Archive for Rafael Soriano

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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.

Will Soriano opt-out of his contract after the season?
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Categories : Death by Bullpen, Polls
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Rafael Soriano was unavailable tonight due to a blister on his right index finger, but it isn’t anything serious and he should be available tomorrow. The YES cameras showed him standing around in the bullpen in the sixth inning and he told Joe Girardi he could pitch if needed, but they held him back. Soriano had pitched in each of the last two games so the night off was probably a blessing in disguise.

Categories : Asides, Injuries
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I’ve got five questions for you this week and I was able to keep the answers to four of them reasonably short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up mailbag questions or anything else.

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Daniel asks: Is Josh Willingham a possible trade target at the trade deadline? He’s having a good year, signed to a reasonable mid-term deal, and the Twins are awful. Any idea what sort of return he would command?

Willingham is having an insane year with the Twins — 173 wRC+ and eleven homers — after signing a three-year, $27M deal this offseason. Given Minnesota’s terribleness — 22-34 with a -70 run differential — and the fact that his value is at its apex at age 33, it would make sense for them to shop him around before he comes back to Earth. Kinda like what the Pirates did with Xavier Nady in 2008. Because he signed as a free agent this winter, the Twinkies can not trade him without his consent until one week from today. In other words, it’s no big deal.

Anyway, the Yankees don’t really have anywhere to play Willingham this season unless Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury lingers. He’s supposed to play in his first minor league rehab game tonight, so we’ll find out how well he’s recovering soon enough. The Yankees will presumably need a corner outfielder to replace Nick Swisher after the season however, and Willingham is affordable enough. His defense is terrible though and his best position is DH. Still, right-handed power is in short supply.

I usually try to think of comparable players when thinking up trade scenarios, but I can’t come up with anyone like Willingham. Older guy who’s still productive with two full seasons left on his market rate free agent contract? Does Miguel Tejada to the Astros work? Scott Rolen to the Reds? Those two got traded for quantity over quality packages. I’m sure the Yankees could cull something together in that case, but this isn’t a vacuum. Willingham would help any team but he really doesn’t fit New York’s roster.

A different Daniel asks: If Rafael Soriano can put together an above average statistical season, what would you say the odds are that he hits the road after this season?

Zero percent. Soriano is owed $14M next season and there’s no chance he’ll match that on the open market. No one wanted to sign him two offseasons ago coming off the best season of his life and I doubt the sentiment has changed this time around. Heck, Ryan Madson is flat out better than Soriano and there was no market for him last winter. I’m sure every club will have Heath Bell in the back of their mind whenever they think about signing a free agent reliever going forward, and that won’t help his case. Considering that he’s a health risk and is very good but not dominant, I can’t imagine any number of saves will have Soriano thinking about opting out of his current deal.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jacob asks: Do you think Dellin Betances needs a mechanical change to help with his walks? Maybe more of a sidearm or 3/4 delivery (Randy Johnson-esque) could possibly allow him to harness his abilities?

Dellin needs something to help with the walks and a mechanical change seems like an obvious solution. I’m not pitching coach or anything, so I have no idea if changing his arm slot or something like that will have a positive impact. I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s difficult to throw strikes with anything below a three-quarters slot, especially if there’s anything more an average velocity involved. Johnson was just a freak of nature and an extreme outlier, I wouldn’t use that guy as blueprint for anything.

At some point the Yankees need to do something about Betances, I can’t imagine an 8.1 BB/9 (19.0 BB%) is good for his confidence. I don’t know if it’s a move to the bullpen or a change in mechanics or a stern talking to, but this can’t go on forever.

Andrew asks: Why is nobody giving more attention to Corban Joseph? I know Single-A is the future, but he seems to have real pinstripes potential if he switches to the left side of the infield.

That’s the problem, he can’t switch to the left side of the infield. Joseph’s defense basically meets the minimum standards at second base and isn’t nearly good enough for short. He hasn’t even played one inning at shortstop in the minors and that’s not an accident. If he had a chance to play the position, they would have tried him there at some point. Joseph can handle third but not well, plus he’s unlikely to provide enough to play the position for a meaningful amount of time.

I don’t really know what Joseph is long-term. He makes good contact from the left side and draws some walks, so he has offensive value. Do they pigeon-hole him into a bench role and hope to hide his defense? Do they try him in an outfield corner and hope he can play second base as well as left and maybe right? I don’t really know. Joseph is on the 40-man though, so the Yankees see something they like in him.

