What Went Wrong: Rafael Soriano

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(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Having a budget surplus is a good thing, except when some of the higher-ups have an itchy trigger finger. After losing out on Cliff Lee and pretty much all significant free agents last winter, the Yankees took an unnecessary plunge into the open market. On January 13th, they agreed to sign former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract worth $35M (surrendering their first round pick to Tampa in the process), and as an added bonus, he was given the ability to opt-out of the contract after each of the first two seasons. The deal was ownership-driven, specifically by Randy Levine.

Soriano was coming off two straight dominant seasons (2.66 FIP in 138 IP), but he had never stayed healthy for three consecutive years in his career. The plan was to make him Mariano Rivera‘s well-paid setup man (the contract is the sixth largest ever given to a reliever in terms of average annual value), forcing David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain into the sixth and seventh innings, moves that were somehow going to make the rotation stronger. The bullpen had been improved, but at an unfavorable cost.

The new setup guy went through Spring Training without a hitch, which is good news. Soriano opened the season with a 1-2-3 inning against the Tigers on Opening Day, but little did we know that it would be nearly four month before he had another clean inning. He pitched again in the team’s fourth game of the season, shrugging off concerns about a lack of velocity. The entered the game with a four-run lead the next day, but allowed the Twins to tie it thanks to three walks and a hit in two-thirds of an inning. Soriano did not speak to reporters after the game, compounding the problem. After hearing from team officials and agent Scott Boras, he apologized the next day.

Soriano went through April by putting men on base and occasionally allowing runs, finishing the month with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) and a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 IP. After allowing just a dozen earned runs for the Rays in 2010, he had already allowed nine in his first month as a Yankee. He also missed a few games with a sore back. Soriano opened May with three straight scoreless outings, but ten days into the month he had to go for a precautionary MRI on his balky right elbow.

The MRI showed nothing more than inflammation, and two days later he was back on the mound. After walking two in a scoreless inning against the Red Sox, Soriano was again shelved due to the elbow, and this time he was expected to miss a week. A bullpen session had to be cut short a few days later, forcing the Yankees to put their setup guy on the DL on May 17th. Another throwing session had to be cut short a week later, and this time it prompted a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Andrews diagnosed the injury as an inflamed elbow ligament, the same one he’d replaced in Soriano’s elbow via Tommy John surgery in 2004. He was expected to miss at least six weeks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Soriano’s rehab went fine, right on schedule, and he faced hitters for the first time on July 13th. He started a minor league rehab assignment on July 18th, then was officially activated off the disabled list on July 29th. During his absence, a span of 67 team games, Joba went down with an elbow injury of his own while Robertson emerged as a dominant, All-Star caliber setup man, the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting with Soriano.

After a few appearances to get back into the swing of things, Soriano took over seventh inning duties while Robertson continued to pitch the eighth. He retired the first 15 men he faced after coming off the DL, then finished the season on a nice little roll with just two notable hiccups: an extra-innings three run homer to Coco Crisp on August 24th, and another three-run homer to Matt Joyce to turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit on September 27th, his final appearance of the regular season. He allowed just one baserunner in 4.1 IP during the ALDS, but unfortunately that one baserunner was a go-ahead solo homer to Delmon Young in the seventh inning of Game Three.

All told, Soriano threw 39.1 IP during his first season as a Yankee, pitching to a 4.12 ERA and a 3.97 FIP. For comparison’s sake, scrap heap pick-up Cory Wade threw 39.2 IP with a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP for the Yankees in 2011. Soriano’s strikeout rate (8.24 K/9) was identical to what he did in Tampa last season, but his walk (4.12 BB/9) and homerun (0.92 HR/9) rates were considerably worse, nearly double his 2010 rates. His calling card of being unable to stay healthy for three consecutive season remained intact as well.

Soriano will not be exercising his opt-out clause before tonight’s midnight deadline, meaning he will return to the Yankees bullpen in 2012. He figures to again handle the seventh inning since Robertson is entrenched in the eighth, making him an $11M middle reliever. That’s $11M the Yankees could have put towards starting pitching this winter. The bullpen is better with him, there’s no doubt about it, but staying on the field has been a struggle for Soriano throughout his career, and 2011 was no different.

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  • JohnC

    I don’t think I would put this in the “What Went Wrong” category. Once He came back form the DL, Soriano was what they hoped he’d be. Was pretty dominant in the 7th inning for the most part with a couple of bad outings.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      He pitched 40 innings for 11 million dollars. That’s horrible.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Yup, don’t think this could be considered “As Expected” based on the contract the Yankees gave him. Can’t believe they’d pay him that much if the figured he’d pitch less than 40 innings.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          He’s a reliever, what did they expect? 60 IP? Maybe 70?

