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The Yankees signed closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contracts, that many talent evaluators consider a terrible deal for the Bombers.”It’s almost a can’t-win [contract] for the Yankees,” a rival baseball official told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “There are so many ways for it to go wrong, and almost no way it can go well, aside from a one-year contribution.”
He is referring, of course, to the aspect of the contract that allows Soriano to opt out after either the first or second year. So in addition to the enormity of the deal, the forgoing of a first-round pick, and the long-term commitment to the inconsistent reliever position, if Soriano somehow manages to outperform the deal, he can opt out during any offseason to pursue even greater riches. There’s absolutely no chance the Yankees get any value out of this contract.
Yet, it’s still a perfect deal for the them.
Look, it’s no secret the Yankees are playing with house – or, more accurately, Steinbrenner – money.
They’ve already saved more than $20 million from this offseason’s transactions, headlined by Jeter’s smaller contract and Javy Vazquez’s departure. And they’re working under the assumption that Andy Pettitte and his $16 million contract won’t be returning to pinstripes. The Yankees are way under budget.
Much of that, of course, was set aside for Cliff Lee. But since he spurned the Bronx for Philadelphia the Yankees are left short of their intended budget and short of starting pitching.
But rather than spend on the last solid starting pitcher on the market, Carl Pavano, who famously failed in a previous stint in New York, or unload a bounty of prospects for pitchers available via trade, the Yankees opted for door number three: shortening the game as much as possible for their depleted staff.
Over the last five years Soriano has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. In no season has his ERA exceeded 3.00, and he’s struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings while walking fewer than three. Pitching in the AL East for the Rays in 2010, Soriano posted a minuscule 1.73 ERA and saved 45 games in 48 chances. Simply, lights out.
Removing him from the closer role benefits the Yankees, because they could use him at the game’s most crucial point rather than ritualistically reserving him for the ninth. Add him to a bullpen already featuring the best closer in history, a stacked middle relief core including the newly signed Pedro Feliciano, and Girardi’s first call to the ‘pen will be most opponents’ last chance.
In 2011 (the only year Soriano is guaranteed to pitch in pinstripes) the Yankees fate will rest on the success of wildly inconsistent A.J. Burnett, the unproven Ivan Nova, and back of the rotation Pitcher X. But at least Girardi, Cashman, and the rabid fanbase can take comfort in the fact that they’re only dependent on these pitchers for five innings. Because after that it’s off to baseball’s best bullpen.
This offseason, every general manager pined for major bullpen upgrades. In typical fashion, only the Yankees were able to afford it. Sure, they overpaid to get it, but what’s an extra few million dollars for a coveted player when the Steinbrenners stand to save $20 million off last year’s payroll either way?
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