On-Base Perception

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People v. Rafael Soriano

Rafael Soriano delivers a pitch during a game

Rafael Soriano delivers a pitch during a game against the Boston Red Sox. (Oct. 2, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

In baseball free agency, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. Fans who will do anything to keep their favorite players and fans who have no problem kicking any player to the curb.

This is Part 6 of our series looking at upcoming free agents for the Mets and Yankees and arguing for and against keeping them.

(Insert the "Law & Order" clang, clang here, just in case you didn't already catch the reference.)

The case:

Rafael Soriano has opted out of the final year of the three-year, $35 million contract he signed before the 2011 season. Soriano is due a $1.5 million buyout. The Yankees' closer in 2012, Soriano can be given a qualifying one-year offer of $13.3 million. If he accepted, it would actually be an $800,000 raise over the 2013 salary ($15 million) he was originally due. He will turn 33 in December.

The facts:

Soriano was an All-Star and received Cy Young and MVP votes as the Tampa Bay closer in 2010, when he was 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA and an AL-high 45 saves. He was signed to help provide a bridge to closer Mariano Rivera and partially struggled in that role during the 2011 season. After Rivera was lost to injury early in 2012, Soriano took over and saved 42 games with a 2.26 ERA. He's expected to be seeking a multi-year contract.

The prosecution:

The greatest closer in the history of baseball is likely to return to the Yankees next season. Why is Soriano worth an expensive, multi-year pact?

Though Rivera has sent mixed signals on his intentions for 2013, most expect him to pitch again, and if he does, he's not going to sign a minor league deal. Rivera's 2012 salary was $15 million, and given his talent and production, he's not likely to take too much of a pay-cut, if any at all. General Manager Brian Cashman is under orders to try and get the Yankee payroll under the $189 million figure by 2014, so adding yet another expensive reliever doesn't seem to fit into those plans.

But the reasons to let Soriano walk go beyond money.

While he was excellent as a closer in 2012, he was dismal as a set-up man in 2011. He was signed to be the primary link to Rivera, but quickly lost that job to David Robertson. Soriano was 2-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 39.1 innings, spending time on the disabled list. When he was healthy, he was far from a sure thing.

If the Yankees believe Rivera will return in 2013, why repeat the unsuccessful experiment of asking Soriano to set-up?

According to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, Soriano is believed to be seeking a four-year deal. That would make him 36 years old during the final season of that kind of contract. Given the volatility of relievers, and the inherent risks that come with an aging athlete, is that a contract the Yankees—money aside—can afford to offer?

No. And that's why Soriano, who did such a good job shutting the door in 2012, now needs to be shown the door.

The defense:

Yes, most expect Mariano Rivera to return to the Yankees in 2013.

Key word: expect.

What if he doesn't? Are the Yankees confident that David Robertson could take his place? Robertson, who has been shaky during his previous closing opportunities?

And even if Rivera does return, it's only a matter of time before the soon-to-be 43-year-old Sandman decides to retire.

Soriano was originally signed—over the objections of Brian Cashman—to be “Rivera insurance.” In 2011 that seemed like folly. In 2012 the move seemed inspired.

While Soriano can seem disinterested as a set-up man, there's little denying his excellence in the closer role. When he's been given the ninth inning job, he takes over. He had a 2.97 ERA and 27 saves for the Braves in 2009, 1.73 ERA and 45 saves for the Rays in 2010 and 2.26 ERA and 42 saves for the Yankees in 2012.

Bottom line: Soriano does what he was signed to do.

And Rivera can't do what he does forever.

The verdict:

A four-year deal seems out of the question. People have expected Rivera to retire or fade for years, and every time he seems to slip, he proves the doubters wrong. Who's to say he can't keep doing it?

And who's to say Soriano, now entering his mid-30s, won't start to lose significant velocity on his fastball? From 2009-2012 his average fastball velocity has decreased each season, from 93.2 mph in 2009 to 92.2 in 2012.

A two-year deal or two-year deal with a team option for a third year is far more palatable for the suddenly fiscally conscious Yankees. But even then, it's a tough pill to swallow to invest somewhere around $30 million in two innings of a game.

And on the other end, why would Soriano want to return to the Yankees if he doesn't have a clear shot to close? There are plenty of teams in baseball who need a proven, reliable closer.

It might be best for both parties if this marriage ends.

Tags: people v. , Rafael Soriano , Mariano Rivera , Brian Cashman

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