J.R. asks: Mike, with all of the pre-draft deals that apparently took place this year, do you expect MLB to try and crack down on these next year?

They can try, but I’m not quite sure what they can do about it. I doubt the teams are getting these agreements in writing, so they’d basically have to look over the shoulder of every area scout to make sure he isn’t taking money with a player before the draft. I’m sure MLB would love to crack down on pre-draft arrangements, but it just might not be possible. Teams will always find a workaround.

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Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees intend to keep Rafael Soriano in the closer role even after David Robertson returns from his oblique strain in (hopefully) two weeks. I’m a fan of the move, I’ve wanted Soriano to close ever since Mariano Rivera got hurt. It frees up Robertson to be used a little more liberally in the seventh and eighth rather than be married to one specific inning late in the game. Soriano will make you sweat a bit but that’s unavoidable, he’s done the job these last few weeks and actually looks comfortable for the first time in pinstripes.

Categories : Asides, Death by Bullpen
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May
31

Rafael Soriano: Closer

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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.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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Five questions and four answers this week, and I tried to keep it short but mostly failed. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

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Shaun asks: Do you guys think David Robertson will automatically get the closer’s job when he returns? I hope Rafael Soriano flourishes in the role he is most comfortable and we can have Robertson back to Houdini!

That’s exactly what I hope happens. I want Soriano to pitch well regardless of inning, but I hope he really takes to the closer role and dominates so they can use Robertson a little more liberally in the seventh and eighth innings. The Yankees did bump Soriano back to the seventh inning following his DL stint last season because Robertson was dominant, so I hope history kinda sorta repeats itself.

Jay asks: What team has a need for 2nd base? I would think Eduardo Nunez could start on a lot of teams and contribute; just as the Yankees are thinking, putting him in one position could help his defense.

Middle infielders around baseball are just awful these days, so I’m sure a number of clubs would have interest in Nunez as an everyday guy despite his complete lack of defensive value. I know I’d rather take a chance on him than sign someone like the recently released Orlando Hudson.

Nunez has a 95 wRC+ in 450 career big league plate appearances, so he’s fallen just short of league average offensive production. His career Triple-A performance is similar and that’s basically the guy you’re going to get. Nunez will hit for a average but not power, make a ton of contact, and steal a bunch of bases. That’s what most middle infielders do, though at least he offers a chance at improvement at 25 years old. He’s still two years why of his peak, in theory.

The problem with trading Nunez right now is that his value is way down. The Yankees had to send him down because his defense was unplayable and that dropped his stock. We know other clubs — specifically the Mariners and Braves — have had interest in him in the past and I’m sure they’ve love to buy low now. Unless we’re talking about a multi-player package to acquire a star-caliber player, the Yankees are probably better off holding on to Nunez rather than take whatever uninteresting prospects clubs offer in a trade.

(Danny Wild/MLB.com)

Tim asks: Chances or what do you think of the inconsistent Ivan Nova being sent down and Banuelos put in the NYY rotation in his place?

Jeff asks: Is it insane to think that Manny Banuelos can pitch his way into the big league rotation sometime this year?

Gonna lump these two together and will start with the Banuelos part. Yes, I think he could pitch his way into the rotation later this season. I thought there was a chance he would do it last year, but then he had to pull a Dellin Betances impression with the walk rate. Banuelos’ performance has been very encouraging following his return from the lat injury — 15 strikeouts an zero walks in 14.2 IP — but he’s not out of the woods yet. Three starts don’t erase the last year’s worth of command problems. He’s got to continue to show improvement and if he keeps looking like the Banuelos of old (meaning 2008-2010), then I could definitely see him cracking the rotation in the second half.

As for Nova, I also think there’s a chance he could be sent down at some point. Heck, they send him down for less last summer. Obviously this right foot and ankle injury complicates things a bit, but he had a very obvious problem leaving pitches up and thus getting hammered for extra-base hits before the injury. Nova leads the league extra-base hits allowed (32) and has allowed eleven (!) more than any other pitcher who’s made no more than seven starts. Hopefully he shakes off the ankle problem and starts getting pitches down, but if he doesn’t improve and we’re in the middle of June or something, an assignment to Triple-A has to be a consideration. If Banuelos happens to keep pitching well and shows improved command, he’d be the obvious candidate to take Nova’s spot.

