Rafael Soriano signing could burn Yankees in years to come
New York's bullpen will be great but it's losing key a draft pick to an AL East rival
If Andy Pettitte decides to retire, the Yankees have to find a left-handed starter
Appreciating the remarkable character and career of saves king Trevor Hoffman
Here's Yankees GM Brian Cashman to the Journal News on Jan. 7: "I will not lose our number one draft pick. I would have for Cliff Lee. I won't lose our number one draft pick for anyone else." Well, his vow was good for six days.
Sure enough, the Yankees gave up their first-round pick (to Tampa Bay, no less) as well as $49 million ($35 million over three years plus $14 million in competitive balance taxes) to acquire reliever Rafael Soriano. Why would New York punt its first round pick and pay closer money to a guy who is a setup reliever for the next two years -- and that's if he doesn't opt out after this season? Because it can. Remember that during discussions about the competitive balance tax when labor negotiations heat up this summer.
New York didn't blink when it comes to running a tab of about $40 million for pitchers who don't start for them (that would include the otherwise forgotten Kei Igawa and Damaso Marte and the spare part that Joba Chamberlain has become). For that money they should have the best bullpen in baseball, especially with the $25 million outlay on Mariano Rivera and Soriano, the best endgame combination anywhere.
Signing Soriano, as much as other clubs might resent New York's spending, is a smart move. The Yankees signed the best pitcher left on the market and the cost changes nothing about the way they do business. (They still have money to spend on their bench and they can nab the equivalent of the 31st overall pick, the one they lost, in the international market or by going over slot in a later round.)
Because they whiffed on ace Cliff Lee twice in the past year -- once by not including Eduardo Nunez in a trade with Seattle last July and the second time when Lee opted for Philadelphia as a free agent in December -- the Yankees will try a new architecture: build a pitching staff from the back forward. Despite the greatness of Rivera, New York has not finished first or second in the league in bullpen ERA in any of the past 11 seasons.
As for the draft, of the first 40 selections this summer the Red Sox have four picks and the Yankees zero. The Rays now have seven picks between No. 24 and No. 51 and will get two more high picks now that reliever Grant Balfour, a Type-A free-agent, has reached a deal with the A's.
The Yankees needed Soriano in part because they still don't know what's up with Andy Pettitte. Pettitte, who turns 39 in June, is a key to what happens in the AL East this year because he is lefthanded, and the Yankees, even with that monster bullpen, need lefthanded starting pitching in their ballpark and to match up against the lefthanded thump of the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees have one lefthanded starter on their 40-man roster: CC Sabathia. New York likes prospect Manuel Banuelos, but not so soon and not for 32 starts. He turns 20 in March and has pitched three games above A ball.
Pettitte's decision to pitch or not this year depends not on any physical issues but whether he wants to leave his family for another season. So far, the answer is no and, because he prides himself on being a reliable teammate, so far he also is not interested in cutting a deal to play half a season.
Look what happened the last time Pettitte didn't come back to the Yankees. That was 2004, when the Yankees allowed lefthanders Pettitte and David Wells to leave as free agents and went with an all-righthanded rotation. New York went 11-15 against Boston, including that monumental collapse in the ALCS in which Felix Heredia was the only lefty on the roster. (The Yankees used righthanders for all but four outs in the series as David Ortiz kept coming up with big hits against righthanders).
Keep this in mind if the Yankees don't find another lefthanded starter: Here's how the Yankees have fared going back to 1950 with fewer than 33 starts by lefthanders:
No sooner had word broke that all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman was retiring that so, too, did a massive rush to define him by his Hall of Fame worthiness. He won't be on a ballot for five years.
Now is the time to appreciate not a candidacy but a dedicated, courageous career. Hoffman lost a kidney as an infant, flamed out quickly in pro ball as a .225-hitting shortstop, converted to pitching, bounced among three organizations in his first four years, blew out his rotator cuff, underwent two other shoulder surgeries, and spent much of his career nailing down the final three outs of close games while unable to break 90 mph. His changeup wasn't the result of magic or sleight of hand. It was the triumph of lifelong persistence. The man never gave in.
Hoffman finished his career with more strikeouts than innings, a 2.87 ERA, 601 saves, and pitched more games without winning the World Series than any righthander in history. But what comes to mind first about Hoffman is not the statistical portfolio but the character of the man.
He won the Lou Gehrig, Hutch and Branch Rickey Awards because of his humility and charity. (Here's one personal story about Hoffman's classy manner. After I once wrote a story about him, I received an all-time first from an athlete: a hand-written thank you note from him.) Hoffman was known for being the template of what a leader and teammate should be: unselfish and accountable. Such a legacy, beyond anything cast in bronze, is what truly should endure.