Yankees Soriano Deal Puzzling: The Ups and Downs 35


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.


35 thoughts on “Yankees Soriano Deal Puzzling: The Ups and Downs

  • bob

    I don't think it's that puzzling or bad a deal. The cost is high/inning pitched but there is good reason to believe that Soriano will provide quality innings. And the money is not an issue for the Yanks so it shouldn't be an issue for us – there is nothing on the horizon that this deal will prevent them from doing. What's puzzling is that the Yanks let Kerry Wood go without appearing to care after he had pitched brilliantly for us, and that they keep insisting that Joba has no future as a starter. If they want to keep Joba they have squeezed him out of relief, so starting is all that is left, and if they want to trade him it does not makes sense to minimize his potential value. The Yanks are as responsible as Joba, due to their confused management of his career thus far, for his relative lack of success, and they appear to be continuing that pattern.

  • bob

    Brian – I don't think this is an either/or question. When there is a reasonable expectation that a player can be acquired who will make a significant contribution immediately (and you can afford him), history shows that giving up the first round pick is likely not giving up a lot. I don't have the data on whether the Yankees drafts are less productive than other teams' – I suspect it's an inexact science for the best of scouting organizations. And other than Hughes, I don't think the players listed (Cano, Gardner) were first round selections. There will still be many quality young players in the Yankee pipeline after this signing.

  • Rob Abruzzese

    For the record, the Red Sox got Daniel Bard when the Yankees signed Johnny Damon. The Athletics got Joe Blanton when the Yankees signed Jason Giambi (edit).

    Besides, it's asinine to suggest that 1st round draft picks aren't worth anything, or a lot. Pointing out that the Yankees didn't draft well for a while only points out that they didn't care about it for a long time.

  • Lucas Weick

    A first round draft pick is certainly valuable to any team, and like Rob said, bringing up past Yankee failures from the first round proves absolutely nothing. But the Yankees know what they are getting with Soriano, where a first round draft pick (or any draft pick) gets you a prospect, who could become a great player someday or be a complete bust and never see the light of day in the big leagues.

    The argument can go either way, but signing Soriano is what was best for the team this year, and if there is anything we know about the Steinbrenner family, it is the fact that they have a "win now" mentality and that's exectly what happened here.

    I like the move, because Soriano makes the bridge to Mariano an inning shorter and makes Girardi's decision to pull a starter a whole lot easier now. Plus, like Brian said, this frees up Joba to the point that he can be turned back into a starter now, and I would take him over Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

  • Joe

    This article is pure garbage, and I'm gonna tell you why. Let's start the dissecting shall we ??

    (#1) you state the following OPINIONS

    "This has worked very well, as by year’s end the Yankees have had a solid bullpen."

    below are the FACTS

    Statistically The Yankees ACTUALLY had the BEST bullpen in MLB the last 10 weeks of the season. BUT(very big but)this was contingent on a very mediocre Kerry Wood(as we saw in the playoffs and the rest of his recent career)having the best relief stretch of his career.(literally).

    (#2)you state the following

    "Soriano has only had 5 seasons really where he was relatively healthy (50+ IP) and productive. 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."

    below are some more facts

    I love how you mention this but then fail to mention that four of those seasons have come in the last five. Before that he was between the ages of 23-26 and basically getting his feet wet in the league. This guy has been a model of consistency in this league since hitting his prime, pitching under 60 innings just ONE TIME(2008) in the last five years.

    Like honestly, what is the point of comparing a reliever's IP to a starters ??? Are you hoping a lot of low baseball IQ people read your article ??

    below you state the following(my personal favorite)

    "Therefore, how much of an upgrade really is it to 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."

