Soriano a curious move for Yankees
Reliever's talent unquestioned, but starting pitching still a need
So this is interesting.
By now you probably know that the Yankees broke into Fort Knox and handed Rafael Soriano, the game's premier remaining free agent, a three-year, $35 million contract.
On the surface, this seems like a good move for New York; Soriano was one of the top closers last season, masterfully saving 45 games closing for the Rays while providing a 1.73 ERA.
Sure, $11.67 million a year for an eighth-inning man seems beyond excessive (even in a Joaquin Benoit three-year, $16.5 million free-market economy), but the bottom line and unquestioned fact is that the Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday. All in all, this is a good thing.
But the real question remains: Are the Yankees a better team today than they were last season?
Last year at the Trade Deadline, the Yankees acquired another closer who wouldn't close for them in Kerry Wood. Wood proceeded to pitch very well in pinstripes, posting a 0.69 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 26 innings and securing a role as the team's primary setup man.
This is not me inferring that the Yankees should have given Wood all the taxicab mini-tree air fresheners in New York to convince him to stay in the Bronx. Instead, this is me inferring that the Yankees are -- at best -- in as good of a position now with their right-handed late-inning role as they were a season ago. And this actually is also a good thing.
What is not a good thing is the fact that Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are still the team's No. 4 and 5 starters. This is not so much an indictment on Nova and Mitre; they've both flashed promise and would battle for final rotation spots for several Major League clubs. But obviously, the Yankees are not just any Major League club, and the fact that the likes of Nova and Mitre are still in serious contention for a rotation spot on a team that has a $200 million-plus payroll boggles my mind all the way to Reno.
So how did we get here? Well, I can't help but compare the Yankees' underwhelming offseason script to a fantasy baseball auction draft gone wrong.
For those who have never taken part in an auction-style fantasy draft, the rules are simple. Each person in your league is given an identical budget of fake dollars (normally $260). One by one, baseball players are brought up for auction and awarded to the highest bidder. The key in any auction draft is to have a good balance between being crafty enough to wait for good deals and not being afraid to spend big bucks on players you want.
The absolute code-red, worst-case scenario is hanging onto your money too long as you wait for prices to fall at the end of the draft. Eventually, all the premium players go off the board at market price, and next thing you know, you're panicking because there are no elite players left and you still have a fistful of dollars burning a hole in your pocket. This is how guys like Adam LaRoche sometimes end up going for $35 at the end of the draft when Ryan Howard went for the same price a few hours earlier.
It seems like something similar happened here with the Yankees. From Zack Greinke to Matt Garza to Brandon Webb to Shaun Marcum to even Aaron Harang, Brad Penny and Jeff Francis, there has been no shortage of big-name starters changing uniforms this offseason. And with each of these transactions, the Yankees have sat idly by, planning to use their resources to land something else -- whatever that might be.
And now, midway through January, here we are: All the big names are off the market, and with stacks of cash that were once reserved for Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte still sitting neatly in a pinstriped bank account, the Yanks (predictably) finally decided to join the Hot Stove big dance and fork over $35 million for a glorified right-handed setup man.
Again, given the current market and available players and endless budget, it was probably the right move to make. I just wouldn't be calling Yankees management for help with your auction draft next month.
Dave Feldman is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.