January 24, 2011

A Questionable Deal

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The sports world was busy while we were away for Winter Break. The Phillies signed Cliff Lee, the Miami Heat went on an amazing run and the Packers and Steelers made it to the Super Bowl. But the most important event that occurred for me, since I’ll admit to being a Yankees fan, was the signing of Rafael Soriano by the Yankees. It was a result of many other things that occurred beforehand that inevitably led to the signing. After all, the Yankees are famous for splurging on free agents to basically buy a playoff-bound roster. This time, though, this offseason commitment to Soriano may not have been the smartest choice.

Of course one certainly can’t say that adding a player of Soriano’s caliber will make a team worse. Rafael Soriano was the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays last season and led the American League in saves with 45. He had a 3-2 record with a 1.73 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP. These stats reveal a dominating closer who pitched extremely well throughout the whole season in the tough AL East division. Adding a player of such quality would help many teams in baseball. However, it isn’t the player that is worth criticism here, but the contract.

Looking at the contract holistically, Soriano will receive $35 million over three years. In detail, Soriano will receive $10 million in the first year and an extra $1.5 million if he opts out. The second year goes to $11 million and again an additional $1.5 million if he opts out. Lastly, the third year goes up to $14 million. These numbers may not mean anything standing alone, but compared to other eighth inning setup relief pitchers the dollars are way up there. Even most closers do not earn this kind of money to pitch one inning. For comparison, the Yankees will pay the current closer Mariano Rivera $15 million a year, a contract that expires after the 2012 season. The Yankees paid closer-type money for someone to pitch in the eighth inning. If this plan ends up failing, either to injury or underperformance, a lot of money will have been wasted when the Yankees may have had a much cheaper, internal solution for the bullpen.

The Yankees have also structured the deal to escalate in terms of money owed so that Soriano can possibly be groomed as the future closer after Rivera retires. However, there is no reason to overpay for a closer now, when the situation could be dealt with at a later point — again with either an internal option or through a trade. There was no justifiable reason to go out and use a huge amount of cash to bring an extra closer.

In fact, the bullpen looked to be one of the areas in which New York looked fine. The Yankees had already added Pedro Feliciano, a lefty specialist, and still had Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. Although the bullpen was not dominating, it looked like it would do the job. However, the Yankees were very lacking in starting pitching and so the money could have been saved for a possible trade and deal with a very good starting pitcher. Because there were few starters remaining on the free agent market, the Yankees may have decided to just add a great pitcher for the bullpen. They must have figured that a better bullpen could help them through games. However, an overworked bullpen will deteriorate and underperform if the starting pitching does not hold up. The money could have been better spent on some starters.

There are other concerns with signing Soriano as well. Soriano has never pitched more than 100 innings in a season and if he does get overworked, the effects of a long season could tire him out. Last season was also Soriano’s best season, as other seasons did not go well for him or were cut short by injury.

The Yankees may have decided to do this signing just because of the other transactions competing teams have completed. Since the offseason started, New York has coveted Cliff Lee and when Lee officially announced he was going to Philadelphia, the Yankees had to have panicked. Couple the missed opportunity with AL East rival Boston Red Sox’s trade for Adrian Gonzalez and signing of Carl Crawford, and the whole New York fan base gets anxious. While other teams have upgraded, the Yankees merely resigned older players and stayed pat. As a result, just to make fans and the organization feel a bit better, they used leftover cash on an expensive deal with Soriano.

For now, the deal may have alleviated the pain of losing out and seeing other teams get more. But later on, this signing could haunt the Yankees. Cashman slightly agrees as he pointed the finger at the owners of the team. Only when the season starts can the true verdict be determined.

Original Author: Wankyu Lee