Since Brian Cashman took primary control of the Yankees’ decision-making, I’ve agreed with pretty much every move he’s made – at least to an extent. They haven’t all worked out obviously, as is the nature of the game, but I always agreed with the logic behind the move. Sure, Nick Johnson got hurt, but when they signed him the Yankees knew they were giving up only a (relatively) small amount of money for an injury prone player who could be an on-base machine. He was also easily replaceable (come on down, Lance Berkman), which mitigated the risk. The logic made sense. Same goes for the Javier Vazquez trade. It didn’t work out, but trading a 4th outfielder, a lefty reliever with no control, and one legitimate prospect who is many years off for a 200-inning workhorse and a better lefty reliever? You make that trade every time. Again, you can’t always get caught up with the results. As long as the reasoning is sound, the results will eventually be there.
Now the Yankees have agreed to terms with Rafael Soriano and I am pretty baffled by the whole thing. Let’s take a look at what makes it confusing and why it might work:
What baffles me:
– One thing the Yankees have made clear in the past 2 seasons is that they will not overpay for middle relief, as they are instead happy to build from within. This has worked very well, as by year’s end the Yankees have had a solid bullpen. Therefore, how much of an upgrade really is it put Soriano in the 8th over the likes of Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson? Not to mention, Kerry Wood types can be had at the trading deadline and the Yankees have a lot of pitching depth in their system.
– The Soriano deal is filled with player options, which are almost entirely to the player’s benefit. The only way they make sense is if the Yankees are hoping Soriano actually will opt-out after the first year and then they can get 2 draft picks for his departure.
– The money is flat-out absurd for a middle reliever. Based on annual average, Soriano will be the 4th highest paid reliever in the game. Roughly 70IP is not worth that. It’s one thing to overpay Mariano Rivera, but it’s entirely another to overpay his setup man by that much.
– Do you know that Soriano has only pitched 395 innings in his entire career and he’s already 31 years old? CC Sabathia throws that many innings for breakfast. Soriano has only had 5 seasons really where he was relatively healthy (50+ IP) and productive.
– The Yankees lose their number 1 pick to the Tampa Bay Rays, who know how to use draft picks (though you wonder how much top talent they will be able to afford to draft). The Yankees have the money to sign first-round talent later, but losing a top pick is still substantial.
– Why do the Yankees even have Joba Chamberlain on the roster now? With 4-6 different relievers potentially ahead of him on the ladder, this trade really makes a lot more sense if Chamberlain is moved back to the rotation, where he would represent a significant upgrade over Sergio Mitre. If Joba stays in the bullpen, I will be convinced that he has a lingering health issue that the Yankees think will keep him from being a starter. There is no other possible explanation. Joba is still only 25 – younger than many established stars were when they debuted – yet the Yankees keep moving him farther and farther away from a meaningful role. The Yankees needed to sign a starter this offseason and if signing Soriano allows them to move Joba to the rotation, then they will have somewhat accomplished that. (Interesting though that the Yankees position of strength this offseason was already their bullpen, much like Philadelphia’s was already their rotation. Yet the Yankees sign Soriano and the Phillies sign Cliff Lee.)
Why it’s not so crazy:
– Soriano is not your run-of-the-mill middle reliever. He’s legitimate closer caliber, having proven that last year pitching in the brutal AL East. His ERA+ for his 5 healthy seasons: 283, 198, 146, 139, 228.
– Rivera is not getting any younger and Soriano will give the Yankees options if they choose to cut back on Rivera’s innings or if Rivera spends any amount of time on the DL.
– While Soriano is certainly an injury risk, the lack of mileage on his arm could be a good thing going forward. There were health concerns when the Yankees signed AJ Burnett, yet the Yankees seemed confident that he had turned the corner, so to speak, and put those days behind him (which he has for 2 seasons at least). Hopefully Soriano can also stay healthy (and of course not have the on-the-field performance issues that Burnett has had).
Overall, this is a deal I wish the Yankees had never made. It might make them a win or so better in 2011 – and given the quality of the Red Sox and Rays, that win could be big – but the risk involved seems pretty high. If they moved Joba to a starting role and signed one other starter for depth (Justin Duchscherer perhaps) I would feel better about it.
UPDATE: I wrote the majority of this before news broke that the signing was the work of the Yankee front office and not Brian Cashman. This is comforting in that I feel like I still understand Cashman’s decision-making process but worries me because when Cash gets over-ruled, that’s when problems start and the Yankees could quickly devolve back into the talented but flawed teams of overpriced stars they fielded in the mid-2000s. This is the 2nd time ownership has stepped in and the 1st time was for A-Rod’s ludicrous $275 million contract, which – despite A-Rod’s obvious talent – is the most untradeable contract in the game.