Rafael Soriano: Closer

The Starting Pitching Problem
2012 Draft: Joey Gallo
All I'm saying is that I only tuck in my shirt for weddings and funerals, and funerals are debatable. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

When Mariano Rivera tore his ACL earlier this month, we knew that life would change in a way we haven’t experienced since 1996. Sure, Rivera had been hurt before, but never in season-ending fashion. That meant handing the closer role to someone not just for a particular stretch of the season, but the entire season, from May through hopefully October.

David Robertson, unsurprisingly, got the first crack. In 2011 he ascended the bullpen ranks, starting as a random reliever before graduating to the seventh inning in Rafael Soriano‘s absence, and then eventually to the eighth once the Yankees lost Joba Chamberlain. Even when Soriano returned, Robertson remained Rivera’s primary setup man. He had earned it with his performance.

In his brief time as closer, Robertson picked up just one save, a sweat-inducing performance against the Tampa Bay Rays. The next night he blew a save, and before he could get another opportunity he landed on the DL with an oblique strain. There are worse things, of course, and Robertson appears to be on his way back; he’ll throw off a mound for the first time on Saturday, three weeks after his DL stint began. Yet in his absence someone else has risen to the occasion.

When the Yankees lost Rivera, there was brief consideration of Rafael Soriano for the closer role. Prior to signing with the Yankees he had been Tampa Bay’s closer in 2010, amassing 45 saves with an ERA well under 2.00. The year before he split closer duties in Atlanta with Mike Gonzalez. All in all, he entered the 2012 season with 90 saves, giving him the vaunted “closer experience” that people in the game seemingly value so highly. Given that experience, and his performance in Rivera’s and Robertson’s absences, he could hold onto the closer role from here on out.

No, Soriano does not make matters easy. He’s yet to record a 1-2-3 inning this season. Yet that merely reminds me of another Yankees closer who kept us on the edges of our seats. In 1996 John Wetteland had a penchant for making things interesting, but he still got the job done. Setting up for him was strikeout artist Mariano Rivera. The Yankees could create a similar dynamic this year, using Robertson to reprise Rivera’s role once he returns.

(Girardi could even go so far as to use Robertson for the Rivera Special, a two-inning setup job, given the emergence of Cory Wade and Boone Logan as late-inning options on days Robertson is not available.)

While it’s difficult to assign causation, Soriano has flourished in his brief time as Yankees closer. In seven appearances he’s struck out six and walked just one, allowing a single run — and that in his first save opportunity of the season. He’s held opponents to a .231/.259/.346 line, which is all the more impressive when you remember that he’s allowed at least one walk or hit in every outing. That is, he’s bending ever so slightly, but he’s not particularly close to breaking.

In many other years, losing Rivera would have crippled the Yankees. They perpetually lacked setup men, so inserting one of those ragtag relievers into the closer role would have likely been disastrous. These days they have a little more cushion — so much, in fact, that there’s a legitimate debate about who should close games. Given the dynamic of the current bullpen, though, the Yankees would probably do best to leave Soriano in the closer role, where he’s clearly comfortable, and using Robertson in tougher situations. Both have shown that they can handle those roles with aplomb.

The Starting Pitching Problem
2012 Draft: Joey Gallo
  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    So it wasn’t the worst signing of all time?!?

    • A.D.

      It’s always been: terrible contract, solid player

      • jjyank

        I don’t think you can call any 3 year deal “the worst signing of all time”. Would I have done it as GM? No. Was it a good deal? No. But Soriano has improved the team, albeit for too much money, but the fact that he brings an improvement and insurance in the bullpen keeps his contract far away from being terrible in my opinion.

        • A.D.

          True, its no Vernon Wells deal. But Yanks basically got none of the benefits of a multi-year deal, with all of the risk of a multi-year deal at full market value, for a guy who had limited options

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    I’m all for leaving him in the closer role. He really seems to embrace it and maybe that mental edge helps him focus or whatever. Hard to measure things like that, but we know Soriano can handle the closer role and we know robertson can thrive as the fireman so let’s roll w that.