          • Cris Pengiucci

            I’m sure they expected at least another 30% more in the way of innings. While 20 – 30 innings doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s still an additional 30-40%. I’m sure they expected his performance to be closer to his 2009-10 seasons than to what they got. His BB/9 was up, and his strand rate, FIP and xFIP were all down. Definitely stays in the “What Went Wrong”.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              Correction, his strand rate FIP and xFIP all went in the wrong direction.

        • David

          I’d say it was as expected: he spent some time on the dl and he performed above meh but didn’t shine, that’s pretty much what I expected

          • Cris Pengiucci

            If you gave out a 3 year contract to a #2 starter and expected about 200 innings from him but only got about 120-140 with performance worse than his previous seasons would have suggested, would you call that “as expected”? I wouldn’t and that’s what the Yankees got with Soriano. I don’t dislike thplayer, only the contract and the performance so far.

  • Brian S.

    Terrible signing. Rafael makes this team worse by taking up eleven million dollars.

    • Brian S.

      Like I’m still seriously disgusted with this signing.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Dominant 2011 bullpen with very little return from JoSo bodes well for next year.

    If there was just a way we could sign/have a guy who could turn into David Freese for 10 games in October.

  • Dennis

    Hank should take Levine to run his horsies,because its obvious this clown knows nothing about baseball or negotiations.

    • Slugger27

      what makes you think he knows horses?

    • Matt DiBari

      I just consider sinking money and multi-year contracts into so-so middle relievers Yankee policy.

  • Josh S.

    Soriano doesn’t exercise his opt-out, but Sabathia is expected to. I wish it were the other way around.

    • Yazman

      I know what you mean — but a player would only opt-out after a great year. Between the two, we need great years from CC!

  • Soriano Is A Liar


    • Slugger27

      i detect a new “special kid” meme

  • Matt DiBari

    I’m not sure I’d want the Yankees to spend 11 million on any of these starters.

  • Kosmo

    I can´t wait to RAB does a “What Went Wrong “ piece on AJ Burnett.
    Money aside, let´s hope Soriano has a good bounce back season.

  • theyankeewarrior

    Fuck Randy Levine

  • J. Scott

    It would be nice if the Yankees put some significant pressure on Soriano to get his fat ass in shape. Couldn’t hurt.

  • So What

    Don’t quite understand the reaction to the signing. The Yankees flushed $12mn per on the guy — so what? They have the money and it did not materially impact their ability to sign/trade for other useful players. If this was a small-market team (which the Yankees are not), then the signing might look worse. In any case, the Yankees can turn many games into five or six-inning affairs next season with the bullpen that they have. If Mo (and his 40-year-old body) or Robertson (and his career-high IP in 2011) go down, Cory wade suddenly seems a whole lot less appealing.

    • Yazman

      I agree with you.

      Did the Yanks get great value for their money? Not so far.

      But if goal #1 is winning, and you have budget left to spend, Soriano may have been the best available chance to improve the team.

      Next time someone better is out there and Cashman says we didn’t have the money, we can reconsider.

      Sign me “enjoying OPM”

  • Mike P

    When talking about mistakes, if hindsight and foresight are almost the same, you’ve got to wonder how certain people get to make decisions for the Yankees. This was a childish move, something the average teenager could have restrained himself from making.

    Randy Levine should personally pay Soriano’s contract.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

      Who pays Jaret Wright’s contract? Ed Whitson’s? Steve Karsay’s? There’s been bad pitching signings over the years by this team a-plenty, as well as by every team.

      • Matt DiBari

        Damaso Marte? Pedro Feliciano? Kyle Farnsworth?

  • Ted Nelson

    I mostly agree, except with this: “moves that were somehow going to make the rotation stronger.”

    Still on this? Really? Clearly it does not make the starting pitching better, it makes up for the starting pitching a little by making the staff better overall. Creating a strawman out of some ignorant MSM writers’ misuse of words does no one any good. They may have said “makes the starting pitching better,” but clearly the Yankees are not that dumb. To act like you don’t understand the true logic behind it makes it look like they are not the dumb ones if you catch my drift.

    That doesn’t mean the Soriano signing was a good value or anything. It was not a good value. That’s a painfully easy point to make. It has bugged me since article one on the subject that you stretch the truth to exaggerate that point rather than simply making what is a painfully obvious point. You don’t have to ascribe logic there’s almost no chance the Yankees used to make it look like a bad value. You don’t have to exaggerate the value of a draft pick to make it look like a bad value. You don’t have to make up medical theories about a guy not being physically capable of staying healthy three seasons in a row because he hasn’t done it before. Simply state the salary and the options, and it’s obvious to most people it was a poor value. Brian Cashman even appears to be with the majority there, and probably many of the Yankees’ other baseball people.

