Why Soriano to the Yankees makes horrible business sense.

January 15, 2011

Oh, to be the New York Yankees. Small market fans sighed collectively with the signing of Rafael Soriano to the New York Yankees this past week.  The Yanks now have two relief pitchers on their roster making tens of millions of dollars annually:

Mariano Rivera – $15 million

Rafael Soriano – $11.67 million

Unfortunately a move like this can’t really hamstring a franchise like the Yankees because they’re one of only a few teams that could go out there and pay a set-up man the third highest salary among all relief pitchers in baseball.  Fortunately this move does lend itself to criticism, however, which brings me some solace in this moment of big market spending.  So, let’s analyze, shall we?

Problem Number 1: Soriano was a Type A free agent.  That type of player forces the team that signs him to give up their first round pick in the draft.  And not a week before Soriano inked this ridiculous deal, General Manager Brian Cashman had stated the only free agent in baseball that he would have surrendered the Yankees’ first round pick for was super-star Cliff Lee.  Apparently unhappy about not landing any big-name free agents this off season, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman’s decision and made an obnoxious splash in the free agent pool.  The school of thought for the Steinbrenners was that with an uncertain rotation, the bullpen had better be strong.  This signing is counterproductive to Cashman’s philosophy, however, which was clearly to not overpay for relief pitching and stockpile some young, impact talent in a thin farm system.  We’ve seen what can happen when the Yankees try and go one direction (developing players, utilizing draft picks wisely) and then turn a complete 180 (sign Randy Johnson, trade for Xavier Nady).

3 years, $35 million as a set up man? Thank you, Baseball Gods!

Problem Number 2: Relief pitchers making lots of money not named ‘Rivera’ don’t work out well in New York.  Ask Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, and Kyle Farnsworth how their bloated contracts worked out for them.  All of them had reasonably successful careers before being acquired by the Yankees, and then all of them blew up in one form or another in the Bronx.

At least you'll be in pinstripes at the end of your career. (L-R: Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, and Clark Kent. I mean, Kyle Farnsworth)

Cashman has made some savvy moves with his bullpen before (Mike Stanton had an All-Star year, Joba Chamberlain), but none of them have involved paying middle relief pitchers or set up men above the league average for bullpen arms.  It doesn’t make good fiscal sense.  Relief pitching is too unpredictable and there are too many good arms out there that can throw successfully in short relief for well below the league average to overpay Soriano like that.

3. Problem Number 3: There is plenty of cheap, effective relief pitching out there if you draft and sign thoughtfully.  Billy Beane has made a career out of it in Oakland (hello Brad Ziegler, Andrew Bailey).  If you want more proof, check out the article below by Forbes and Yahoo! about the best relief pitching bargains out there.  Some of the guys on the list barely make about the league minimum.

4. Problem Number 4: Arm problems.  Soriano has spent portions of several seasons on the DL with sore arms, elbows, and shoulders and has had the ol’ Tommy John.  That’s a risky $11.67 million investment.

Who knows.  Maybe this is the year that Rafael Soriano proves the rest of the world wrong and has a year worth $11.67 million as a set-up man in New York (Honestly, I’m not quite sure how a set-up man could ever justify that salary in New York or anywhere else).  Would I love to see this blow up in the faces of the Steinbrenners?  Absolutely.  As a fan of baseball, I hate the lack of parity that surrounds the league.  So when teams like the Yankees go out and buck trends like blowing tons of money on  a set-up guy, I enjoy watching it backfire.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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