An expensive — and injured — luxury at this time last season, Rafael Soriano has become an indispensable part of the Yankees’ bullpen with Mariano Rivera out for the season and David Robertson shelved for a month. He’s pitched to a 0.73 ERA (1.91 FIP) with ten strikeouts and just two walks in 14 appearances since mid-May, and he’s kept the closer’s job despite Robertson’s return from the DL. That’s due to his 12-for-13 effort in save chances.
The return to the ninth inning already has some wondering about Soriano’s future with the team beyond this season, specifically his ability to opt-out of the final year and $14M left on his contract. This morning Joel Sherman wrapped up the situation succinctly…
Some teams in need of closers will appreciate (his performance), indeed, it continues. Soriano might not get $14 million a year, but what if he, say, were offered three years at $30 million? It would probably be in his best interest to jump at that, especially if it looks as if Rivera would return in 2013. Because, in that scenario, Soriano would almost certainly go back to being a set-up man in his walk year and run the risk of not being as enticing to the rest of the sport.
Soriano is a Scott Boras client and Boras isn’t stupid, he’ll gauge the closer market before pulling the trigger on the opt-out clause. The upcoming free agent market for late-game relievers is quite weak, with Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Jose Valverde, and an injured Ryan Madson highlighting the crop. Soriano is the best healthy pitcher of the bunch and teams will pay for saves, just look at Heath Bell last winter.
Losing Soriano to the opt-out after the season would hurt the bullpen but also probably represents a net gain. Not only could the Yankees find a replacement setup man with that $14M, but they should have enough left over to help fill the right field and/or catching holes. Since the opt-out indicates a search for a larger payday, the Yankees could also make Soriano a qualifying offer — one year at approximately $12.5M — and be eligible for draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. Again, his performance won’t be easy to replace, but it’s not impossible.
We’re still months away from the opt-out becoming an issue, and Soriano’s performance (and health) over these next few weeks are going to play a major role in his decision to stick it out for another season — as Mariano’s setup man — or leave for greener pastures. I’ve been saying since Day One that he wouldn’t opt-out, then again I also didn’t expect him to fill-in for Rivera for what amounts to 75-80% of the season.