What Went Right: Mariano Rivera

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

After 19 big league seasons, including the last 17 as closer, Mariano Rivera‘s Hall of Fame career is over. He announced his intention to retire during Spring Training, so this is no surprise. We all knew it was coming. Turns out the knee injury that wiped out almost his entire 2012 season extended his career by one year — Mo admitted he planned to retire last year before the injury. In a weird way, I’m thankful he got hurt.

As good as he was this past year, the 2013 season was actually a down year for Rivera. He blew more saves (seven) than he had in any season since 2001, including three in a row during one ugly early-August stretch. His 2.11 ERA was his highest in a full, healthy season since 2007 and second highest since 2002. His 1.05 WHIP was also his highest since 2007. Rivera allowed seven homers in 64 innings, the second highest total of his career since moving to the bullpen full-time. His 3.05 FIP was his highest since 2000.

Despite all of that, Rivera was still one of the best closers in baseball. Among relievers who saved at least 20 games, he ranked seventh in bWAR (2.4) and tenth in fWAR (1.5). That’s a down year. Forty-three-year-old Mariano Rivera coming off a serious knee injury was still better than two-thirds of everyone else out there. When the Yankees were making one last push towards the postseason, Mo threw multiple innings five times in September, more than he had in any full season since 2009. He did that despite pitching through what he called “tremendous soreness” in his arm. He left everything on the field for New York and was deservedly named the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year for his effort.

Throughout the season, teams around the league paid their respects to Rivera with gifts and donations to his charity. The Athletics gave him a surfboard, the Twins gave him a rocking chair made out of broken bats, the Red Sox gave him the never-again-needed #42 placard from the Green Monster scoreboard, the Rangers gave him cowboys boots and a hat, the Rays gave him … whatever the hell this is. During Mariano Rivera Day at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees enshrined their closer in Monument Park followed by a live rendition of Enter Sandman by Metallica. The farewell tour was one of the coolest sidebars of the season, hands down.

And yet, the thing I will remember most about the 2013 season was the goodbye. We all knew it was coming — Joe Girardi announced beforehand that Rivera would pitch in the final home game of the season no matter what — but it was still a surprise to see him exit before the end of the ninth inning. It was unscripted, it was incredibly emotional, and it was a moment Yankees fans won’t ever forget.

Rivera never did pitch in another game after that and he didn’t have to. It was the perfect send off, the perfect goodbye for a perfect Yankee. Mariano was more than the greatest reliever to ever live. He was a first class person who was kind and treated everyone with respect. He helped countless people through his charity work and always took the time to give some love back to the fans.

I am happy to have witnessed Mo’s career from start to finish and I will miss watching him pitch dearly. There is never going to be another like him. Not ever.

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Mariano Rivera named AL Comeback Player of the Year

As expected, Mariano Rivera has been named the AL Comeback Player of the Year, the league announced. Francisco Liriano took home NL honors. Rivera was a lock for the award after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury, but he was certainly deserving based on merit as well. Congrats to Mo on what is likely the last award of his playing career.

147 players, 13 Yankees officially become free agents

As I mentioned this morning, eligible players officially became free agents at 9am ET this morning. They still have to wait five days to sign with new teams, however. The MLBPA released a list of all 147 free agents this afternoon, which you can check out right here. Among those 147 players are 13 Yankees: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Andy Pettitte, Mark Reynolds, Mariano Rivera, Brendan Ryan, and Kevin Youkilis.

There are currently 28 players on the 40-man roster, though Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Francisco Cervelli, and CC Sabathia all have to be activated off the 60-day DL by Monday. So, in reality, there are 34 players on the 40-man.

Girardi says he’s “absolutely” considering letting Rivera play center field

This afternoon, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees are “absolutely” kicking around the idea of letting Mariano Rivera play an inning in center field before the end of the season. It won’t happen tonight, during the team’s final home game, because the game is meaningful to the Rays and they want to respect the pennant race. Something like that. If it does happen, it’ll be in Houston this weekend. Rivera would likely play center in the eighth and pitch in the ninth. I really hope this happens. Would make the entire season worth it.

An agenda for the final four games of 2013

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Well, this is awkward. The Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention last night but there are still four days and four games left in the regular season. They’ve broken up with the postseason, but they’re stuck living with each other until the lease runs out, or something. That was a bad analogy.