Shai asks: Why are good lefty starters worth more than good righty starters? Aren’t there more (good) righty hitters in baseball? I understand the value of a LOOGY but shouldn’t righty starters be worth more?

It’s just a supply and demand thing. There’s roughly a 75-25 split between righties and lefties around the league these days (both starters and reliever), so there are just fewer quality left-handers to be had. Lefties are an even higher prior for the Yankees than other teams because of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. That’s really all there is to it. There are fewer great lefties around than great righties, so the southpaws are more valuable. Same reason great shortstops are more valuable than great first baseman.

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(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Rafael Soriano‘s tenure in New York hasn’t exactly been a pleasant experience. First Brian Cashman stood at the introductory press conference and made sure everyone knew he didn’t want to sign the guy, then Soriano struggled for the first few weeks of 2011 before hitting the DL with the latest elbow injury in a career full of them. Through his first 16 or so months in pinstripes, Soriano has pitched to a 3.71 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 53.1 innings as the fourth highest paid reliever in baseball.

In the span of two weeks, Soriano has gone from seventh inning guy to one of the most important players on the Yankees’ roster. Mariano Rivera‘s season is over thanks to this torn right ACL and yesterday we learned that David Robertson will miss at least 15 days with a left oblique strain. The seventh inning guy is now the closer, the same role that landed him that much-criticized contract after a stellar 2010 season with the Rays.

“I put everything away, came back this year, and whatever inning I’ll try to be there and try to be comfortable,” said Soriano on Monday. “They give me the opportunity, and to me, I’ll try to do the best I can.”

The Yankees need Soriano to be the best he can be right now. With all due respect to Cory Wade, Boone Logan, and the team’s other relievers, bridging the gap between starter and closer will be much more difficult with Mo and Robertson on shelf. Soriano has to be that rock in the ninth inning, nailing down wins with the leads he is given regardless of size. Frankly, he needs to elevate his performance a bit and actually have a 1-2-3 inning every once in a while (still zero of those in 2012). No one’s asking for miracles, just a stress-free appearance every so often.

“You know, to me, I don’t think nothing changed,” said Soriano prior to last night’s game. “Sometimes, something happens like that and you got to keep going, because we lost Mariano first and the bullpen tried to do whatever it had to do. Now, with two guys down, it’s not going to be easy for us. We’re trying to be together, the bullpen and the team, and win.”

Robertson has reportedly been told that he’ll be able to return after the minimum 15 days, but Soriano can’t look at it like that. He has an opportunity to seize the closer’s job for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, and he also has a chance to change the fans’ perception of him. Soriano has the ability to be an elite reliever but hasn’t performed up to that level in New York and I think there’s a lot of disdain for him because of it, fair or not. The injuries give him a chance to step up and truly become an integral part of the roster, not just another overpaid under-performer.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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May
09

The New Bullpen Era

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(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

For the first time in 15 years, the Yankees have someone other than Mariano Rivera closing the door in the ninth inning. The Sandman tore his right ACL shagging fly balls before last Thursday’s game, thrusting David Robertson into the closer’s role on a full-time basis. As we saw last night, things are going to be very different at the end of the game going forward.

As he usually does, Robertson created a bit of a mess against the Rays on Tuesday before striking his way out of the jam to secure the win. It’s what he does, make jams so he can pitch his way out of them. Unfortunately, that act is far less enjoyable in the ninth inning than at any other point of the game. If Robertson can’t wiggle his way out of trouble and a run(s) scores, the Yankees now have three outs to respond. That’s it. If he does the same in the eighth, they’ll have six outs to recover. Not much, but better than three. The margin for error is tiny.

This probably sounds stupid given how things turned out, but I thought last night’s game was a perfect example of why I believe that at the very least, Joe Girardi needs to be a little more flexible in the late innings. The Yankees were up two runs going into the eighth, but the top of the order was due up. That’s a pretty good spot to use Robertson given the degree of difficulty, allowing Soriano to finish the game against inferior hitters in the ninth. If the bottom of the order was due up in the eighth, then by all means go to Soriano. In a perfect world, you’d have Robertson pitch to the toughest batters.

