The best free agent relief pitcher not named Mariano Rivera remains unsigned.
Rafael Soriano, as Buster Olney noted yesterday, was among the top closers in MLB last year. His stats were excellent, highlighted by a very low WHIP of 0.802 and a strong K/BB ratio of 4.07. His K rate dipped from 12.13 per 9 IP in 2009 as a member of the Atlanta Braves to 8.23 per 9 in the AL East as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, however his home run rate remained low at 0.58 HR/9 IP. By almost every metric, Soriano was a top reliever last year and we would expect him to remain one in 2011. Except his injury history can't be overlooked, as Buster also points out.
With so many middle relievers receiving multi-year deals, Soriano and his agent, Scott Boras, are certainly looking for a very big payday. Note however that many teams are reluctant to part with a first-round pick as compensation, as Soriano's a Type A free agent. Adding Soriano to the Yanks' bullpen wouldn't quite make up for their starting rotation's shortcomings, but it would certainly provide a formidable front to any team looking to make a comeback against Soriano and Rivera late in the game. Manager Joe Girardi could feel comfortable resting Mo regularly with Soriano as a well-compensated security blanket.
At what cost, though? The Yanks' 2011 first-round pick and likely a minimum of $10 million per year for at least three years. The Yanks have the cash, as Ian Begley noted yesterday.
But just because the team has the cash does not mean it should be spent on a security blanket, even one as good as Soriano. We do not know if Soriano only wants to close, rather than be Mo's caddy. The only real cost to the Yanks, besides the cash, is that first-round pick and they've been giving those away for years with their repeated Type A free agent signings. Giving it to their AL East competitors is a double dip of bitter. Soriano would represent a very expensive luxury and while the team could be better off in the short term, I'm not confident the team will be happy with this deal in two years.
On the other hand, we now hear that the "Mexicutioner," Joakim Soria will not block a trade to the Yankees, despite having New York on his no-trade list:
"I didn't put it there, my agent did, as a strategy," Soria said. "But if the Royals decide to trade me to New York I would gladly go to play with the Yankees or any other team... I repeat, I would not block a trade to the Yankees. I like to play baseball and I would play with any team."
Soria is, quite simply, one of the top closers in baseball, period. A career WHIP of 0.99 and ERA of 2.01, not to mention an impressive 4.01 K/BB ratio while racking up 132 saves. His 2010 numbers were even more impressive, with 43 saves, 1.05 WHIP, 1.78 ERA and a 4.44 K/BB ratio.
The problem is the cost to acquire Soria will be painful. Notes MLBTR:
The Yankees reportedly dangled top catching prospect Jesus Montero in a Soria discussion last July...
Cashman's belief in Montero has been fortified since last July, even with the Russell Martin signing. Still, the Royals should have jumped on that offer if that rumor were indeed true. They now would be well within their right to begin by asking for Montero and going from there, though that's a non-starter for the Yankees. The Yankees have the farm system depth to deal for Soria without including Montero, but we begin to get into the philosophical debates about how much of the farm system they are willing to part with for insurance/caddy for Mo.
The mitigating factor in dealing with the pain of trading for Soria is that he's under team control through 2014. His salary for 2011 is a relative paltry $4M, followed by team options for 2012-14 for $6M, $8M and $8.75M (per Cot's). Clearly this is well below what Soriano would command in salary, but aside from that one compensation draft pick next year, Soriano's cost is cash. Soria, on the other hand, requires a much more painful separation of the team's top prospects.
Soria or Soriano would also become the heir apparent to Mariano, though no one is quite sure if that cyborg will ever truly show his age. Soria or Soriano would significantly help the Yanks shorten ballgames, something their lack of rotation depth would surely benefit from as well. The issue, as always, is the acquisition cost.
Time to play armchair GM: Would you rather sign Soriano (cash and a draft pick) or trade for Soria (high level prospects), and why?