Note to those playing poker against Brian Cashman: The man knows how to play a bluff.
A week after the Yankee general manager said that he wouldn't surrender the team's first-round draft pick by signing a Type-A free agent, Cashman and the Yankees did just that on Thursday by signing former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a creative three-year deal worth as much as $35 million. That seems like a lot of money for a set-up man, but the structure of the deal makes it easier to swallow.
Soriano will make $10 million in 2011 and can opt out of the deal after both the first and second season to hit the open market in search of closing opportunities. The salary balloons to $14 million in 2013, which would be a lot if he is still just pitching in the eighth inning, but one must remember that Mariano Rivera only has a two-year deal. The Yankees are protected in case Rivera's remarkable career is finally over at that point (and they also have a lot of cash set aside for Cliff Lee laying around) and Soriano has the chance to pursue other options should he find them out there for the taking.
It's surprising he didn't get more of them this offseason. All Soriano did last season was save 45 games in 48 opportunities with a 1.73 ERA. In 2009, as Atlanta's closer, he had 27 saves and struck out 102 batters in 75.2 innings pitched. Perhaps it was the price of the pick in addition to the salary that kept him out on the market, but once Soriano said he'd be willing to move down a rung to pitch in front of a guy like Rivera this felt like a real possibility.
Although this projects to be a very strong draft, it's a wise move for the Yankees. Thanks to Andy Pettitte being the one American not tired of Brett Favre's act, they still have major questions in their rotation and the chances of coming up with a winner of a solution at this point are pretty slim. So you attack things from the other side and try to shorten games as much as possible. With Rivera, Soriano, David Robertson and Pedro Feliciano, the Yankees have done that. There's Joba Chamberlain as well, of course, although he could now be destined for the trading block or a trip back to the rotation.
Assuming they don't find a way to trade for another starter that is a notable upgrade, the latter would be the move worth making. The overly maligned Joba of 2009 was better than Sergio Mitre and probably Ivan Nova as well. There's nothing to lose by putting him back there now because he has very little value as a middle reliever in a very deep bullpen and could provide better results on the front end.
Either way, the Yankees are better today than they were yesterday. That's something to be happy about, even if we're still a bit queasy about getting leads into the hands of this fine bullpen.