Archive for Mariano Rivera
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.
I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.
The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.
The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:
- A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
- A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
- An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
- A workhorse left-handed starter.
- A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.
Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:
- A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
- A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
- A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.
That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.
The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.
As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.
Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.
Unless the Yankees make a surprising run to the postseason, Mariano Rivera‘s playing career will come to an end one week from today. He announced his plans to retire before the season and has been on a year-long farewell tour, receiving gifts from opposing clubs and in turn spending time with fans, stadium workers, and team employees at every opportunity. I highly recommend this Ian O’Connor story on Rivera’s interactions with those people this season. Truly inspiring stuff.
The Yankees have chosen to celebrate Mo with a pre-game ceremony on this day. The exact details are a mystery, but the team has announced that Monument Park will not be open to public before this afternoon’s game. That’s unusual. Perhaps they’re unveiling a plaque or re-retiring #42. Or both. Dan Martin reports Metallica will be at Yankee Stadium — something we first caught wind of last month — so I have to think a live rendition of Enter Sandman is in the works. Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Jeff Nelson are among those who will be in attendance according to Mark Feinsand. Other than that … who knows? It’s a great big mystery.
Today is going to be a very bittersweet day. Rivera is my all-time favorite Yankee and I can’t wait to see what the team has in store this afternoon. They always knock these celebrations out of the park. Just think back to Hideki Matsui‘s retirement earlier this year or the final game at the old Yankee Stadium. I’m totally bummed out that Mo is retiring but I’m glad he’s walking away on his own terms. Most players are forced out, unwanted by all 30 clubs. Rivera is anything but. He’s a historically great player and a first-class person. There will never be another like him. It’s been a pleasure watching him for the last 19 seasons.
The pre-game festivities are scheduled to start at 12:30pm ET and YES will indeed carry them. They might also be broadcast on MLB Network and/or MLB.com, but don’t hold me to that. First pitch for the series finale between the Yankees and Giants is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and TBS nationally. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Yusmeiro Petit:
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- DH Alex Rodriguez
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- CF Curtis Granderson
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Mark Reynolds
- SS Brendan Ryan
- C Chris Stewart
Oh, and by the way, Andy Pettitte is making the final Yankee Stadium start of his career this afternoon. He announced that he will retire after the season a few days ago. It’s very fitting that he and Rivera will both walk away from the game together given their career-long connection. What an amazingly awesome and sad day. Enjoy all of it.
This has been a long and occasionally painful season, but it’s still hard to believe there are only ten games and eleven days left on the regular season schedule. The Yankees are three games back of the second wild-card spot in the loss column and their chances of making the playoffs are remote — 3.4% according to Baseball Prospectus — but they do still have a chance. A very small one, but a chance nonetheless.
Soon after the end of the regular season, the BBWAA crew will vote on the various major awards. The playoffs aren’t considered even though the official announcements aren’t made until sometime in November. The last Yankee to win a major award was Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, when he took no prisoners en route to his third MVP. It usually takes that kind of otherworldly season for a Yankee to win a major award because there is some voter bias. At least lately there has been thanks to the dynasty years and all those division titles.
This season doesn’t figure to be any different. The Yankees don’t have a 2007 A-Rod or a 2001 Roger Clemens on the roster, but they do have a handful of players who will garner at least some consideration for the major awards. At this point of the season, it’s hard to think anything that happens between now and Game 162 will change the voters’ minds. Let’s look at which Yankees have a shot at the various awards.
Most Valuable Player
The team’s only serious MVP candidate is (who else?) Robinson Cano. He’s hitting .311/.383/.514 (141 wRC+) and is top ten in the league in both versions of WAR. Obviously his chances would greatly increase if the Yankees sneak into the postseason, but even if they don’t, Cano should get a fair amount of love because he was New York’s only real offensive threat for most of the season. Fairly or unfairly, the voters do take that stuff into consideration. It’s the whole “he had no protection!” idea.
