10:50 am Nov. 1, 2012
As expected, Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees on Wednesday.
He and agent Scott Boras are betting that forgoing a guaranteed $14 million in 2013 will pay off, with free agency this winter providing a longer-term deal for at least as much money per season.
In fact, Boras believes he can get his client four years, $60 million, according to what Yankees president Randy Levine says Boras told him. Boras' denial wasn't actually a denial at all, suggesting this is what the agent will actually be aiming for.
For what it's worth, the numbers aren't so out of line with what top closers got last winter.
Jonathan Papelbon, a comparable pitcher in quality and age to Soriano, received four years, $50 million from the Philadelphia Phillies last year. Mariano Rivera recently completed a two-year, $30 million contract with the Yankees, following a three-year, $45 million deal. And both of the Rivera deals were signed with a much older pitcher than Soriano.
Speaking of Rivera, much of what the Yankees do will depend on Rivera's decision to retire or return to the Yankees. With the team's other pressing needs, like replacing Nick Swisher in the outfield, or fending off the Dodgers to retain Hiroki Kuroda, the team simply doesn't have the ability to retain both Rivera and Soriano without blowing up the payroll, particularly in 2014, when the team intends to check in below the luxury tax threshhold of $189 million.
It is that determination that is creating a distinctly un-Yankees problem. After all, the reason the Yankees had Soriano in the first place is the team signed Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contract while already employing a healthy Rivera. To put that in perspective, the Yankees paid Soriano like one of the highest-paid closers in baseball, simply to serve as an insurance policy.
At $189 million max, with the team's other contract obligations, spending like that is no longer viable.
The best-case 2013 scenario for the Yankees is still to have Rivera return, since he probably wouldn't need (or even be looking for) more than a one-year deal, leaving the team free of commitments for 2014 and beyond among closers.
But the flip side is that the Yankees will need a closer after 2013. Will it be a 44-year-old Rivera? Unlikely. Soriano could be the best alternative for such a role, especially if the team is more interested in keeping David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain as middle relief options instead.
The other free-agent closers, should Rivera retire and Soriano signs elsewhere, are uninspiring, with a fresh-from-surgery Ryan Madson and injury-plagued Joakim Soria probably the best of the bunch. Robertson and Chamberlain are preferable to either at this point.
So if the Yankees were to ultimately sign Soriano to a long-term deal (say, three years with an option) it wouldn't be the worst idea. It presents a very palatable Plan B to life with Rivera, which is both the best of all possible closer worlds, and destined to end sooner or later.
The stakes are pretty high for the Yankees, for Soriano, for Rivera. The Yankees better hope they end up with at least one of them.