By Sweeny Murti
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Because he is Mariano Rivera, there is a sense of relief — no pun intended — after hearing he’s told the Yankees he does indeed intend to pitch next season. But even Rivera is a question mark as the Yankees maneuver this offseason.
Can he come back to be the Great Mariano after such a severe injury? And can he return to the dominance we expect at age 43? We can never count out the greatest of all-time. But there is room for doubt, so the Yankees must fortify the rest of their setup corps as well. Does that include Rafael Soriano?
Probably not. Yankees President Randy Levine said Scott Boras told him he is seeking a four-year, $60 million dollar deal for Soriano. If he can get it, then the Yankees are not likely to be players. Especially when they will have to pay Rivera significantly to come back and close, there is little reason to think they will pay steep dollars for Soriano to use him as a setup man again, even with the promise of closing down the road.
David Robertson will get a raise from his $1.6 million, now in his second year as arbitration-eligible. But that won’t be enough to break the bank. Robertson is an important piece as the Yankees try to build a deep setup corps. Joba Chamberlain will be counted on, but his last full major league season will now be three years behind us (2010). David Aardsma could help, but his last full season will be four years in the rear view mirror (2009).
There are some other closer-setup reliever types out there like Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria, both of whom missed 2012 due to Tommy John surgery. Both names to think about, but exactly how many injury-rehab pitchers are the Yankees supposed to rely on? Rivera, Aardsma, Madson, Soria? Even Chamberlain counts on this list, even though he finished the year healthy.
Interesting name to think about: Jason Grilli of the Pirates. A free agent this winter, Grilli has been an exceptional reliever the last two seasons, averaging 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings with a 4.09 K/BB ratio in 2012. As comparison, Robertson’s best strikeouts-per-nine-innings number is 13.5 in 2011 and his strikeouts-to-walks ratio was always under 3.00 until this past season when he dramatically improved to 4.26.
Grilli turns 36 next week and I’m told at this point he is not a high priority for the Yankees. But again, I think it is worth considering a pitcher who was not injured last season.
Best part: Grilli’s agent is Gary Sheffield. Yes, that Gary Sheffield. Is Brian Cashman’s (or any GM’s) worst nightmare having to negotiate a contract with Gary Sheffield?
*Rafael Soriano had a great year for the Yankees, but I would be shocked if he was back on a long-term deal. (I guess there was a slim chance he would accept the $13 million qualifying offer for one year, but since Rivera’s announcement that he will pitch next season, there is little reason to think Soriano will come back to New York as a setup man again.)
So where does Soriano go? Detroit is certainly a good fit. Jose Valverde’s meltdowns sent him packing and the Tigers don’t have a perfect in-house option to close next year. As Joel Sherman pointed out in The New York Post last week, Scott Boras does have a history of getting Tigers owner Mike Illitch to give him what he wants (Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder).
Soriano also has a friend in Tigers setup man Octavio Dotel. When the Yankees visited Detroit in August I ran into Dotel, a former Yankee with a very outgoing personality and a permanent smile. He is hardly the person I would have chosen to be friends with Soriano, since they appear to be polar opposites, but Dotel spent 20 minutes telling me how Soriano is misunderstood (the two became friends when they pitched together in Atlanta).
Even though he pitched well in 2012, I’m not sure any of us really thought Soriano “fit in” here. He gave the Yankees what they needed this year, but we never found out about his ability to succeed in the postseason. He pitched in only three games, and even though he did not give up a run, Soriano did not appear in a single save situation.
*2013 will be an important year for David Robertson. At season’s end he will be just one year from free agency. If next year is Mariano’s last year, then Robertson could go into 2014 as the Yankees closer, but a lot will depend on how he pitches next season obviously.
The guy who replaces Rivera will not be in an enviable position. But a transition to a guy who has built some equity in New York might gain the poor fellow a little grace period with Yankee fans. Like, maybe one or two games.
*I think we all expect Andy Pettitte to decide he wants to pitch again next year. Here’s what Pettitte said last month when asked about 2013:
“I know one thing: I know the competition and the desire to compete is still there, and I don’t feel like I kind of got that itch out from the 70 innings or so that I threw this year.”
We all know Pettitte is coming back. It’s just a matter of when he comes out and says it and when he works out a deal with the Yankees. Of course, don’t expect it to drag on too late into the winter. Pettitte’s indecision last year cost him about $8-10 million, and it’s likely he won’t make that mistake again.
*Industry speculation is that Nick Swisher is in demand enough to get a four-year deal in the $50-60 million range, maybe even a five-year deal at $60-75 million. Surely, the Yankees will not be in the running.
The bad postseason numbers will leave some Yankee fans feeling as if they got nothing out of Swisher, but that’s hardly the case. In four years (ages 28-31), the Yanks got a corner outfielder who averaged 26 home runs, 86 runs batted in and a slash line of .268/.367/.483 in 150 games per year. And they got all of that for $7.9 million per year.
In today’s market, that is what you call a good return. That doesn’t mean letting him walk is a mistake. And it actually has nothing to do with postseason numbers. Having to almost double a player’s salary for ages 32-36 for likely the same output is not smart business, and that’s probably why the Yankees let him go in the end.
*Torii Hunter’s name is most often mentioned right now as a possible replacement for Swisher, and it is doubtful he would get more than a two-year deal here. Hunter is the same age as Alex Rodriguez (both turn 37 next July). Still, as a corner outfielder he is exceptional and has averaged 21 home runs and 88 runs batted in the last the three seasons with a slash line of .285/.351/.448.
Hunter would be a good short term fit, perhaps even for two years. He is a popular teammate, an engaging personality, and would surely be a fan and media favorite. And even though it’s hard to predict postseason success, Hunter’s track record is a good one: a career .305 hitter in 34 playoff games with the Twins and Angels (including a .352 BA in three different series against the Yankees, all losses by Hunter’s team).
*As a switch-hitter, Swisher had a great ability to help balance the Yankee lineup, especially against left-handed pitching. Remember that the Yankees had Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada as regulars in their last World Championship season, and Posada and Bernie Williams were double-sided weapons in the dynasty years.
Now, with only Teixeira to hit from both sides, the Yankees might have to lean a little more towards righty/lefty lineups with platoon players. Hunter would be a good start and the Yankees would still need another righty bat off the bench to replace Andruw Jones, who despite some hot streaks can probably count on wearing a different uniform next year.
Also, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez played key roles this year as lefty bats. Ibanez will be 41 next June and Chavez will be 35 in December. I am told both want to play next year (retirement had been part of Chavez’s thought process in the past), so it is likely they are part of the off-season discussions.
*With the moves we are talking about to this point, the average age of the Yankees is not likely to go down. But it’s not like the Yankees can be content putting out a team of youngsters who try really hard and contend for four or five months. Unless you are willing to risk the possibility of missing the playoffs, it is hard to invest in younger and unproven players. The Yankees keep feeding the machine, and so far it has worked. They always do more than contend.
But it has been an awfully long three years since the last parade, hasn’t it?
What move would you make first if you were Cashman? Be heard in the comments below…