Monday, July 09, 2012
The Scott Boras-Rafael Soriano situation progresses
7/7/12, "Yankees can count on closer Rafael Soriano," Bob Klapisch, Bergen Record
"It’s been a little more than two months since Mariano Rivera destroyed his knee, forcing the Yankees to glimpse a world without the game’s greatest closer. The Bombers had every reason to dread what was coming next - a leaderless bullpen, a gaping hole in the ninth inning, and with it, a series of blown saves that would alter the balance of power in the East.
It was a reasonable fear; replacing Rivera should’ve been impossible. But the Yankees have the biggest lead in the majors precisely because they’ve avoided that doomsday scenario. For that, they can thank Rafael Soriano, who’s almost made the Yankees forget Rivera.
Of course, October will deliver its own verdict on Soriano’s Yankee legacy, but for now it’s impossible to overstate his dominance. Soriano recorded his first four-out save of the season on Friday night, smothering the Red Sox [team stats] en route to the Bombers’ 10-8 win.
The crossroads moment occurred in the eighth inning, when with two out and runners on first and second, Soriano overpowered Adrian Gonzalez, getting a soft grounder to Mark Teixeira to end rally.
That was Soriano’s 20th save in 21 opportunities - not a bad ratio for someone taking the place of a legend. The key, Soriano says, is not to channel Mariano or conjure up images of that monster cutter. To the contrary: Soriano thrives because he doesn’t think of Rivera "at all."
"Mariano is not on my mind when I’m pitching," Soriano said earlier Friday. "I’ve (closed games) before. Mariano is a great pitcher, but I know what to do. Right now I’m very comfortable, trying to help the team win."
Soriano’s history is indeed an ally, having led the American League in saves in 2010 with the Rays. He came to the Yankees as a free agent, although under less than ideal circumstances. Not only was Soriano busted down a rank to eighth-inning set-up man, he was signed to a three-year, $35 million deal over Brian Cashman’s vehement objection.
The general manager was loathe to pay any reliever, no matter how talented, that much for the 22nd through 24th outs. But Cashman was overruled by Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine, who were unnerved by the Red Sox’ off-season acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
Cashman was content re-signing Rivera and Derek Jeter that winter, and insisted on drawing the line on Soriano. He was overruled, but now concedes Soriano has done a "fantastic job" in this unforeseen emergency.
Cashman’s sentiment is echoed throughout the organization: Soriano has averted a potential crisis, and is pitching with even greater authority in 2012 than he did in 2011. He hasn’t given up a home run this season, and seen spikes in his strikeout and ground ball ratios.
But the Yankees’ economic picture has changed since Soriano arrived. There’s persistent talk of trimming the payroll to $189 million in 2014 as a way to make room for free agents to-be Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson without incurring luxury tax penalties.
To come in under that threshold will mean shedding some of the high-priced veteran talent. Parts of the equation are easily to project. Hiroki Kuroda’s $10 million will be gone, just as Nick Swisher will (likely) be. The Yankees are assuming Rivera and his $15 million will be off the books in two more years, too, even if he makes a successful comeback in 2013.
Soriano? As much as the Bombers appreciate his contribution, they wouldn’t mind shedding the $14 million he’s due next year. Assuming Rivera does heal from knee surgery, he’ll reclaim his job and force Soriano back to the set-up role. And paying an eighth-inning asset $14 million is "just nuts," said one major league executive. "Only the Yankees would do something that crazy, and I’m not sure even they can afford it."
There’s an escape hatch for both sides, however: Soriano can opt out of his contract after this season and close elsewhere. The Yankees are hoping a successful showcase will make it easy for Soriano to attract interest - if not for that $14 million, then at least for a three-year contract that might yield, say, $40 million. And therein lies Soriano’s dilemma. Does he surrender next year’s Yankees paycheck in favor of becoming someone else’s ninth-inning guardian?
Soriano is characteristically guarded about his future.
"Right now I’m thinking only about this year," he said quietly. "My first goal is to win a championship. That’s why I came here, to win. After that, we will see."
Soriano is represented by Scott Boras, which means he’d driven by a hunger for the largest possible windfall. The super-agent has recently nudged the Yankees about a contract extension, pointing out they’ve been given a free preview of 2014 when Rivera could be retired and home with his family. If anything, Boras says, Soriano’s value should’ve increased in the last two months.The Yankees’ politely declined, already projecting the younger and more affordable David Robertson as the next Rivera. In fact, when the team’s hierarchy talk about late-game weaponry, they make sure to mention all of their relievers, not just Soriano.
"We feel we have a number of guys who are capable of closing," said Cashman. "Everyone (in the bullpen) has performed well, especially after they’ve been asked to take on an enhanced role."
That’s a thinly-veiled pushback at Boras, which cuts to the heart of the Yankees’ relationship with Soriano. Call it love-hate. Love the saves, absolutely hate writing the checks."
"Rivera was used almost exclusively in situations where the game was on the line. And, because of his ability to get everyone out, he racked up 107.2 innings, putting up a +4.4 win season that ranks as the third highest of any reliever in the last 30 years.... showing he could handle a heavy workload and sustain a brilliant performance doing it."...(FanGraphs, scroll down)
That year Rivera had 35 games of 2 or more IP, 8 of which were 3IP, 8 wins and 5 saves. Per Joel Sherman, "Rivera went 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA, held opponents to a .193 batting average, and broke Goose Gossage's Yankee relief record of 122 strikeouts by fanning 130 in 107.2 innings.
- Most amazingly, of the record 4,962 homers spanked in 1996,
From page 208, Joel Sherman's book, "Birth of a Dynasty," published in 2006 by Rodale.