Alfonso Soriano could get some votes because of his huge production following the trade — Jack Curry wrote about this last week — but I have a really hard time seeing that unless he swats like, six more homers from here on out and the Yankees win a wildcard spot. I’m sure it’s happened plenty of times before, but the only time I can remember a midseason trade pickup getting serious MVP consideration was Shannon Stewart in 2003. He hit .322/.384/.470 (127 wRC+) in 65 games for the Twins following the deal while Minnesota went from 7.5 games back to winning the division by four games. The narrative was pretty strong.
I suppose Mariano Rivera could draw some honorary down-ballot votes in his final season, which would be kinda neat. He’s received MVP votes in nine different seasons and has finished as high as ninth in the voting (2004 and 2005). This hasn’t been Mo’s best year — he’s still been pretty great by normal closer standards — and he doesn’t really deserve MVP votes, but who knows what’ll happen. Could A-Rod get a tenth place troll vote or two if they made the playoffs? That would be a riot. Ain’t happenin’ though.
Unless Rivera gets some going away votes — unlikely since this ballot only goes five players deep — the Yankees’ only Cy Young candidate this year is Hiroki Kuroda. He led the league with a 2.33 ERA as recently as August 16th, but he crashed into the fatigue wall this week and is no longer in the mix. Kuroda, who now has a 3.13 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 189.2 innings, could steal a fourth or fifth place vote from a New York writer. It would surprise me though. There are a ton of worthy Cy Young candidates in the so-called Junior Circuit this year.
Rookie of the Year
Do you know who leads Yankees rookies in the FanGraphs version of WAR this season? Melky Mesa at 0.3. He came to the plate 14 times before being released. The Baseball-Reference version is a little kinder and has Adam Warren in the lead at 0.9. Either way, I think you get the point. They don’t have a horse in this race.
Comeback Player of the Year
Finally, an award a Yankee might actually win. Rivera is coming back from his knee injury and has the whole retirement thing going for him, which is probably enough to get him the popular vote regardless of his performance. Mariano is an icon and we’ve already seen how beloved he is around the game, by opposing players and writers alike. I hesitate to call him a shoo-in, but I think you have to consider Rivera the overwhelming favorite here.
There’s a chance Brett Gardner could get some Comeback Player of the Year love, but I would expect all the Yankees-related votes to go to Mo. Eric Hosmer, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana figure to be Rivera’s primary competition. So yeah, his to lose I think.
Manager of the Year
I wrote about Joe Girardi‘s Manager of the Year chances way back in May, and obviously a lot has changed since then. The Yankees were exceeding every possible expectation at the time and we were still expecting guys like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to come back and be productive. That didn’t happen and the team faded in a big way during the summer months. They’ve been trying to climb out of the hole for a few weeks now.
Even if the Yankees don’t make the postseason, I think Girardi’s going to get a fair amount of Manager of the Year support because the roster has been decimated by injuries. This wasn’t one or two injuries, this was half the lineup. In some cases their replacements got hurt. It’s not an accident the Yankees have used a franchise-high 56 different players this year. That wasn’t out of the kindness of their heart, they needed all of the warm bodies. Girardi has managed to keep the team in the hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season and that’s pretty remarkable.
Furthermore, I think Girardi has done a masterful job of handling the A-Rod situation. That could have easily been a big distraction — and it was for a while as the two traded barbs through the media — but he’s kept it contained and a non-issue for a good month now. It would have been very, very easy for that whole situation to blow up and become a major daily issue, but Girardi made sure it didn’t. I don’t think he will win the award — John Farrell has the worst-to-first thing going for him — but he’ll definitely get votes and could finish as high as second on the ballot. There isn’t a ton of competition for the award this year.
Mariano Rivera has been named one of six finalists for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, the MLBPA announced. The award is given annually “for outstanding on-field performance and off-field contributions to the community.” Past winners include Chipper Jones, Curtis Granderson, and Jim Thome. The other five finalists are Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Gonzalez, and former Yankees Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher.
