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(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog)

All winter, Brian Cashman has taken his lumps for patiently biding his time during the off season. However, those criticism were nothing compared to harsh rebukes he has received in the hours since John Heyman announced that the Yankees had signed Rafael Soriano.

Before delving into the wisdom of the signing, the pink elephant in the room is Cashman’s earlier insistence that the Yankees would not surrender a first round pick for any free agent not named Cliff Lee. So, either Cashman was holding his cards close to the vest (i.e., lying), had a serious change of heart, or was overruled by another in the organization.

If Cashman was being deceptive, well, good for him. His chief responsibility is to make the Yankees better, so if that means throwing up a smoke screen or two, so be it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see where the Yankees benefitted from an improved negotiation position, but then again, the full details of the contract and pursuant negotiations have not been revealed. Nonetheless, a general managers’ commandments are made to be broken when the right (or sometimes wrong) deal comes along. Just ask Bubba Crosby.

As mentioned, the exact terms of the Soriano contract have not yet been divulged, so in the details may be the reason why Cashman did an about face from his earlier vow.  Maybe he believed that Soriano would return to the Rays at a discount, or sign with a wild card competitor? Perhaps further evaluation of the draft revealed less than promising prospects for the 31st pick? Maybe it was Andy Pettitte’s latest display of indecision that pushed his hand? Or, it could be that Cashman has other contingent moves in place (e.g., moving Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation, or a trade that involves the team’s now impressive bullpen depth)? Regardless, just because Cashman changed his mind doesn’t mean he panicked.

The third option is the one that is cause for real concern. In his daily column, Buster Olney hinted at a divide within the Yankees organization, while Peter Gammons tweeted that Randy Levine was the driving force behind the signing. Even Mariano Rivera has been credited with holding sway. If true, that could be disastrous for the Yankees. Whether you like Cashman or not, the Yankees have seemed to benefit from having one coherent voice on baseball-related matters, so a return to the days of front office factions could have undesirable consequences. I am sure more on that topic will be written in the coming days, but usually when there’s an early leak, there’s also an unhappy general manager.

Putting aside the intrigue behind the Yankees’ change in course, let’s now return to an examination of the player and the contract (for a concise rundown of how the Yankees blogosphere has reacted to the deal, check out Bronx Banter). The biggest criticism of the deal has dealt with the fact that Soriano does not address the team’s greatest weakness, which, of course, is the starting rotation. But, should that really make a difference? The Yankees did not get Cliff Lee, nor were they able to trade for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza. Nothing can change that reality, and there are no apparent acquisition targets capable of filling the resulting void.

Instead of focusing on a cadre of has-beens, also-rans, and could-bes, the Yankees instead decided to bolster the backend of the bullpen with a bonafide quality reliever. Granted, the contract, which at $11.7 million per year makes Soriano the third highest paid reliever in the game, seems exorbitant, but should that matter to anyone but the Yankees’ accountants? After all, just because he will be paid closer money doesn’t mean he won’t be very valuable pitching in the eighth inning. When you are a billion dollar franchise in an offseason when no one else will take your money, you can afford that kind of luxury.

Another knock on the contract stems from the fact that Soriano has had Tommy John surgery, but since undergoing the procedure in 2004, he bounced back with healthy seasons in four of the last five. In 2008, however, Soriano missed most of the season and eventually required another elbow surgery, so the risk is definitely real. But, again, that’s really a financial concern.

Statistically speaking, it’s nearly impossible to justify the monetary terms of the contract, so once you get past that hang-up, the bottom line becomes that the Yankees are a better team with Soriano than without. Even if one wanted to boil down the addition in terms of value added, it could be argued that if he pitches as he did in 2010, Soriano would come close to approximating the contribution that would be lost if Andy Pettitte does in fact retire. Also, in addition to giving the Yankees one of the major’s best bullpens, it also provides the team more flexibility, both in terms of whom they can move into the rotation and how much rest they can afford Rivera. There is a domino effect at play, and although the benefits don’t trickle down enough to match a $12 million outlay, the addition of Soriano does strengthen the team.

Perhaps the most legitimate criticism of the deal centers around losing the 31st pick in the 2011 Rule IV draft. It should be noted, however, that the Yankees still have a supplemental round pick thanks to the departure of Javier Vazquez. So, if the draft really is as deep as many experts have suggested, the Yankees should still have enough quality selections to replenish their farm system.

Finally, much has been made of Soriano’s opt out clauses, which allow him to terminate the deal after the first two seasons AND be paid a $1.5 million buyout for his troubles. Although this may seem to be a very one-sided perk, it actually gives the Yankees an out in the event that Soriano has a terrific 2011 season. Because the contract is end-loaded, it isn’t likely that Soriano’s future performance would ever surpass his salary, so if the right hander were to allow his ego to send him back into the free agent market, the Yankees would be freed of the risk associated with the length of the deal. In other words, the Yankees would wind up with one great year from Soriano and Type-A free agent compensation, which means they’d swap one draft pick for two. Should that happen, the Yankees’ end of the bargain would look much better, which is exactly why the opt outs are probably more in their best interest than Soriano’s (i.e., it provides him with a temptation that isn’t likely to work toward his benefit).