Rivera's 1996 continued on to 3 levels of post season play including 3 days in a row in the 1996 World Series. Even by 2003, not much was said about Mo other than he was good. His picture was on the cover of a book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," about the 2001 Yankees. In 2003, Eric Gagne's face was seen nightly on ESPN, and Gagne was given the NL Cy Young Award based on his "regular season total save stat" record. Rivera has never come close to winning that award.
In 2005, Rivera was #1 on the MLB AL Cy Young Predictor. He was almost 19 points ahead of Colon:
But specially selected BBWAA voters judged Rivera a very distant second. 6 voters left his name entirely off their ballot. The "save" stat is very handy. One day persons will say it's a meaningless joke of a stat, the next day the same people can say a pitcher isn't good enough because he should have had more cookie saves. Or a variation of that. In 2005, one of the 6 assigned AL Cy Young voters who left Mariano Rivera completely off their ballot was Sheldon Ocker:
11/9/2005, "Baseball; Award Eludes Rivera; Colon Wins the Cy Young," NY Times, Tyler Kepner
- ''That's probably another thing that hurts him: he's had so many good seasons that, well,
- it's just another good season for Rivera,'' Ocker said.
So Rivera's 7 wins in his 78.1IP in 2005 don't count. He can't have the award because saves are no good, then he can't have it because he didn't have enough cookie saves. In a season in which the Yankees and Red Sox
- ended the season in an exact tie.
The Yankees didn't exactly have the luxury of waiting around to give Rivera easy saves. The AL Cy Young award is decided by BBWAA's Jack O'Connell when he selects which 26 voters will vote for the award. 2005 was only 2 years removed from 2003 when the award was given to Eric Gagne. Some people might have said there were big reasons Rivera deserved it as much if not more than Eric Gagne. To make absolutely sure this didn't happen, a lot of people would have had to leave Mo completely off their ballot, and that's what happened. 6 voters left his name off the ballot. Some said his being a Yankee helped keep him from the award. At least one insider says it was a pistol-whipping, anti-Yankee bias plus spite that withheld the award from Rivera. Even without incessant prompting from Bud Selig, writers are quite willing to punish deserving Yankee players at awards time "because they're on a team of rich guys getting it done." Besides, Selig's heart belongs to another.
In the 2007 post season, Rivera seemed to take the Bugs in stride, ALDS game 2 in Cleveland, pitched 2 innings in a tie game, bottom of 9th and 10th, left with score still tied 1-1, but Yankees lost in bottom of the 11th.
- Rivera has never been higher than 9th in MVP voting.
After Rivera's 16 inning 2009 post season more people starting thinking of him as the best. During the 2009 ALCS, Howard Bryant wrote:
10/23/09, "Moves Making ALCS More Interesting," Howard Bryant, ESPN.com
- "Of all the positions in all of professional team sports,
- there is no greater gap than the best closer of all time
- to the second-best.
- He is that good....
- his two-thirds of an inning in the eighth of Game 5 (10/22/09)
- underscored his greatness as a pitcher."...
Rivera's 2011 "regular season total save stat" record was correctly viewed as icing on the cake:
"Not that he needed it or that anyone cared about the number itself."...
- 9/20/11, "Mariano Rivera: Dream-come-true closer reaches the pinnacle," Washington Post, Thomas Boswell
Just for the record, I like to note his 2 saves in one day. As of 5/26/10, Rivera pitched 2 saves in one day 6 times in regular season, the 6th time being 5/26/10. The 5/25/10 game was shortened due to rain. It's final 3 innings were played on 5/26 along with the game scheduled for that day. Rivera pitched the ending of the 5/25 game as well as the 5/26/10 game, both were 1-run games. 2 saves in one day 5 x was noted in a 5/3/07 AP article by Elias. The link for that is likely inactive now. I mention this because his six 2 saves in one day doesn't usually show up on stat sheets assessing durability. Rivera's 5/26/10 two-game outing doesn't show up on any records anyway because the 5/25 game is listed as having been played entirely on that day.
1/14/11, MLB.com, "Giants' pitchers arming themselves against short offseason," by Chris Haft
MLB expressed concern that Giants' pitchers have had to work an extra month in the post season. However, teams have been in this situation since 1995 when 3 levels of post season play became standard:
"Adding a month to their 2010 season while winning the World Series also added
- concerns for the Giants about the state of their pitching."...
The 2010 strain on the Giants is referenced by the AP on 4/29/12:
"A lot of times, people don't understand mentally and physically how you have to overextend when you go to the playoffs and World Series," Baker said. "You're still pitching while everybody else is home resting. That's a lot more. And you have less time to recover for next year. You have a shorter winter.
"Winning takes its toll, big time. There's nothing better than that, but it takes its toll.""...
- 4/29/12, "7 closers on disabled list, showing it's a high-risk job," AP, Joe Kay
- 7/28/06, "Papelbon Makes a Speedy Arrival," Washington Post, Dave Sheinin
Rivera was named MVP of the 2003 ALCS and the 1999 World Series which was nice. People would say, oh, yeah, Rivera's good in the post season, as if it were a separate sport, not to be dwelt on. Move along. He pitched the equivalent of 2 additional years of relief work, 141 innings, sandwiched alongside his regular season work, but it's not allowed to be mentioned.
Here's another citation about baseball awards voters and anti-Yankee bias:
In fact, he'll be lucky to finish in the top three in the voting.
Sadly, most baseball writers/voters just can't look past the Yankees' $200 million payroll to actually see what he's done.
Plus, there's an anti-New York vote that swirls around Baseball America whether folks want to admit it or not."...
- 9/22/2011, "Joe Girardi deserves a lot of credit," Rob Parker, ESPN New York