When Mariano Rivera went down with a season ending knee injury in early May, many thought the Yankees would pay dearly for not having the greatest relief pitcher of all-time closing out games down the stretch-run to October. Well, they were wrong.
The closer has been one of the bright spots of this Yankees team in 2012, amidst a season of injuries and inconsistent play. Rafael Soriano has been a rock in the ninth inning, putting up one of his best years as a closer.
When the Yankees signed Soriano, GM Brian Cashman was hesitant in giving a setup man a lot of money; the move was more of an upper-management decision. Coming off a career year with Tampa Bay in 2010, New York signed Soriano in January of 2011 for three years at $35 million to Rivera’s setup man. Eventually, David Robertson took over as the setup guy, relegating Soriano to the seventh inning. Initially, the signing looked to be a burden as Soriano had a pedestrian year last year, 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA. But when Rivera went down, Robertson failed as the closer, giving Soriano a shot he’s fully taken advantage of. He has 40 saves, 2.o7 ERA, and 63 strikeouts in 61 innings.
There was a catch with that contact however. Soriano can opt-out after this season, which would make him a free agent. With Mariano expected to be healthy for next season, would Soriano opt-out and look for a closer’s job somewhere else and hope for more money? I think he most definitely will. His success as a seventh inning or setup guy doesn’t compare to what he does in the ninth. He’s more comfortable and more dominant when he closes games. Clearly, he came to the Yankees because of the money. Now, I think he’ll leave because of money. Soriano will have a lot of leverage in negotiations regardless – when he picked up the save yesterday, he became just the fourth Yankee since 1969 to reach the 40th save plateau, joining Rivera, Dave Righetti and John Wetteland – not bad company at all.
2013 will probably be Rivera’s last season. Should the Yankees resign Soriano to another mult-year contract? The guy has proven he can handle the job and close in the AL East for the Rays and now the Yankees. He’ll be 33 years old in December and there’s no guarantee he’ll be the ageless wonder Rivera has been. If he leaves, who will replace him? The Yankees have a lot of questions to ask as this season comes to a close. But for now, New York and their fans hope the season ends with Soriano closing the last game in October.