In other award nomination news, the Yankees announced that David Robertson has been named the team’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee. That award is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Derek Jeter, Ron Guidry, and Ken Singleton are among the past winners. Each team’s nominee can be seen here, and the fan voting opens tomorrow. Congrats to both Rivera and Robertson. They do a ton of work for charity and in the community and they deserve to be recognized for it.
Via Ian O’Connor: Joe Girardi said he will talk to Mariano Rivera after the season just to make sure he definitely wants to retire. “He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t want to [return], but I always say, you know, January rolls around and sometimes you have a different feel about what you want to do,” said the skipper. “I’m sure I’ll talk to him at some point in the offseason, and I’ll tell him when the season’s over, ‘Take a month. Take a month and a half, two months, and make sure this is really what you want to do. Because once you do go, it’s hard to come back.’”
Rivera, 43, has been as good as ever this season, going 40-for-45 in save chances with a 2.12 ERA (3.09 FIP). I don’t think it’s a question of whether Mo could come back next year and be effective, it’s a question of whether he actually wants to go through the grind and be away from his family for another year. Rivera was pretty adamant this would be his last season when he announced his retirement plans — he even acknowledged last year would have been his final season if not for the knee injury — and I have no reason to think he’ll change his mind. Not after the season-long farewell tour and all the going-away ceremonies the Yankees have planned for later this month.
In honor of Mariano Rivera‘s final weeks with the Yankees, we’ve teamed up with Bleacher Creature king Bald Vinny for a series of t-shirt giveaways this month. As you probably know, Bald Vinny leads the roll call from the right field bleachers every home game and sells his original t-shirts outside Yankee Stadium. His entire product line is available online at Section203.com.
Starting this Friday and continuing with each of the next three Fridays, we’ll be giving away one of Bald Vinny’s original Mo-themed shirts through a Twitter contest. It’s very simple. All you have to do is follow both @RiverAveBlues and @BaldVinny on Twitter, then be the 42nd person to retweet the official giveaway tweet. There will be remainders galore before the actual giveaway goes live each Friday afternoon. You have to follow both RAB and Bald Vinny on Twitter to be eligible to win, no exceptions. People affiliated with RAB and Bald Vinny are not eligible to win and repeat winners are not allowed either.
We’re giving away two different shirts as part of the giveaway: two G.O.A.T. shirts and two T-42 shirts in whatever size the winner needs. We’ll start with the G.O.A.T. shirt this coming Friday and alternate each week. If you don’t want to wait for the giveaways, you can head over to Bald Vinny’s store and use the discount code RAB20 to receive 20% off your next purchase. Good luck.
The Yankees are going to have what figures to be a massive pre-game tribute to Mariano Rivera on September 22nd, celebrating his Hall of Fame career on the final Sunday home game of the season. As it turns out, Metallica will be in New York to play at The Apollo (!?) on September 21st with no scheduled appearances in the following days. A live performance of Enter Sandman sure sounds like something that could happen on Rivera’s tribute
night day, but obviously nothing is confirmed. This is probably something the Yankees want to keep under wraps. Anyway, that’s out there now. (h/t NYDN)
Mariano Rivera has accomplished an awful lot in his Hall of Fame career, but one thing he had never done prior to these last few days was blow three consecutive save opportunities. I guess that’s not really much of an accomplishment. Anyway, Rivera blew a one-run lead against the White Sox on Wednesday before squandering two-run leads against the Tigers on Friday and Sunday. The Yankees managed to come back to win the two games against Detroit.
“There’s always going to be a first time. I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” said Rivera to Chad Jennings when asked about the three straight blown saves. “It’s not surprising. You’re talking about professional hitters. At the same time, I’m not putting the ball where I want it.”
