, to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. That deal was certainly going to impact the price tag of Soriano, who is two years younger than Benoit.
The Tigers will pay Benoit an annual salary of $5.5 million per season. And Soriano is getting more than double that amount at $11.6 million?
Even if Soriano takes over for Rivera in the third year of his contract (provided Rivera retires, which it doesn't appear that he's ready to do), that's a hefty price tag for a guy who will only get three outs. And yes, Rivera himself generally only gets three outs each night and he's getting $15 million per season, but we're talking about Mariano Rivera here; it might as well be apples and oranges.
Another part of the deal to examine is that Soriano is a Type-A free agent, meaning the Yankees will have to surrender a first-round draft pick. When the question of signing Soriano was raised to Yankees GM Brian Cashman about a week ago, Cashman vehemently said the he was not willing to surrender a draft pick to sign any remaining free agent.
"I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick," Cashman said, according to the Westchester Journal News. "I would have for Cliff Lee. I will not lose our No. 1 draft choice for anyone else."
Well, it appears Cashman has had a change of heart, as not only are the Yankees giving up a first round draft pick to sign Soriano, but, as an extension, he has also ensured that the Boston Red Sox will receive a first-round pick for the loss of Adrian Beltre instead of a sandwich pick.
The Yankees needed to sign Soriano, that much was clear. But a first-round draft pick is a first-round draft pick; it's valuable. If Cashman wasn't willing to give that up to sign a reliever, even one of Soriano's ability, that was understandable.
So why the turnaround?
Tough to say. Cashman was contending with a fanbase increasingly frustrated by an uncharacteristic lack of action on the Yankees' part this offseason. He also might have wanted to take some of the attention away from their questionable starting rotation, which is still unimproved.
From a baseball standpoint, Soriano does help to take some of the pressure off that starting rotation, as having Soriano to setup means that the Yankee starters only have to throw six innings most nights.
Another factor to consider in this deal is that Soriano can opt out of his contract after each of the first two seasons and walk away with big money. If Soriano decides he'd rather be a full-time closer with another team, and walks after the first season, the Yankees will have paid him $11.5 million for a single season of work, which may or may not culminate in a World Series victory.
If the Yankees don't win anything significant, and by significant I mean the World Series, and Soriano opts out, then what was the point? Big money and a first-round draft pick to have the best eighth and ninth inning relievers in baseball for a season or two?
Not to mention the fact that Soriano's contract is back-loaded and he'll make $14 million in the third year. The reason for this is that it sets up Soriano to become the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera as the closer. However, Rivera, even at 40, doesn't show any signs of slowing down, and if you wanted to bet me that Rivera would retire at the end of his current two-year deal, I'd take that bet.
So, if Rivera doesn't retire, then there's no closer role open to Soriano, and he'll be making even bigger money as a setup man. My guess is that if that happens, and Rivera doesn't retire, then Soriano will opt out of his contract and go close for another team (the Boston Red Sox perhaps?).
All in all, this was a deal that had to get done. The Yankees needed to make a move after losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies, and even though Soriano isn't a starter, this move does help the starting rotation by extension.
However, the Yankees need to win with Soriano to make up for the big money and draft pick they surrendered to sign him. Time will tell if this was worth it for the Yankees.