Closer Rafael Soriano and the Yankees appear on course for an interesting negotiation, with Soriano all but certain to opt out of his contract and the Yankees nearly as certain to counter with a qualifying offer expected to be about $13 million.
With Soriano then very likely to turn down the qualifying offer under the new system, the probable result will be that Soriano has an opportunity to become a free agent. The Yankees remain hopeful to keep him, but their wish to keep their payroll below the $189 million threshhold in 2014 may at least complicate their chances to sign him to a long-term contract.
This could wind up being a unique dance in the new system. While the early steps seem obvious, how it plays out isn't.
Soriano gets $1.5 million for opting out according to his current deal, so subsequent acceptance of a qualifying offer for about $13 million might actually result in a small raise from the $14 million he'd receive if he simply kept his contract intact and didn't opt out. But it is believed Soriano's goal is to turn his huge season (42 saves in 46 chances) into a multiyear deal.
By making the qualifying offer, the Yankees would gain a coveted draft choice should Soriano turn it down then sign elsewhere. The qualifying offer has been estimated to be somewhere in the range of $13 million, though not exactly. It's based on the average of salaries of top players.
Soriano entered the season with a reputation as a somewhat aloof clubhouse presence, but the Yankees believe alltime great closer Mariano Rivera and other great veterans have had a wonderful influence on him. Yankees people believe it's a good fit, and have hopes he'd prefer to stay.
The Yankees are in general extremely pleased by how the surprise signing has worked and may wonder whether other teams could be scared off by the Yankees' willingness to pay $13 million-plus, at least on a one-year basis -- though it isn't hard to imagine him beating that by getting a multiyear deal elsewhere. The one impediment is that the Yankees have what GM Brian Cashman describes as a "mandate" from ownership to get the payroll below $189 million for 2014, which may inhibit the willingness to do multyear deals, except in special cases like Robinson Cano, the team's best all-around player and one of the best in the game.
The closer market has been inconsistent in recent years, as many teams have opted for cheaper, sometimes unproven alternatives. But Soriano's record is much better as a closer than a setup man, and the great Rivera is expected back with the Yankees next year. the Tigers' Jose Valverde is the other star closer who could be come a free agent.
When Soriano signed his $35 million, three-year deal it seemed like a reach by most baseball people, including Cashman, who said at the news conference to introduce Soriano that he voted against the deal, not because of Soriano but because of the price for a reliever who wasn't slated to close. But now it appears the Yankees view the possibility of a last year at $14 million more favorably than Soriano.
As it turned out, Soriano was needed to close this season when Rivera was lost for the year because of a knee injury. Soriano, 32, has responded with superb performance, posting a 2-1 record and 2.26 ERA to go with the 42 saves.
The Yankees are planning to bring back Rivera for next season, which would again leave Soriano as a setup man. So a one-year deal at a high rate isn't exactly optimal for either side, though for the Yankees the possibility at least skirts that payroll threshhold plan, which isn't an issue until 2014. If the Yankees do keep Soriano on a one-year deal, it gives them nice insurance in case Rivera, 43 next month, doesn't return to form as quickly as hoped.