PitchFX confirms Rivera has not had a dip in velocity recently nor has his trademark cutter lost any bite — the pitch is still sitting in the low-90s with roughly 2-4 inches of horizontal break. Nothing out of the ordinary there. As Rivera indicated, it’s all about location. Here is the game-tying hit he surrendered to Adam Dunn on Wednesday:
Notice where Austin Romine wanted the pitch — down and on the outside corner — compared to where it actually ended up. Thigh high and right down the middle, pretty much. That was an 0-2 pitch, and you probably remember the first two strikes were called on borderline outside cutters. Maybe even pitches that were off the plate. Romine and Rivera went back to that well a third time but Mo didn’t execute.
Dunn slapping a ball the other way for a single is a rarity. That just isn’t his game. Miguel Cabrera hitting homeruns is not; it’s just what he does. Over the weekend, the reigning AL MVP took Rivera deep not once, but twice in the blown saves. Here’s his two-run shot from Friday, which tied the game:
That was a pretty epic at-bat, as you probably remember. Cabrera fouled two balls off his leg and was hobbling around badly between pitches — at one point he was using his bat like a cane — yet he managed to remain in the game. The game-tying homer came in a 2-2 count after Rivera busted him inside repeatedly, hence the two foul balls of the leg. Chris Stewart set up inside one more time but Rivera again missed his spot, this time knee-high and out over the plate. That’s a pitch great hitters like Miggy will crush, and in this instance it left the park.
The homerun Cabrera hit on Sunday did not tie the game, but it did turn a two-run lead into the one-run lead for the Yankees. Again, Rivera missed his spot in a bad way:
Stewart and Rivera mixed things up in this at-bat after getting beat on Friday, pitching to both sides of the plate rather than pounding Cabrera inside. The 2-2 pitch was supposed to be down and away — you can even argue Stewart was set up too far over the plate — and Mo simply missed up. The pitch was on the outer half as intended, but rather than come in at the knees it came in at the belt. Cabrera took advantage of the short porch and drove it out the other way.
The third homer of the weekend, the one that actually tied Sunday’s game and clinched that third blown save, was more good hitting than bad pitching. Unlike the last three pitches in this post, Rivera didn’t miss his spot by all that much:
Stewart wanted the 0-1 pitch up towards the top of the zone and inside, and Rivera wound up coming up-and-in even more than desired. That’s not a bad thing, up-and-in pitches are a great way to induce weak contact. Mo has been breaking left-handed hitter’s bats with that pitch for nearly two decades now. Martinez just pulled his hands in and yanked the ball to right for the game-tying solo homer. Rivera missed his spot but not necessarily in a bad way. This pitch didn’t leak back out into the hitting zone like the others. Martinez is just a really smart hitter.
Missing location is not something we see Mo do all that often. We’re not just talking about a pitcher with great command here. We’re talking about a pitcher with historically great command. That Rivera is blowing these saves because he’s missing his spots rather than losing velocity or movement off his cutter is actually somewhat encouraging because you would expect him to work out the location problems. It’s hard to imagine Mo will struggle with his command for an extended period of time. It’s possible, sure, but tough to expect. If his stuff was disappearing, it would be a much bigger problem.
The weird thing about Rivera’s recent struggles is that they really don’t matter all that much. The Yankees’ odds of making the postseason are microscopic — 2.3% according to Baseball Prospectus, and they’re seven games back with four teams ahead of them — so a blown save here or there isn’t the end of the world regarding the club’s 2013 outlook. Rivera is also retiring after this year, so the long-term concern is nil. Still, no one wants to see him finish his career on a down note, so hopefully Mo will right the ship and soon. Since it’s just a command problem, I’m extremely confident he’ll get things sorted out very quickly.
I guess the only way to start this post is by saying there is no chance in hell the Yankees will trade Mariano Rivera. Absolutely zero. I’m more confident in that than anything I’ve ever written on this site. They’ve got a big retirement ceremony planned for September, they’re giving away a bobblehead … there’s no chance they’re going to let Rivera wear anything other than Yankees pinstripes in his career. So consider this post an intellectual exercise, or something.
