Rafael Soriano pitched brilliantly for the Rays in 2010 but didn’t make many friends doing so, and that matched the pattern of his previous travels. One former teammate, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called Soriano “the most selfish teammate I’ve ever had.”

But he does have quite the track record, which convinced Yankees ownership to overrule Brian Cashman’s “no” vote and sign Soriano to a three-year, $35-million deal with opt-outs after the first two years.

“The thing about Rafael, he’s very strong-minded, and he’s opinionated, and he knows what he needs to do,” Rays manager Joe Maddon told Newsday. “I think sometimes that can be misconstrued with a guy like him.

“It’s not like he doesn’t want to pitch. It’s not about that. It’s about the other little things he wants to do regarding conditioning. How many days in a row he thinks he can handle. And sometimes he’ll want to handle more than you want him to handle.

“It’s just about getting to know him, but is there going to be a negative? I doubt it. He’s going to pitch really well again.”

Not quite bullish

Maddon didn’t lose only his closer. He saw six other relievers — Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler — depart via free agency.

So in the ultra-competitive American League East, Maddon must completely reconstruct a bullpen, including a closer.

Tampa Bay signed former Yankees bust Kyle Farnsworth as an affordable veteran presence, and rookie lefty Jake McGee is highly regarded. Lefty J.P. Howell, who missed all of last year after undergoing shoulder surgery, could return as early as May.

“I have no set thoughts regarding our bullpen right now. It is so up in the air,” Maddon said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for guys who want to take it. In the last couple of years, we’ve had opportunities to give to people to come and make a name for themselves. Soriano, he did it last year. And Benny and Choate. I think we provide opportunity, and then it’s up to the player to take off and run with it. So we do anticipate that to happen again.”

Lefty Alexander Torres, a starter in the minors, and righty Adam Russell, acquired from the Padres for shortstop Jason Bartlett, also could earn opportunities.

Waiting for the pitch

Two contending teams — the Yankees and Cardinals — have clear starting pitching needs, but neither has offered Jeremy Bonderman or Kevin Millwood, both of whom are free agents, so much as a guaranteed contract. So the two men remain available, banking on the chance that the start of the exhibition season goes poorly, thereby increasing demand.

One scout from a National League team, speaking on the condition of anonymity, opined that he’d rather have Millwood. The 36-year-old didn’t pitch as poorly as his 4-16 record indicated, the scout said.

Millwood registered a 5.10 ERA. His FIP, a fielder-independent pitching measurement, was 4.86, and his xFIP, which normalizes the flyball-per-home-run rate, was 4.66. So the righty could have been hurt by some bad luck, but not dramatically so.

Is he anti-barbecue?

Freddy Garcia has to be considered a strong candidate to win a job in the Yankees’ starting rotation, as he put up a respectable 2010 season with the White Sox. You’re probably wondering, though: Can Garcia, who relies more on location and intelligence than pure stuff nowadays, navigate through the difficult American League East?

His career numbers are worth noting. A career-long AL man, his toughest opponent has been the Blue Jays, against whom he has a 6.10 ERA in 14 starts totaling 762 / 3 innings. His next-toughest? The Royals, against whom he has a 5.89 ERA in 27 starts (1571 / 3 innings). Against the Red Sox, Garcia has a more presentable 4.40 ERA in 16 starts (1001 / 3 innings). Against the Rays, he’s at 3.56 in 15 starts (982 / 3 innings)

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