    Are u serious ?? Did you even look at Soriano's 2010 numbers before writing this ?? The guy was a complete shut down arm. After you look at them go compare them to the stiff known as Chamberlain and Casper(disappeared last year)AKA David Robertson. Your basically asking the team to play the first 4 months of the year with their current staff and bank on picking up a starter and a reliever ?? Or count on Chamberlain ?? The kid doesn't have the mental makeup to be successful. Maybe in the future when/if he matures but right now he is a mess on the mound and has been with the exception of the two months after initially being called up.(with whatever he was taking throwing 100mph which is now down to 92-93)

    (#4)

    Why do the Yankees even have Joba Chamberlain on the roster now?

    Because you can never have enough pitching and Joba provides depth. Even if the depth he provides is inconsistent at the end of the day he's a decent middle relief guy with the chance to improve because of his age. BUT fact still remains he's not reliable enough to be handed the primary 8th inning role(neither is Robertson)ESPECIALLY with a starting staff that's filled with ??? Pitchers are like QB's and 7 footers on the court.(supply/demand)

    Soriano's numbers last year

    ERA 1.73 WHIP 0.80

    BAA vs L .196 BAA vs R .132 =(LETHAL WEAPON)

    57K/14BB

    How about Joba and Robertson ?? then we can see how big of an upgrade Soriano really is.

    Joba's stats

    ERA 4.40 WHIP 1.30 (wow!! see that difference ??)

    BAA vs L .246 BAA vs R .258

    77K/22BB

    Robertson

    ERA .382 WHIP 1.50 (see it yet ??)

    BAA vs L .268 BAA vs R .250

    71K/33BB

    Fact is this was a genius pick up by the organization. There was no starting help out there so they did exactly what was necessary to compete.

    And that's build the strongest pen in MLB and shorten the game.

    Now when Andy comes back, we become the AL East favs once again.

  • Will

    I agree that player development should not be ignored. But with Cashman and the current pipeline that the Yanks have, it is not a strength and not something they focus on. It would take a culture change as well as some personnel changes (and probably a season or 2 of missing the playoffs) to make their player development and drafting anything of significance. Continuing to draft and pay lip service to development when they suck at it is ridiculous and counter productive.

    As for Cano, he was good from the start. Little actual development went on there when he was in the minors as evidenced by Kevin Long's comments in the '08 season when Robby struggled. He basically said we all knew he had holes in his swing and was headed for problems but he was producing so we just let him go. Yeah, great development.

    Not sure I buy Robertson as a success story. He is good, not great and probably more inconsistent than good. Again, talent that has not been nurtured. Hughes, he has had 3-4 years to figure it out and ended up useless in the playoffs. Joba, poster boy for Yanks 'player un-development' program. I would even point to the fact that Jorge never developed as good defensive catcher. He has been at the bottom of the league in errors, PBs and thrown out % for a majority of his career.

    I would love to have a development pipeline that is sustainable for the team and produces a wealth of home grown talent. Yanks culture does not currently allow for it so don't bother even fooling ourselves. In retrospect, what would it have been like having CC, Johan, Andy, AJ as a rotation for the last few years? They kept Hughes and Joba instead? Uh, yeah, don't think that really equates…

  • Will

    Also, not sure how I get looking at Yanks previous draft picks and what has happened with them in terms of player development is NOT and indication of how they operate. Strange…

  • Brandon Burkhart

    Joe, I don’t think you are allowed to call an article “pure garbage” and then use “IMHO” and “are u serious ??” when responding to it. Two points:

    1. Joba Chamberlain’s fastball averaged 94.6mph last year and at times touched 97-99. It did drop when he was a starter but for obvious reasons. It’s honestly amusing and ridiculous you’d think he’s an obvious case of PED use. It’s also pretty crazy to say his ceiling is as a middle reliever if you watched him pitch at all. Oh, he’s also 25.

    2. The reason this deal drives me insane is because the market for him just wasn’t there to justify giving him 35 million. Where else was he going to get that money? Also, if he pitches really well in two years he’ll walk when we actually need a closer and if he under performs we’ll be stuck with a 33 year old making 14 million. Not a brilliant signing by any measure.

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