    • Ted Nelson

      I tend to agree, and keeping Robertson’s arb numbers down is sort of icing on the cake.

      I do wonder if Robertson was already injured in those two iffy save chances or if it was pressure or luck or what.

  • Gonzo

    I kinda like what Scioscia is doing with Frieri and Downs. Not that it would work for DRob and MFIKY since they are both righties. Jus sayin.

  • Cris Pengiucci

    While I’m in favor of Robertson gaining closer experience, as I’d prefer to see him in that role once Mariano retires, for this season, I’m happy with Soriano. He’s done well so far. An added bonus is that he’s got that determined, no nonsense attitude and doesn’t celebrate excessively after closing a game out (as some others we all love to hate do). I don’t hate this signing as much right now.

    • nsalem

      Very true on all accounts. I think D-Rob should be left in the 8th for now.

    • G

      I like his celebration too, just a quick couple of claps in the glove, point to the sky like all religious players do, and shake Russell’s hand. No dancing BS.

  • Adam

    Randy Levine, Ninja 2.0

  • rogue

    A big (under the radar) advantage of Soriano closing…

    If he does a great job, he’ll reestablish himself as a proven closer, one who was able to handle the pressure of pitching for NYC in the rough AL East. If you’re Scot Boras, what would you tell Soriano to do?


    • JohnC

      no doubt Boras will advise him to opt out and seek a long term deal. IN which case I don’t see the Yanks trying to bring him back. Of course I thought the same thing about Arod after he opted out after the 07 season, and we all know how wrong I was about that

      • Dan

        I would be surprised if he opts out because he will not come close to the salary he is making next year as his salary jumps up to 14 mill. To use the standard of pitching in a pressure situation, Papelbon didn’t receive that much and the Phillies were pretty heavily criticized for that deal as well so its unlikely some team will top that for Soriano.

        • jjyank

          I agree that he won’t make as much per year on a new contract, but pitchers, an relievers in particular, are very volatile. I’m sure Boras knows this, and is wary of Soriano breaking his elbow or shoulder next year, thus costing him ~$40 mil (just as a random number).

          If you had to choose between $14 mil next year and hope nothing bad happens to cash in for more later, and getting a $40 mil contract over the next few years, would you do it? I’m not sure there is a right answer, but I can see the allure.

          • Ted Nelson

            Yeah, it’s a tough call for Soriano. I don’t know if a team gives Soriano a $40 million deal… but I’m sure Boras has an infinitely better idea of the market than I do.

            Since he’s 32 this season, you can argue that it’s his last shot at a long-term deal or that he’s already too old for one.

            • jjyank

              I forgot about his age, that will certainly play a factor as well. He probably has a much better shot at getting an extra year/money on a longer term deal at 32 rather than 33.

              Also if Soriano remains as the closer for 2012, he can cash in those saves on the free agent market. With Mo coming back in 2013, Soriano may not have that bargaining power in the following offseason if he doesn’t opt out.

              • nsalem

                I hate to say this and it sounds almost blasphemous, but I would not take it as a given that Mo will be the same pitcher he was before the injury and the Yankee FO should proceed accordingly. Hopefully they will have a better idea by the end of the year on Mariano’s condition.

                • LiterallyFigurative

                  You watcho’ mouf’ Boy!!!

          • I Live In My Mom’s Basement

            Soriano will be 33.5, and isn’t getting a $40M contract. Even a 3/$30M would be pushing it, considering the Yankees are considered to have overpaid at 3/$35M, and he was 2 years younger. But let’s say he does think he MIGHT be able to get a 3/$30M. Could he do better taking the guaranteed $14M, then hoping for a 2/$16M or better in a year? If I were him, I would pocket the $14M.

        • RetroRob

          It wouldn’t be shocking if he opted out. He gets $14 million in 2013, but if he opts out the Yankees owe him $1.5 million, meaning he needs to get $12.5M to be whole. No team will pay him that for a single year, but if Boras thinks some team will give him $9 million per over three years for a $27 million deal, then it makes a great deal of sense to opt out. Soriano is injury prone, plus he won’t be the closer in 2013, so hitting the market after this year might provide the most leverage.

