Rafael Soriano-One of the top free agent relievers available this off season
One of the Yanks biggest needs this off season may be finding a setup man to replace the stellar work Phil Hughes did this past season. If Hughes is targeted for the rotation next year (early indications say that he is) then there will be a gaping hole that needs to be filled in the bridge to Mariano Rivera. While everyone seems to be focused on Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, finding a primary set up man to build a bridge to Mariano may be the Yanks biggest need this off season.
First approach to consider would be internal options. Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Brian Bruney, Phil Coke and possibly Mark Melancon would all be possibilities for this role. Let’s walk through them one by one.
Damaso Marte-His rates have all been surprisingly good with the Yanks, but his ERA is high and he hasn’t been overly effective except for stretches here and there. When the Yanks got him, they believed they acquired a pitcher who could get both Righties and Lefties out (as he did in PITT) but last year Righties destroyed him in limited action. A Lefty specialist role seems to suit him best in the AL East.
David Robertson-Breakout season for the Alabama native, with a SO/9IP rate that was among the best in the majors. Fastball sits in the low 90s but plays up due to good late life on the pitch. Compliments the fastball with an outstanding, late-breaking curve. When he works low in the zone with those two pitches, he can be very tough. But he could also be a 1 year wonder. His control has always been average and if he loses that late life on the fastball for any reason, he becomes very hittable. He’s earned a larger role, but we still need to see more.
Brian Bruney-I think both fans and Yankee execs alike are sick of waiting for the good Bruney to show up. We saw it for a brief stretch in 2008, but a Lisfranc injury derailed him that season. This year, a recurring elbow injury and whispers that he’ll ultimately need TJS made for a frustrating and mostly ineffective campaign. It’s an open question whether he’s a non-tender candidate, but I’ll guess they bring him back one more time.
Phil Coke-His propensity for giving up HRs to Lefties as a Lefty specialist in Yankee Stadium has to concern you, but it’s possible that its just a statistical blip in a short career. He was one of the Yanks go-to guys earlier this season, and pitched his way down in the pecking order over the course of the season. His one World Series outing went horrendously, giving up 2 HRs to Utley and Ibanez (both Lefty hitters) in a low leverage situation in Game 5. You’ll keep him around since he’s relatively young (26) and cheap, but won’t lean on him too heavily. He has ‘cup of coffee in the bigs’ written all over him.
Mark Melancon-Yanks are still high on him, but for a kid who we all heard had ‘off the charts make-up’ he certainly seemed spooked by the bigs. That’s OK, you expect rookies to be nervous and I suspect he’ll make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training if he has a decent spring. After that, it will be up to him to earn a larger role.
So unless you want to go Lefty-Righty with a combo of D-Rob and Marte (which isn’t crazy) it appears the Yanks will need a big time reliever to fill that 8th inning role. The problem with that setup tandem is that you’ve weakened the prior group, so when a starter gets knocked out in the 6th you’d be looking at Bruney/Coke/Melancon/Aceves to get you to your dynamic duo. You’d like to have the talent spread around a bit more, if Bruney, Coke and Melancon repeat their 09 campaigns, you’ll be losing a lot of games in those middle innings. Throw in an injury or two and things could get even uglier. The best way to approach this would be to get someone who can get Righties and Lefties out to set up for Mo.
So now that we’ve established we could use an arm (or two), we move on to our free agent options. The 2010 Free agent list for middle relievers doesn’t excite me, so I’d pursue one of the closers and see if they’d be interested in setting up. The two that stand out on that list are Lefty Mike Gonzalez and Righty Rafael Soriano. Both were on the Atlanta Braves last season, Gonzalez was the Braves primary setup man for most of the 2009 season and Soriano was their closer, although both have played each role in recent years. Soriano was setting up for Gonzalez in 2008. The Yanks have expressed an interest in Gonzalez in the past, they pursued him aggressively when he was made available by the Pirates in 2007, but the Braves offer of Jamie Romak (minors) and Adam LaRoche proved to be the winning bid. Signing someone with closer ability also provides some insurance if the 39 year old Mariano Rivera begins showing signs of age, but I gave up waiting for that about 3 years ago.
Another thing to consider is the Type A Draft pick status of both pitchers. I’ve heard some fans claim that it’s not worth the 1st draft pick to sign any reliever. That may be true with fringe Type As (see Juan Cruz last year) it’s not the case with proven talents like Gonzalez and Soriano. Look at it this way. If you signed Pitcher X with the 30th pick of the 2010 draft, and after 3 years in your farm system he turned into a solid reliever, you’d be happy. If he was hurt after 3-4 years with the team and/or lost his effectiveness, you wouldn’t be all that surprised. Given the attrition rates on pitchers (especially draftees) it’s tough to go nuts about losing a draft pick when you sign a proven MLB reliever for multiple years. I’m well aware of the fact that MLB relievers can be up and down as well, but that applies every bit as much to home grown relievers as it does FA’s, if not more. Will anyone be shocked if Phil Coke pitches his way off the Yanks and is DFA’d next season? Not me. Yet if Gonzalez or Soriano bombed out here (far less likely) they would still have value on the trade market. All of that should be factored in. Also consider that a MLB pitcher has a proven track record of staying healthy, whereas so many pitchers with all the talent in the world get drafted and never make it to the bigs for health-related reasons. I value filling that need now with a proven MLB player more than a prospect who may very well never arrive. Yanks are a win now team, this is one of the times when that changes how you approach things. This team needs this specific role filled this season.
So the draft pick compensation for relievers doesn’t bother me when discussing high-end types (Fringy middle relievers are another matter). The only real argument I can see is the money you lost, and for the Yanks that’s no big deal. Mike Gonzalez and/or Rafael Soriano would be great additions to the Yanks.
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