Obviously pulling that off is much easier said than done. Pitchers do like knowing their specific role/inning and bouncing them around could have some negative impact. Might be a lot, might be negligible. Who knows. Girardi can play coy all he wants, but we know that Robertson will be his man in the ninth inning going forward. He’s certainly earned it and I’m not going to ding the manager for marrying relievers to specific innings when literally every other manager in baseball does it. This isn’t just a Girardi thing, but it will be more noticeable with Rivera on the shelf.

“What I think is Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches, broke a bat and we would have been gone 20 minutes ago,” joked Robertson following last night’s game, though there is some truth there. We’ve been spoiled by Mariano’s stress (and walk) free ninth innings for a baseball lifetime, and we’re going to be in for a serious culture shock over these next six months or so. I have full confidence in Robertson doing the job, but he is going to test our patience and raise our blood pressure along the way. This is a new era of Yankees baseball, and to be quite honest, it makes me nervous.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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May
04

Poll: Replacing Mariano Rivera

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(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I can’t believe this post actually exists, at least at this point in time, but it does. The Yankees lost Mariano Rivera for the season last night, when he tore his ACL shagging fly balls for the umpteenth time in his career. It’s a brutal and devastating injury both on and off the field, but baseball is an unforgiving game. The other 29 teams aren’t going to feel bad for the Yankees and guess what? They still have to play tonight, tomorrow, and the next day. That’s baseball.

There is no replacing Rivera. No one can match his brutal effectiveness or that security blanket feeling, but the Yankees will have to run someone out there in the ninth inning. Fortunately, they have two ready-made replacement closers already on the roster and won’t have to go outside the organization for bullpen help (at least not yet). David Robertson has established himself as one of, if not the best setup reliever in the game over the last year while Rafael Soriano was brought aboard because of his All-Star season as the Rays’ closer in 2010.

Following last night’s game, Joe Girardi said he has yet to decide on a permanent replacement for Rivera but would have used Robertson in a save situation had one arose. While Roberson deserves the job on merit, there are valid reasons to let Soriano assume closing duties. For one, the toughest outs aren’t always recorded in the ninth inning. In fact, they often aren’t. There’s a case to be made that Robertson’s dominance would be best used squashing potential rallies in the seventh and eighth innings while Soriano gets the clean slate to start the ninth inning. There are arguments to made for each side of the coin.

Whoever takes over for Rivera is going to have the toughest job in baseball. The scrutiny will be intense and the standards will be impossible to meet given what we’ve enjoyed for the last 17 years. Someone has to do it however, and although the Yankees have been struggling of late, the team is certainly strong enough to have World Series aspirations. Having a strong closer to shut things down in the ninth is part of that championship formula.

Who should replace Mariano Rivera?
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Categories : Death by Bullpen, Polls
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May
01

Missing: Rafael Soriano

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(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The dominant bullpen corps has been the Yankees’ backbone all season, bailing out the sketchy starting rotation and inconsistent offense all April long. David Robertson struck out all three batters he faced last night and has yet to be charged with a run in 2012. Mariano Rivera as rebounded from his Opening Day blown save in spectacular fashion, and middle guys like Cory Wade, Boone Logan, and Clay Rapada have been far better than average. Then there’s Rafael Soriano.

The fourth highest paid reliever in baseball this year, Soriano has been earning his money by throwing warm-up pitches in the bullpen lately, not by facing actual hitters in games. His seven innings pitched are tied with Rapada for the fewest on the staff, and Rapada is nothing more than the second lefty specialist. Soriano has appeared in just two of the team’s last nine games, though he’s warmed up in four others. He hasn’t pitched since the last game of the Rangers’ series.

Of course, Soriano’s recent lack of work isn’t his fault. He’s been effective in his limited action this season, pitching to a 1.29 ERA and a 3.52 FIP. Joe Girardi is a master at pushing the right bullpen buttons, but his one real flaw is marrying relievers to specific innings. Simply put, there just haven’t been many seventh inning setup situations lately, which is why Soriano has been left warming up in the bullpen and not pitching in games. It’s not ideal given effective and valuable he can be.

Soriano’s recent usage isn’t actually a problem, this is more of an observation than anything. Girardi doesn’t bury his relievers for long periods of time and you know that before long, we’re going to run into a stretch of games where it feels like he’s out there everyday. With Robertson having pitched in each of the last two days, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see Soriano out there in the late innings tonight if the game is close. It’s a nice luxury to have when a pitcher of this quality has been MIA for a week or two and you barely notice in terms of overall bullpen performance.

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