8 Responses to “Soriano Signing Makes Yanks Better on the Field, but Does it Reveal a Split in the Front Office?”

  1. I love the signing. 1: Money doesn’t matter. If it did, A-Rod and Jeter would both be playing somewhere else for 1/2 the money. 2: The draft pick doesn’t matter. Three or more players with more upside were selected after Culver in the most recent draft. 3: It makes the Yanks better.
    I’d argue that other than re-signing Mo, its best thing that’s happened to the Yanks all offseason.  (Quote)

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  2. Hey all, Happy New Years! I haven’t been on recently due to the holidays and the lack of much Yankee related in the line of off season news.

    I just want to say that I really like this signing as I have been calling for the singing myself for a month now, I also don’t mind it being for 11 million (which is the number I suggested for 1 year) and if he opts out and leaves us after this year I think that is the best case scenario seeing as we will get two draft picks upon his leaving.

    Everyone that is against this signing has the same very valid points as always and that being that relievers of any kind just aren’t that valuable in the regular season and at best they pitch 60-70 innings of ball in games you already have the lead but what I have been waiting to read is someone mention the playoffs.

    This deal doesn’t make sense for a team struggling to make the playoffs and hoping Soriano is going to be the bump they need to get into the big dance, this is a move you make when you your tickets are already bought but you need to upgrade your chances of getting lucky at the end of the night, you don’t bring booze to the prom if you have no date.

    This is a move that makes us inherently better come October by allowing Mariano to not have to pitch as many 1.1, 1.2 and 2 IP ball games which we have all seen plenty of latley, we end up with a lead late in the playoffs all you need is to get to Mo in the 9th and you win but so often he’s in by the 8th thanks to shotty relief work. Even last year with Kerry Wood we saw our share of extra innings by Mo against playoff competition in stressful work loads, this has always bothered me because at this age you risk pitching the man more than 1 inning in one game and losing him for more than in the most important part of the year.

    Now we have a lock down bridge that shouldn’t need to be bailed out as much as we have had to do in the past with Mariano and of course there is always the game 7 (or any game really but preferably the last game of the Series) 2 IP for Soriano and 2 IP for Mariano to win the whole thing, this signing literally turns any “must win” or “loser goes home game” into a 5 inning affair because if healthy Soriano could cover the 6th and 7th while Mariano relieves him for the 8th and 9th, obviously this isn’t something that would happen very often and in fact in the 3 years he could be here (2 with Mo) it may never happen but at least having the options open to us we have now is more than could be said recently when you consider that even Hughes in our World Series winning year struggled in the playoffs as a setup man after being solid all year.

    There is risk to the deal with injury and it is a lot of money but at the end of the day every contract comes with health risks (Damaso Marte) and since we are the New York Yankees, the same Yankees that are still 20 million away from their payroll limit, I don’t think we have to worry about money much in this instance because if he performs no one will care and if he doesn’t the money will be the least of out bitches.  (Quote)

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  3. Good stuff, William.

    One quibble, I don’t think its as unlikely as you do that he walks after one year. If someone offers him another 3 year deal at similar or even slightly less AAV, he’ll walk. Since baseball contracts are all guaranteed, they are generally looked at in total dollars. If someone lets it be known there is 3/30 deal out there and he has 22.5 left on his Yankee deal, he will most likely take it.  (Quote)

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    William J. Reply:

    I don’t actually think it’s unlikely he’d walk. However, it is unlikely that his future performance will ever exceed is current salary, meaning the Yankees wouldn’t run the risk of Soriano being a $15mn performer who opted out of his $11.7mn salary (i.e., the Yankees would have given up the chance to underpay Soriano). That is, after all, the Yankees only risk in the opt out. Otherwise, Soriano excercising the opt out would be a positive, unless the Yankees decide to give him an even better contract (as they did with Arod).  (Quote)

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  4. The downside to the deal is one of risk. The risk of an injury. Statistically, the odds are on the Yankees side he will not suffer a career-ending injury in 2011, which means he will opt-out. (I’d like to see a list of Scott Boras clients who had an opt-out clause and then never used it when they were healthy.) So this comes down to being a one-year contract, which will make the Yankees better, and they will get back their first-round pick, plus now get a supplemental pick in 2012, if Soriano does his job. The Yankees are assuming the risk that he doesn’t suffer a substantial injury and that he continues to perform as he has done throughout his career. If he doesn’t, it will cost them money, something the Yankees can handle.

    I wouldn’t have done the deal, but it doesn’t bother me since it does make them stronger in 2011, and if Soriano does his job in 2011, it could very well turn out to be an excellent deal.  (Quote)

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    MikeD Reply:

    …adding a question to my own posting. Do the Yankees get compensation picks if Soriano leaves? I meant to check on this yesterday, but forgot, but I’m not quite sure if a player has an opt-out in his contract if that’s treated the same as a player becoming a regular free-agent after refusing arbitration. If so, it’s another brilliant move by Boras, because it will eliminate one of the reasons some teams wouldn’t sign Soriano. He no longer would be a Type A. If that’s the case, it greatly increases the chances he will opt-out again, furthering the chance this will be a one-year contract.

    Does anyone know?  (Quote)

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    williamnyy23 Reply:

    The Yankees would definitely get compensation because once a player opts out, he becomes a regular free agent. When AJ Burnett opted out, for example, the Blue Jays got a supplemental round pick and a thrid rounder (the Yankees 1st pick whent for Tex and 2nd pick went for Sabathia).

    The only way the Yankees wouldn’t get compensation is if they don’t offer Soriano arbitration, either because they think he’d win a larger settlement or they’ve made an agreement with him not do so.  (Quote)

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