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January 14, 2011

Transaction of the Day

Soriano in Stripes

by Christina Kahrl

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NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to terms with RHP Rafael Soriano on a three-year, $35 million contract, with $1.5 million player opt-outs after both 2011 and 2012. [1/13]

It hasn't been the Hot Stove the Yankees expected, when all they have had to show for their off-season shopping was catcher Russell Martin, rubber-armed southpaw Pedro Feliciano, and the formal elevation of Cliff Lee to white whale status. Or, for premium-brand shoppers like the Yankees, the transactional equivalent of bupkis.

However, that finally changed with the decision to sign the best available player at one position: Rafael Soriano, the winter's best reliever. The money's of the sort that perhaps only they might be able to afford at this stage of the winter, and winding up with him is a fairly obvious bit of settling for something mound-ish because they've achieved little else beyond plaintive voice mails to Andy Pettitte.

The Rays' single-season stopper was back on the loose after last winter's arbitration-related debacle with the Braves. He was among the four best relievers in the game. This makes a second straight winter in which Soriano has to be left wondering if the market's ever going to give him his due: a job as a closer and top dollar. It wasn't there, but as the creative structuring of this deal reflects, he hasn't entirely given up hope. He'll make $10 million in 2011, $11 million in 2012, and $14 million in 2013, should he stay for all three seasons and not opt out.

However, opting out after 2011 would be fairly unlikely, or at least ill-advised. Not only would it leave $23.5 million on the table, but Soriano would be sailing into a market that might have Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, and Ryan Franklin available, plus Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero if the Twins and Reds decide to cut costs by buying out their final option years. Page Noah or not, but a market doesn't get much more flooded than that.

Whether and when Soriano skips is unknowable, though, so we should turn to what's shaping up like an exceptional bullpen. Consider the current half-dozen likelies:

Pitcher
Relief IP
UBBr
SOr
HRr
ARP
WXRL
LEV
RA9
FRA
SIERA
Rivera 60.0 3.5% 19.6% 0.9% 15.7 3.7 1.9 2.10 2.39 3.46
Soriano 62.1 5.1% 24.1% 1.7% 16.8 5.9 2.1 2.02 2.16 3.27
Feliciano* 62.2 8.8% 20.0% 0.4% 6.7 1.6 1.3 3.45 3.43 3.77
Robertson 61.1 10.2% 25.9% 1.8% 4.3 1.8 1.2 3.82 3.62 3.66
Chamberlain 71.2 6.6% 25.3% 1.9% 6.9 1.3 1.1 4.65 4.01 3.16
Logan* 40.0 10.1% 22.5% 1.8% 9.1 0.4 1.1 2.93 3.11 4.00

Obviously, they already had five good relievers, but because their rotation looks like a mess (at least until the kids arrive), adding a premium reliever has its arguments for it. It might make for a busy season of trudging to and from the dugout for Joe Girardi, but adding Soriano to the late-game mix propels Joba Chamberlain and the rest to earlier assignments in-game, so he has the relief weapons to work with.

Will he use it to full effect? Lately, Girardi has generally avoided hooking his starters early, ranking among the AL's least-likely skippers to go with a quick hook the last two years. That has to change with this crew, because as things now stand he'll have at least three chuck-and-duck slots in the rotation beyond CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Whether Girardi adapts to the talent at hand will be a major factor for the Yankees' success in 2011; he has the pen for it, and he was quicker to hook a hurler in 2008, when he led the league. Then again, scarred Yankee fans might remember that we did just see him blow an ALCS Game Four by leaving a weak starter in a frame too far.

One line of argument against the money and the decision to sign Soriano at all is that the Yankees now lose their first-round pick in June to the Rays. Remember, if you're Soriano, that's not my problem. He wants his money, he deserves his money, and he got his money. Expecting Soriano to make any concession to the fact that signing him costs the Yankees more than money is pointless.

However, while the Yankees lost that late first-round pick next June to a division rival and next year's draft class looks very good, the Yankees' advantage in financial muscle can make up for the loss of that pick--OK, so they can't get a late-first talent, but they can still afford to go over slot with anyone who drops to them in the later rounds. That's a bit dodgy as propositions go, of course, because you never know how everyone is going to behave on draft day. Happily, they can still just go south of the border and snap up the best international free agents from Venezuela or the Dominican, while continuing to exploit what seems like a nice little corner in the Mexican market.

What they can't make up for is the fact that the Rays have the pick, and few teams draft better. If, in 2017 or so, whoever was selected with that pick is putting the Orlando Swamp Rays ahead of the Yankees in the AL East standings, feel free to start rending your garments then. Cashman has a responsibility to the present as well as to the future.