    • Ted Nelson

      At this point I’m not too worried about whether he opts out. If they’re serious about the $189 million in 2014 I don’t know if they’ll even spend that money if Soriano leaves. Might depend on the state of the rotation, I suppose, but you’ve already got Kuroda + Garcia’s money to play with and probably don’t want to box Pineda out of a spot if his recovery looks good.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I’m on board in leaving Soriano as the closer for now and if he opts out at the end of the season, then Robertson can close next year with Joba as the setup man. There is also the possibility that Aardsma can come back and help late this season or next. Some comments I read earlier giving kudos to Wade Davis are well deserved since he hardly ever gets credit for the fine work he has done in the last two seasons. He reminds me of those old time relievers the Brooklyn Dodgers used to bring up who could go from one to ten innnings (Clem Labine, Joe Black). These guys were ground ball pitchers galore.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      Well Mo is coming back next year. So he’ll close. D-rob in the 8th. Joba, Aarsdma, Boone, & Cory Wade (not Wade Davis) can handle the rest.

      I’d appreciate it if Soriano opted out. Sure it weakens the bullpen, but the Yankees really don’t need a middle reliever making that kind of money (14M in 2013)

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        Sorry about that. I meant Cory Wade. That’s what getting old does to you.

      • Ted Nelson

        As a fan, though, what else are they going to do with the money for one season before the $189 budget kicks in? There’s definitely the potential for better uses, I just don’t know if it will work out. I’m not too concerned with them saving a few bucks. Don’t see how it helps me.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      Sorry, forgot that Mariano may come back next year.

  • RI$P FTW

    I’m glad he’s succeeding as a closer. He just couldn’t get it up for a non-save situation (neither could Mo, though).

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Imagine what their wives must go through, then.

      “No really, Raffi, it’s the ninth inning. Can’t you hear them cheering? Yay! Yay! Aw, fuck it. I’m going to sleep.”

    • Ted Nelson

      Mo was devastating as a set-up man in 96.

      • RI$P FTW

        That was 16 years ago.
        It must be hard to get the adrenaline going after being a closer.

        • Ted Nelson

          Not so sure about that. I would guess that’s more the exception than the rule.

          • Ted Nelson

            I think that most guys would be grateful for the enormous paycheck and just go out there to do their job… hoping to re-earn that closer role (obviously most closers aren’t signing up for 3 years behind the greatest of all time, so they can potentially earn the role back).

            • Ted Nelson

              The weirdest thing about Soriano’s complaints, to me, is that he was a closer for all of like 2 or 3 seasons. It wasn’t that long ago he was a successful set-up man.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    Soriano: the most interesting closer in the world.

    Pitches from the windup.
    Never shakes off a sign.
    Takes the sign mid windup.
    Has the prayer for success written in his cap.
    Shows no emotion.
    Pulls the shirt out after pounding the glove after victory.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      Mosquitos don’t bite him out of respect (or fear).

  • jsbrendog

    got him on my fantasy team so go so go

    • jjyank

      Boo I have Robertson haha.

      • Get Phelps Up (formerly Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat)

        I had Mo. :(

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m all for whatever works, whether it’s Soriano, Robertson, Nelson Figueroa, John Maine, or The Ghost of Steve Howe pitching the ninth.

    • jjyank


  • jjyank

    Ha! Sori doesn’t even smile when he gets a hug!

  • Crime Dog

    Sorianos starting to grow on me. I was never a huge fan, and with the added factor of the huge contract everything was kind of just “meh” for me. But his badass demeanor is starting to really grow on me. Boost those stats MFIKY.

  • Nathan

    I wasn’t a fan of the signing just because it felt like a signing just to make a signing, not a particular area of weakness that needed to be addressed.

    However, given Mo’s injury, I think it takes the sting out of the signing. Without Soriano, the bullpen would have been pretty terrible with Robertson out. Who would close…Logan?