Anyway, these next four days are meaningless — unless you’re overly concerned about moving up or down one draft slot — but they do have some value to the Yankees. They have a chance to attend to some serious and not-so-serious business. Here are the three most important items on the agenda:

Start serious contract talks with Robinson Cano
Cano’s impending free agency is, by far, the biggest issue facing the Yankees these next few weeks. The five-day exclusive negotiating period expires five days after the end of the World Series, so the team has about a month to hammer out a deal and keep him off the open market. Obviously doing that would be preferable. The last thing the Yankees want is a bidding war.

“If we don’t make it to the playoffs, I want to take my time, go on vacation and relax. Then I want to sit down with my family and decide what we gonna do,” said Cano to Wally Matthews yesterday. “I haven’t decided anything yet, but don’t get me wrong. I love this team, you know? … I understand it’s a business. They have to decide what is the best for them, and I have to decide what is best for me and my family. I’m just waiting for the day.”

The Yankees made Cano a “significant offer” during Spring Training — before he changed agents — and just this morning we heard the team offered seven years and $161M. (Let’s ignore Robbie’s demand of $305M for the moment, that’s just AgentSpeak.) Now that they’ve been eliminated, the team needs to sit down with Cano’s camp and get serious about a new contract. The idea of talks being a “distraction” during the season is a non-issue now — no one would care if he went 0-for-20 in the final four games. It changes nothing other than his stat line*. This is the single most important piece of offseason business. Get it done as soon as possible.

* Just for the record, an 0-for-20 would drop Cano from .315/.384/.519 to .305/.374/.503 on the year. No one would notice the difference.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Shut down David Robertson, David Phelps, and Shawn Kelley (and Boone Logan)
A bunch of the team’s relievers have been banged up of late, and since these last four games are meaningless, the Yankees should just shut them all down and look toward next season. Robertson (shoulder), Phelps (forearm), and Kelley (triceps) have all missed time with arm problems in recent weeks — and not coincidentally, they’ve kinda stunk — so just shut them down and focus on getting them healthy for their offseason workouts and whatnot. All three figure to be not just part of the pitching staff next season and beyond, but rather important pieces of the pitching staff. No need to push it.

As for Logan, he needs offseason surgery to clean a bone spur out of his elbow after missing a few weeks with soreness. He’s available to pitch now but there’s no reason to run him out there. Logan will be a free agent this winter and there’s no real indication the Yankees will try to re-sign him, so this is more of a “thanks for the last four years, we’re not going to risk further injury by running you out there on the verge of free agency” thing rather than a “get healthy, we need you next year” thing. Just do the guy a solid.

Let Mariano Rivera play center field
This has gotta happen. Tonight too, not in Houston. Rivera has been shagging fly balls before batting practice for over two decades now for this very situation. I say regardless of the actual score, let him pitch the eighth inning and then play the ninth in center field in tonight’s series finale against the Rays. The other way around would be ideal since the ninth inning is Mo’s inning, but I’m not sure he could play the field in the eighth and warm up for the ninth. I don’t think warming up in the bullpen before the eighth and “sitting” for an inning would work either.

Following last night’s loss, Joe Girardi said he will continue to play his regulars out of respect for the game, which makes me think he won’t play Rivera in center field tonight since Tampa is still fighting for a playoff spot (and seeding). This weekend against the Astros will be a different matter. There’s literally nothing on the line other than the Yankees’ draft slot — the Astros have already clinched the first overall pick for the third straight years — which means Mo might have to wait for the weekend. That would be really unfortunate. If he does play an inning in center, it should be in front of the hometown crowd. Let’s hope for a huge lead (or a huge deficit, who really cares at this point) in the late innings so Rivera could play some outfield in his final game in the Bronx. It would make this whole mess of a season totally worth it.

Enter Sandman

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Mariano Rivera will conclude his remarkable career very soon. The farewell tour has basically come to an end. Unfortunately, once he leaves, he’ll take his patented cutter with him. The greatest closer of all time will presumably hang up his mitt on his own terms, and upon retirement, will instantly join the epic names of Yankee lore. The last #42 in Major League Baseball will depart from the game with dignity and grace. New York fans – baseball fans everywhere, really – will collectively mourn as a man of such notable modesty off the field leaves behind a career that can really only be defined as stellar on it. Statisticians, baseball analysts, fans, and bloggers alike will try to do Mariano’s numbers justice, but they’ll all fall short. His achievements speak for themselves at this point. Two decades of sustained dominance is simply nuts.

