After Mariano Rivera went down to injury, and the New York Yankees stopped fooling themselves with David Robertson in the closing role, Rafael Soriano was chosen as their go-to pitcher for ninth inning duties. This seemingly reluctant decision has been resolutely successful. Over 63 appearances, Soriano has collected 40 saves, shutting down the opposition 33 times with the fifth most win probability added among relief pitchers in the league this season.
In January of 2011, Soriano signed a three-year contract with the Yankees for $35 million. It was an interesting bit of business at the time because the reliever had Type A compensation attached to him, meaning that he cost New York a first-round draft pick that went to their division rival in Tampa Bay, along with a supplemental selection. Adding to the intrigue at the time was Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman candidly admitting that ownership was behind the signing, and he would have rather held on to the draft pick and avoided paying so much for a relief pitcher.
Such a stance becomes even more understandable when we look at the terms of the deal, which appear to favor the reliever beyond just the large amount of guaranteed money. After each of the first two years of the contract, Soriano has the option of accepting a $1.5 million buyout and hitting the open market. It makes sense that such a perk would be taken advantage of at the end of this season, considering his impressive numbers as a closer combined with the uncertainty surrounding the role next season with Rivera coming back. A multi-year deal would almost be a guarantee for the 32-year-old.
There is a supposed wrinkle to all of this. If Soriano was to opt out of his contract, the Yankees would be able to give him a qualifying offer, and once again require the sacrifice of a draft pick from any team interested in signing him to a free agent contract.
This is especially interesting because the new collective bargaining agreement did away with the old free agent compensation rules in part to better protect free agent relief pitchers who were being overvalued in terms of the compensation they returned, and therefore undervalued on the free agent market. When the Major League Baseball Players Association negotiated the current deal, I doubt they had the handcuffing of Rafael Soriano in mind.
As the past has proven, it’s one thing to commit a high dollar value to a relief pitcher, and quite another to also give up on the valuable return that a high draft pick figures to provide under cost control for six years. If anyone would test the boundaries of the willingness of other teams to spend both dollars and this type of potential value on a reliever, it might be Soriano coming off the season that he’s currently enjoying.
However, if no team is willing to do this, then Soriano would be forced into accepting New York’s qualifying offer which will be a one-year contract worth $13.3 million – $13.4 million. When we add in the $1.5 million buyout that Soriano receives when he opts out of his deal, he would actually stand to make an extra $800,000 to $900,000 in 2013.
As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports points out, the compensation requirement to sign Soriano would certainly lessen his value on the free agent market. However, that would also hold true for the 2014 season if he doesn’t opt out. He has the opportunity to do it right now, with a worst case scenario of earning almost an additional $1 million in the process.\
While I still remain doubtful that the MLBPA had Soriano in mind specifically during negotiations, the new CBA could work quite well for the reliever at the conclusion of the season.