Despite Brian Cashman’s recent admission, that the bullpen is not an “area of obvious need,” today Buster Olney (ESPN) writes that the Yankees “No. 1 area of focus, beyond the Damon/Matsui realm: their bullpen. They will look for two relievers, in all likelihood.” This is a strange comment, as the team’s second real need “beyond the Damon/Matsui realm” seems to be fleshing out their rotation (Cashman said as much yesterday), but Olney’s assertion certainly make sense when you consider the relief realities that the Yankees will ultimately have to account for next season.
First, if we are to believe that the Yankees will use him as a starter in 2010, then the team will feature a bullpen absent an effective Phil Hughes (he was worth 2.2 WAR as a reliever). Plus, outside of Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and a healthy Damaso Marte, you’re not really sure what to expect of Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and, dare I say, Brian Bruney next season. Furthermore, having some effective depth, and specifically effective veteran depth (which was sorely missed in the postseason), in the bullpen will allow the Yankees to employ Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes as starters, rather than relievers (for the entire season). For these reasons, I do think that the Yankees will and should look to bolster their bullpen, however, adding two relievers, as Olney suggests, probably won’t occur as even one deal can be a risky proposition (e.g., Farnsworth, Hawkins, etc.). Still, adding just one reliever can work if it’s the right guy.
This winter, I believe Rafael Soriano is the right guy.
After having two surgical procedures conducted on his right elbow last summer—ulnar ligament transposition and bone spur removal—the hard-throwing righty missed most of the 2008 season and failed to build on a strong ’07 campaign. However, in 2009, Soriano returned with a vengeance, as he split time closing games for Atlanta with Mike Gonzalez earlier in the year, and then ran away with the closer role later in the season. Thanks to a ferocious mid-90’s fastball and a sharp slider, he posted a 2.97 ERA (2.54 FIP) over 75 2/3 innings pitched, saving 27 games while striking out 102 hitters (that’s a K/9 of 12.13). Basically, when he’s healthy, Soriano is one of the best relievers in baseball and, as Keith Law (ESPN) noted, he is currently “the best reliever on the market, and better than any of the closers available on last winter’s market, including the vaunted K-Rod.” The only real knocks on Soriano are his health history—not only did he have elbow surgery last year, he also had Tommy John surgery in 2004, causing him to miss ’04-05—and his price tag, after establishing himself as a closer with the Braves. It is important to note, though, that the 29-year old has been healthy for 3 of the last 4 years, and he has not explicitly stated that he hopes to continue closing in 2010.
If the Yankees were to sign anyone to help the team’s relief corps, it seems as though Soriano would be an extremely good fit given his dominant skill set. He’s a young, powerful arm, capable of pitching in high leverage situations, and could serve as the bridge to Mariano Rivera. By adding an effective reliever of Soriano’s ilk, the New York bullpen would be deepened to the point where utilizing Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes for relief outs would become a thing of the past. If Buster Olney is correct and the Yankees intend on looking for “two relievers” this winter, they might as well put all of their multimillion dollar eggs into one particularly talented basket and sign the best reliever available.
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