By arriving in time to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera, Soriano joins a long line of great Yankee late-game duos. As put out as Sparky Lyle was by the addition of Rich Gossage to the 1978 Bronx Zoo, the two combined to throw 246 IP, and accumulated 6.3 WXRL and 48.7 ARP. Of course, by then Lyle was fading, with just four years left in him; swapping Lyle out for Ron Davis for 1979 didn't hurt the Bombers over the next three years, as the Gossage/Davis combo crested in 1980 to produce 8.3 WXRL and 49.2 ARP. Davis got his shot at closing with the Twins after strike-shortened '81 in the trade for Roy Smalley, Jr. In '84 they replaced Goose with Dave Righetti and had Jay Howell setting up in front of him; that totted up 6.9 WXRL and 38.4 ARP, but that lasted just the one year before Howell was bundled off to Oakland for his shot at closing as part of the package sent to the A's in the Rickey Henderson deal. Even then, the Yankees replaced him easily enough, getting a great year from Jeff Fisher before he injured his arm.

But as good as all of that was, none of those tandems compared to the franchise rebirth-season duo of '96, when Mariano set up John Wetteland, with both finishing among the 10 best relievers in the game, combining for nearly 13 WXRL and 56.2 ARP. Mariano's 41.4 ARP that year ranks among the 10 best relief seasons ever by that measure, in his first and last season setting anybody else up.

Now the shoe's on the other foot, and he's the old man, with a closer-worthy flame-thrower in front of him. Could signing Soriano give the Yankees their best duo since that Wetteland and Mo combo? Not exactly, because Soriano isn't a young Mo, capable of throwing 100 IP; he's already 31, and not bound for anybody's Hall of Fame. But Soriano will overpower people, generating a ton of strikeouts and popups. Obviously, it's a consolation signing, and one made at a premium, but the Yankees needed to do something for their pitching staff.

Soriano's performance in the set-up role is something we ought to be able to take for granted, with the usual caveats: if he stays healthy, if he isn't felled by a meteorite, if he doesn't have a Whitson-like allergic reaction to pitching in pinstripes, etc. If signing him frees Girardi to use Robertson, Feliciano, and Logan in a dogged pursuit of mid-game tactical advantage, and if signing him sets Joba Chamberlain up for a multi-inning mid-game bridge role that gets the Nebraskan innings and a chance to just pitch and produce, it might do the trick, not just by itself, but because of what it makes possible for everyone else.

How? Well, here, I think the Yankees will have to change with the times. It puts the Yankees in the unusual situation of aping what worked so well in San Diego and Texas last year, relying on a deep pen to pitch a larger share of their innings to win games, not just finish them. If Girardi can take that page from the Bud Black playbook and use a deep pen to best effect, it might make the four-hour nine-inning Yankees game an everyday occurrence, but it might also be the way he puts this team back in the playoffs despite a dubious rotation.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

39 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tommybones

Montero will be dealt for a starter at some point, no doubt.

Jan 14, 2011 04:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Perhaps. We saw him make an excellent effort with Lee in 2010, only to be rebuffed; it takes two to tango, and there are only so many starting pitchers worth dealing for, fewer still that are in play. And Martin's one-year deal suggests that Montero's still possibly part of their future, although the possession of Austin Romine creates choice--for themsleves, or a dance partner.

Jan 14, 2011 09:50 AM
 
awayish

if they can afford to go overslot now that they've lost their highest pick, why can't they go overslot with that pick and arguably for even greater effectiveness?

Jan 14, 2011 05:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

They could have, naturally. And now they can't--with that one pick.

Jan 14, 2011 09:44 AM
 
Robotey

Going overslot only means you can move up a few picks, but rarely is it a game-changer. If your first pick is 50th you can't wave a billion dollars and get David Price or Buster Posey. Your only advantage is scooping up the talent that other teams have deemed too pricy to pursue. So let's not overvalue overslotting.

Jan 14, 2011 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Just from the last decade or so, there have been all sorts of people evaluated as first-round talents drop from the first round because of heightened bonus expectations (and subsequently good and bad in terms of outcomes, but my comment here is about how people are seen on draft day): Grady Sizemore, Max Stassi, Matt Tuiasosopo, Vince Sinisi, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Gosling, even some guy named Joba Chamberlain.

Checking with KG on this, it's worth noting that the Yankees went to seven figures with their 2010 fourth-round pick, and another seven figures on their 2009 second-rounder. In the 2010 draft, from pick 32 through to the end of the fifth round, 17 players got more than a million, and 50 were signed overslot.

In short, money in the modern draft matters, and the Yankees have that going for them and then some. Gaining the pick helps the Rays, but this is not a zero-sum game--the Yankees haven't necessarily lost all that much, given the ways in which they can make up for it.