  • the Other Steve S.

    I don’t like him. He doesn’t smile enough.

  • Johnny O

    Add your own captions to the above picture.
    Soriano: “that’s a great question, joel sherman. i can’t believe they agreed to those opt outs either, hahaha”
    Cashman: “can’t wait to walk into Levine’s office and say ‘i told you so’. i bet it’s before the all star break”
    Girardi: “i’m going to have to close my eyes while he pitches too”

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    When I was in the college in the 90’s, I would recieve a check with the leftover money from my Pell Grants following all my tuition getting paid. I would immediately run to the mall and spend it badly on things I didn’t need because I just couldn’t handle the idea of having that much extra unspent cash. In 2011, we call that “Rafael Soriano.”

  • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

    I’d say it was more like,
    “What Went Wrong: Rafael Soriano’s Contract”
    “What Went As Expected: Rafael Soriano”

    The contract was bad, but he performed very well this year (outside of April when I assume he was pitching hurt)

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

      I’d disagree. This guy had the best year of any closer in baseball in 2010, and was paid as such with this contract, with the expectation that the 8th inning would be a sure thing. He pitched like a serviceable, disposable middle reliever and was outpitched by Cory Wade. I understand we were all cynical, and that you comment speaks to that but, for the money that was spent, a lot more was expected.

    • BK2ATL


      I think he’ll be even better next year and reclaim the EIG role from Robertson.

      We’ll definitely have a lockdown bullpen from the 7th to the 9th. Love it.

      Not a fan of the signing or the contract, but it wasn’t Cashman’s choice and what’s done is done. We got him. Let’s support Soriano. We have one of those good problems to have.

      • LiterallyFigurative

        “Not a fan of the signing or the contract, but it wasn’t Cashman’s choice and what’s done is done. We got him. Let’s support Soriano. We have one of those good problems to have.”


  • Andrew

    If he expects, even for a minute, that he’s returning to the 8th inning role come next year, he’s got another thing coming. The Yankees might be inclined to keep AJ in the rotation despite 2 straight seasons of ERA’s over 5 just because he’s “getting paid like a #2 starter”, but I doubt they’d do the same for this guy. There was an article published, I believe, earlier this year, that detailed Soriano throwing fits because he was pitching for more than one inning on occasion and coming in for non-save situations. I personally don’t believe them, but if they’re true, he’s not helping himself.

    Robertson was incredible this year and was probably the best set-up pitcher since Mariano Rivera. Soriano will have to pitch well to earn that spot back; if Robertson falters or gets injured, I say stick Soriano in the 8th inning. Otherwise, he’s the seventh inning guy for a while.

  • duzzi23

    Who cares that Soriano makes 11 million? He is not hampering the teams payroll where they cannot make future moves. The guy is straight up dominant when healthy and gives us a proven AL east closer god forbid Mariano got hurt and strengthens our pen with depth. Also Joba did have TJ surgery so who knows if he can come back right next season and Wade never had good years back to back.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I didn’t think the signing was smart when it happened, as it seems that most top notch closers struggle when they are no longer the closer. Adrenaline and all that.

    But I see what Levine and the Yanks were going for: Joba, Robertson, Soriano, Mariano. A 5-inning ballgame on a team with AJ, Nova and Garcia/Colon.

    Once Soriano came back off the DL, he pitched strong in the 7th inning. For the money, it may have been wrong, but for his performance post DL, he was very good, and strenghtened an already strong pen.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I don’t know if anyone has come up with this idea (and pardon me if you have), but what of the Yankees developed two bullpen “teams”, where they could get 3 innings out of two guys today, then rest them tomorrow. For the next day, you can use the other two guys, then rest them the next day.

    For example: Monday you use team 1, Joba and Mariano to pitched the 7th,8th and 9th. Tuesday, you’d use Robertson and Soriano for that job. Now, if the starting pitcher went 7 innings, you’d use them for only 2 innings and so on. If the game was tied after the 9th, you could use the “closer” for the 9th and 10th.

    The other 2 to 3 bullpen pitchers could be long men, multiple-inning types to use in case of injury, blowout, or extra innings.

    Now, obviously you’d have to kind of reprogram Joba and Robertson a bit in order to get 2 effective innings out of them. But you’d balance it by the fact that they won’t have to pitch the following day, or 3 out of 4 days.

    Any ideas, or reaction?