So, rather than dissecting Mo’s career (or even trying to digest it for that matter), I want to write about a bit of nostalgia that recently came to mind. The game I remembered occurred back in August of 2010. The Yankees were squaring off against their divisional rival, the Red Sox, naturally. I remember it being one of those dog-days of summer where it was swelteringly hot out; it was the kind of utterly disgusting heat that caused the $10 stadium beer (that should have, at the very least, been ice cold) to taste warm and unsatisfying almost immediately. Our legs felt like they were peeling off the outfield bleachers —  which not coincidentally, was right were my wife (then girlfriend) and I were sitting — every time we shifted in our seats.

A rather ineffective John Lackey started for Boston while former-rotation-stalwart, CC Sabathia, took the mound for New York. The game went about as smoothly as it could have despite the Sox taking an early 2-0 lead after Victor Martinez homered and Mike Lowell snagged another RBI.  I believe it was Lance Berkman who worked the walk and it was Curtis Granderson who brought him home. Ramiro Pena (yeah, he was still in the lineup) ultimately drove in Granderson on a ground out. It wasn’t until about midway through the game though that the combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada (yeah, they were around then too) finally broke the score open. Heading into the ninth inning, the Bombers led 5-2. Despite the blistering heat and general lack of Red Sox momentum the stadium was still full. The game wasn’t over. This was late summer baseball between divisional rivals. My wife and I waited. Everyone knew what was going to happen next.

Queue the iconic Enter Sandman riffs. My wife pointed excitedly as Mariano trotted to the mound in his usual unassuming way. I watched with anticipation as I had so many times before; I had seen Mariano take the stage for the better part of my life and he’s never failed to impress me with his calm demeanor on the mound. Moments later, Victor Martinez grounded out on what was probably three pitches. One out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop fly a few pitches later. Two outs. Boston fan-favorite, Mike Lowell, ended the game with a weak fly ball to center field. In anticlimactic fashion, the game was over. That was it.  The Yanks won 5-2. There were no loaded bases or late game two out heroics. The Yanks just exchanged a few high-fives between the pitcher’s mound and home plate as is their custom. The Sox unceremoniously slunk back into the visitor’s locker room. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York captured the speakers.

It wasn’t one of Mariano’s most notable performances by any means, nor was the game particularly critical to season’s outcome for either ball club. It was really just the opposite actually. Mariano simply notched another save. The team benefited from one more stress free afternoon, and New York fans everywhere enjoyed another day of quality Yankee baseball. Really, it all felt quite routine. But it was special for me nevertheless. It was the first time my wife experienced the new stadium, the first time she got to check out Monument Park, and the first time she saw the World Series trophies in the Yankee Museum. More significantly, it was her first time seeing Mariano pitch live. I remember her watching his performance in disbelief. Mariano dismantled the heart of the opposing team’s lineup like he’s done so many times before — that is to say, with brutal efficiency.  We loved every minute of it.

As for Mo, it was just another save for the record books. There weren’t any fist pumps following the third out. There weren’t any silly superstitious antics or rituals.  There were no invisible arrows flung into the atmosphere, excited shrieks, or violent fist pumps. There was only Mo’s humbling ability to shut opposing batters down and bring happiness to Yankees fans everywhere.  From the moment he made his presence on the field known, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was going to do his job, and do it as well as he always had. But that’s the beauty of Mo, really. He’s a security blanket like no other. He brings peace of mind to everyone. Hell, even the opponents seem to take solace in knowing that if they fail against Mo, it’ll be because they’re supposed to.  On the rare occasions where things go astray, we find ourselves more bewildered than disappointed.

Mariano Rivera, as he had done so many times before, finalized another awesome experience that afternoon at The Stadium and on that particular occasion, my wife and I got to experience it in person together for the first time. I doubt that we will ever get to see someone perform so brilliantly and so constantly in our life time again.  There have been so many memorable Mariano moments both before and after that game against the Red Sox, many of which are certainly far more significant to the team’s glorious history. That’s the one that happened to pop into my mind though, and I’m happy about that. 

Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Mariano. We’ll miss you and we wish you a happy, fulfilling retirement.