Jan 14, 2011 12:52 PM
 
Matt Kory

Chamberlain was picked in the supplimental first round (41st pick). Its not like he fell that far if indeed he fell at all.

Jan 14, 2011 13:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Agreed, with their buckets of cash and willingness to spend it--witness bidding against themselves on A-Rod and now Soriano--the Yankees will always be able to mitigate the hindrances of limited options with money. With even classically stingy clubs investing more revenue-sharing dough in the draft, it's less likely a high first rounder falls in to Yankee territory. Can they use their YES $ to make a late first rounder a rich fourth rounder? Sure. But whether it's Ed Whitson, Kei Igawa or the next Matt Bush, the Highlanders have a proven track record of throwing piles of American currency at players yielding negative WARP, and that won't change.

Jan 16, 2011 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yes/no/maybe. Not everyone has, and not everyone will. The Yankees can and will afford to outspend this decision, whether it's a matter of signing a high school kid to buy out his baseball scholarship, a Latin amateur, or someone else who falls to them.

Jan 16, 2011 20:21 PM
 
Adam Hobson

Bad examples, neither a Price nor Posey were going to drop to the 31st pick that the Yankees handed the Rays. Even in a loaded draft, the 31st pick is far from a sure thing and most importantly that level of talent can be found in the later rounds (Yanks have a supplemental 1st from Vazquez's signing) by paying over slot.

Jan 15, 2011 17:36 PM
rating: 3
 
jedjethro

+1... Interesting viewpoint, Robotey; it adds an excellent bit of analysis to that of CK's and others.

Jan 16, 2011 08:41 AM
rating: -2
 
tonyfranco

Papelbon's desire to set the market for relievers has certainly taken a hit now that, you would have to think, the Yankees are no longer a potential suitor.

Jan 14, 2011 07:31 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Definitely a situation where his bold talk of holding out for the market's riches instead of striking a multi-year agreement that extended beyond his initial free agency looks like it will be an expensive choice. I don't think there's a worse time to be a closer and hitting the market than next winter.

Jan 14, 2011 11:17 AM
 
Adam Hobson

I'm not sure I buy that logic. For every closer on the market, there will be a team with a closer opening. Now naturally some of these won't pay top rate, but plenty might (the Mets, Dodgers and Cardinals spend money, and hell, the Red Sox could get back in the game as well). I think Papelbon finds himself a contract inline with K-Rod's contract with the Mets a few years back. Very nice money, just on a shorter time frame.

Jan 15, 2011 17:41 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Think about that: shorter than three years? Post-slump? In a flooded market? After Soriano couldn't get that deal this winter?

Jan 15, 2011 19:57 PM
 
Adam Hobson

Maybe we are disagreeing on what a good potential deal is. I think Papelbon can slightly exceed K-Rod's contract, say 3 years for $40, which is only a bit more than what Soriano did get. That seems to be around what the going rate is for non-Mariano closers now. I don't think we'll see another BJ Ryan deal for a while, but who knows.

Papelbon's risk is losing the closer job to Bard or Jenks. Because as Janks has shown, the fallen closer market caps at $7 million-ish for two or three years.

Jan 16, 2011 22:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

I'll take the under on 3 years / $40 million right now for Papelbon. As multi year deals at $4 mil per for 8th inning specialists become more in vogue --witness the A's "I'll take two!"--clubs are beginning to learn that the difference between 8th and 9th relievers is thinner than ever, and it makes less sense to pay the premium. It's looking more likely that teams allocate to $ to stockpile good relief talent in general, leaving less $ available for the diva closer. K Rod only got 3 years for $36 mil from the Mets because they were a team with $ and a glaring need. With the Yanks out of the market who will overpay for Papelbon?

Jan 18, 2011 11:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Who says the Yankees aren't a potential suitor? If Papelbon has a good year and re-establishes some value, who's to say the Yankees won't throw $30+ million at him? Put it this way, did you think the Yankees would sign Soriano for $35 million?

Jan 14, 2011 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
bozarowski

Based on the rumors that this wasn't a Cashman signing but a Randy Levine signing, I'm thinking there isn't a chance the Yankee management would want the public relations hit and fan backlash of signing Papelbon. I think they only Yankees-Sox rivalry guy that Yankee fans truly hate these days is Papelbon.

Jan 14, 2011 19:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Do you think Yankee fans hate of Papelbon is more or less than their hate of Johnny Damon pre-2006?

Jan 14, 2011 23:18 PM
rating: 1
 
Adam Hobson

Most Yankees fans didn't hate Damon. Some might have found him to be an idiot, but certainly not so much on the hate. The hate was all directed Curt Schilling's way ;-)

Jan 15, 2011 17:43 PM
rating: 2
 
PepeShady

What does this move also say about the Yanks' belief that Mo will be healthy for the entirety of the next two years? At this money, Sori is a very expensive insurance policy, but probably the best one out there nonetheless.

