9:25 am Oct. 26, 2012
When Mariano Rivera went down with a season-ending knee injury this past May, he was unequivocal about whether that injury would end his career.
“I am coming back,” Rivera said the day after suffering the injury. “Put it down. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going down like this. God willing and given the strength, I’m coming back.”
In fact, much of the subsequent reporting speculated that Rivera, despite his advanced age of 43, might be recovering so quickly that he'd return for the 2012 season.
That didn't happen, and Rivera has now told New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that he isn't sure whether he's coming back at all.
Ideally for the Yankees, Rivera returns and delivers another performance in 2013 akin to the career that has made him the best relief pitcher of all time. But one way or another, the Yankees need to know, and the sooner the better.
The man who filled in for Rivera, Rafael Soriano, had a dominant season in 2012. He's owed $14 million in 2013, a sum the Yankees will happily pay him to replicate his strong 2012 season, if Rivera does not return.
But Soriano also has an opt-out clause in his contract, and could well do so in search of a multi-year deal. That is far likelier to happen if Rivera is set to return; it is in Soriano's best interest to hit the market following a dominant season as a closer than a season as a setup man, no matter how well he performs in the role.
The Yankees will also need to prepare whether Rivera returns or not. After all, Rivera will be coming back after not pitching for a year, and he'll be 43 years old. If anyone can defy the odds that set of circumstances confers, it is Rivera, who, incredibly, was as dominant in his 30s as any relief pitcher, ever, then actually lifted his performance in his 40s.
But there will need to be a fallback plan. And the Yankees will need to decide if David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain qualify as that option, or if they need to acquire additional relief help.
That, too, will be complicated by Rivera's decision. If Rivera remains undecided, other pitchers aren't as likely to want to join the Yankees, not knowing what their role in the team's 2013 bullpen will be. The better the relief option, the likelier that pitcher is to choose another team with a clearly defined role.
Still, that's an awkward position for the Yankees, for whom Rivera has done so much. Moreover, Rivera's class as a person has earned him the right to take all the time he needs to decide on his future. And his ability means that if he makes a late decision to return, the Yankees would be crazy not to give him a chance; nor is it a realistic option, for both baseball and public relations reasons, for them not to do so.
So the Yankees are likely to give Rivera as much time as he wants. But they'd sure appreciate it if he'd hurry up.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
With a win over Kent State Saturday, Rutgers can move to 8-0 under new coach Kyle Flood.
A deal to combine Copa America (South America's championship) with teams from the CONCACAF region, to be played in the United States in 2016, may be close. That would be amazing.