* * *
As of this morning, the Yankees have a 1.5% chance to make the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus. They are six games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column with four teams ahead of them. Yes, it’s still mathematically possible for the Yankees to make the playoffs, but it’ll take a minor miracle. Losing five of six to the lowly Padres and even lowlier White Sox was a huge blow to their October chances. Those were supposed to be the easy wins.
Rivera’s final season — earlier this week he reiterated to Andrew Seligman that he is definitely retiring after the season — is going to waste in the sense that the greatest postseason weapon in history won’t get a chance to pitch in the playoffs one last time. As it stands, his final postseason appearance will be Game Five of the 2011 ALDS against the Tigers. I now retroactively consider myself lucky to have been at that game even though it ended the team’s season.
Trading Mo would be a Ray Bourque-esque “thanks for all the great years, sorry we couldn’t contend but we’ll trade you elsewhere so you have one last crack at a championship” move rather than something designed to kick start a rebuild. The Yankees would be doing Rivera a solid by sending him to a team that gives him a chance for a sixth World Series title in his final year. The market would be limited because it would have to be a legit contending team, not a fringe contender who is fighting for a spot. No one would be trading for him hoping he’ll get them into the postseason. They’re trading for him to turn playoff games into eight-inning affairs.
The team that acquires Rivera would have to be all but guaranteed to go to the postseason. I see eight teams that fit the bill (eight teams already? it’s August 8th!):
- Red Sox
We can rule the Rays and Red Sox right out. That ain’t happening. The Athletics have a strong bullpen and a very good closer already, so adding Mo doesn’t make a ton of sense. Same goes for the Braves. The Pirates are expected to get Jason Grilli back from his injury in the not-too-distant future, so adding a replacement closer isn’t a high priority at the moment. That could change if Grilli has a setback or something.
We’re left with the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Tigers, all of whom have at least a five-game lead on a playoff berth. They also have a closer who was a setup man when the season started and a need for another arm in middle relief. Acquiring Rivera would push Edward Mujica, Kenley Jansen, or Joaquin Benoit, respectively, back into a seventh or eighth inning role. That’s much more realistic than say, pushing Craig Kimbrel into the eighth inning.
Obviously Rivera is one of a kind in that he’s still at the very top of his game (last night’s blown save notwithstanding) at age 43. I joked earlier this year that you don’t see many athletes walk away from the game in their prime like Mo, but there is some truth to that. He’s still as brutally effective as ever. There’s no good way to gauge his trade value though, it’s not like elite closers are traded two months prior to retirement/free agent all that often. I guess there’s 2009 Billy Wagner and 2007 Eric Gagne, right? That’s pretty much it, and neither was as good then as Rivera is now.
Wagner was fresh off Tommy John surgery at the time of the trade, as in just two appearances with the Mets before being traded fresh. He brought back absolutely nothing in return. The Mets should have kept him and taken the two draft picks after the season. What a terrible move. Gagne, on the other hand, brought back two big league ready and maybe useful pieces in David Murphy and Kason Gabbard as well as a low-level lottery ticket prospect (Engel Beltre). Gabbard flamed out and Beltre finally made it to the show this year, but Murphy turned into a pretty solid player. Pretty nice return for two months of a closer.
So would that be the framework for a Rivera trade? Two iffy but big league ready prospects and a low-level minor leaguer? Yeah I guess. Like I said, trading him would be more about getting him one last shot at the postseason than maximizing the return. It would be nice to get a useful piece in return however. Someone the Yankees could plug into the lineup or the pitching staff for the next five or six years. Doesn’t have to be a star, a Murphy-esque player would be just fine. Best of an unfortunate situation, you know?
I can’t imagine seeing Rivera in another uniform and thankfully I don’t have to worry about that ever happening. He’s not getting traded in the next few weeks. Like I said before, there’s zero chance of that happening. I know it, you know it, and he knows it. I just wanted to talk things out to see what kind of market and what kind of return the Yankees could expect if they did decide to move their closer to a contender as a personal favor in his final season. It’s a thought I never expected to entertain, that’s for sure.