Jan 14, 2011 07:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It is an insurance policy, but here again, looking at that rotation, that isn't such a bad thing to have.

Jan 14, 2011 09:51 AM
 
BillyB

How does this impact a potential a return to the rotation for Joba?

Jan 14, 2011 09:30 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It'll be interesting to see if it does; Cashman has been so adamant previously about leaving Joba in the pen that changing the party line would be interesting. That said, it costs them nothing to do so, and it's worth pondering in light of the alternative--Joe Girardi might be the last man on the planet left with any faith in Sergio Mitre.

That said, I like the idea of Joba getting a shot at a 50-60 game, 100-110 IP role, bridging ballgames from early hooks for Burnett or Nova or whoever else, and turning leads over to the rest of that pen.

Jan 14, 2011 09:56 AM
 
G. Guest

Do you forsee a situation where Joba is traded to a team who may actually see him as a starter?

Jan 14, 2011 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I really harbored hopes that it would happen in Kansas City, if the Yankees had made an aggressive push to land Greinke, because Joba would have been a local hero of sorts. No dice, of course.

Will it ever happen? I think he'll get the chance to start someday. But we may be a long time waiting.

Jan 14, 2011 11:19 AM
 
Duranimal

Boras is amazing to get that deal with no other logical suitors.

Jan 14, 2011 09:44 AM
rating: 3
 
jedjethro

Love him, hate him or anything in between, like Mariano Rivera, Boras is simply the best ever at what he does.

Jan 16, 2011 08:42 AM
rating: 1
 
Rob_in_CT

Desperation is a powerful drug...

Jan 14, 2011 11:56 AM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Assuming Soriano would've eventually signed with somebody, the Orlando Swamp Rays would've gotten the pick for him anyways. So how does the Yankees signing him as opposed to whomever else signing him affect anything from that end?

Jan 14, 2011 12:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

The first 18 picks in this draft are protected picks, i.e. they can't be lost by signing a Type A free agent. If the Rays were to recoup a first rounder for Soriano, Soriano needed to sign with someone who had a pick between #19 and #33.

To be clear, the top half of the draft is protected, but the Diamondbacks, Padres, and Brewers all got 1st round picks for failing to sign their first rounders last year. Which makes the numbers look weird.

Jan 14, 2011 13:28 PM
rating: 0
 
juiced

The move marginally improves the Yankees right now. The contract is terrible. Not even the Yankees have 35 million to blow (efficiently) on set up men. They will regret this.

Jan 14, 2011 15:44 PM
rating: 1
 
ostrowj1

I don't think that spending 10+ mil a year for a setup man is necessarily a bad thing. Given the set in stone usage patterns for a closer, it is reasonable to think that a good setup man will pitch as many, if not more, high leverage innings. If a good closer is worth the money, a good setup man is too.

Jan 15, 2011 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

Spoken like a true agent.

Jan 15, 2011 09:56 AM
rating: 1
 
Taldan9
(107)

As Queen Victoria might have said, "We are not amused", speaking for the rest of the AL, Boston excepted, of course. Of course the Yankees have 35 million to blow - they may even have 350 million. Al Levine wants to build battleships, so he does. The Blue Jays, the Rays and the Orioles might like to have a battleship or two (the U.S.S./H.M.C.S. Soriano/Dotel, as the case may be)but it ain't going to happen in this YES/NESN iteration of the universe.

Jan 15, 2011 12:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

In other words (regarding the draft pick), if a team with a draft pick a bit better than the Yankees had signed Soriano, the Rays would've gotten even a bit better draft pick. If a team with a much better pick than the Yankees (18 and on up) had signed Soriano, the Rays would've gotten a slightly lower pick.

And if someone signed Soriano as their 2nd Type A signee, the Rays would've gotten a still-lower pick. So, overall, the Yankees still didn't help the Rays at all per se. They were getting the pick regardless. It might've been just a little bit higher or just a little bit lower, is all.

Jan 14, 2011 16:04 PM
rating: 0
 
dom

"Cashman has been so adamant previously about leaving Joba in the pen "

He also was adamant that the team would not give up the draft pick to sign a type A after lee signed. It was obviously a negotiating strategy, but as a yankee fan i hope he changes his mind on this too. He is their 4th best reliever right now and would be their 4th best starter. It only makes sense to get him into the rotation.

Jan 14, 2011 21:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Travis G.

Word has it that ownership was more behind this than Cashman. Haven't owners learned by now (especially those of the Yankees) to not meddle in baseball operations?

Jan 17, 2011 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
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