Friday, January 14, 2011

Mariano to Soriano

Me yesterday: "The Rays won't go downhill as a result of their payroll slash immediately... Then again, maybe the Rays WILL collapse. It appears they're going to sign Kyle Farnsworth! Cousin Larry, now, we so happy, we do the dance of joy!"

Me today: Maybe the Rays now have another reason to collapse. For the first time, a player has gone from Tampa Bay to The Bronx because of money. And not just any player, but the Rays' closer, Rafael Soriano.

He's 31 years old. Born on December 19, 1979 -- exactly 10 years and 1 day after me. (And, yes, we're both still Sagittarians, no matter what you might have heard about the signs of the Zodiac changing. Someday, I might do an All-Star team for each of the 12 -- not 13 -- signs.) From Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Righthanded. Has played 9 seasons in the majors, 2002-06 Seattle Mariners, 2007-09 Atlanta Braves, 2010 Tampa Bay Rays.

Career record, just 11-20. ERA, 2.79. ERA+, 156 (which really does mitigate the poor won-loss record). WHIP, exactly 1.000. All-Star once, last season, having led the American League in saves with 45. Total career saves 88, but has only been a closer the last 2 seasons. No relation to former Yankee Alfonso Soriano, or any other major leaguer, past or present, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

At age 31, he could still be pitching for the next 10 years, although there's no way to tell whether he'll still be a great pitcher for more than 5 (if that). But he could be a short-term solution for the question the Yankees MUST answer, sooner rather than later: Who will replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer?

Mariano just signed a contract that extends through the end of the 2012 season, at which point he will be just short of 43. He has showed a barely perceptible decline, as yet not particularly harmful. When the 2013 season begins, barring injury or an "offer you can't refuse" trade, Soriano will be 33, which, for a righthanded relief pitcher, should still be "in his prime."

If Soriano is the right guy to be the setup/bridge pitcher out of the pen, that would allow the Yankees to move Joba Chamberlain back into the rotation on a permanent basis. Joba is 25, so it's time to stop babying his "developing arm": It's developed. This, coupled with a return to form for A.J. Burnett, would mean the Yankees need "only" 1 more starter, either Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre turning out all right.

That "big fat question mark" I mentioned for the AL East yesterday got a bit smaller. But it is still there. The Yankees' chances have (at least theoretically) improved, and the Rays, having lost Soriano and Carl Crawford, have taken a big hit. It now looks like the Yanks and Red Sox for the Division (yet again), the Rays and the rising Orioles sitting back, hoping one of the top 2 falters, and the Blue Jays hoping the Maple Leafs make a Stanley Cup run, and the Argonauts make a Grey Cup run, so no one will notice how badly they stink.

Stay tuned.

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