Mariano Rivera recently began casting doubts on the return he so steadfastly guaranteed one day after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in warm-ups before a game against the Kansas City Royals. Casting a further shadow over the closer spot for the Yankees is the opt out clause that Rafael Soriano, who saved 42 games in 46 chances after filling in for Rivera, has and might exercise.
Soriano, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, would shock quite a few people if he didn’t exercise his right to become a free agent and cash in one more time.
If Rivera retires and Soriano opts out that would leave the Yankees very thin in the bullpen. If Rivera retires, the Yankees might try to re-sign Soriano if he elects free agency. Or, they could promote David Robertson to the closer spot although he seemed to struggle in that position in May of this year before landing on the disabled list.
Other candidates for the closer position that the Yankees have on hand are Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma. Chamberlain had one of the unluckiest years of any human being it seemed. As he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, Chamberlain was infamously attacked by a rogue trampoline and reports varied on the severity of the injury ranging from he almost died to he was fine except for the fact he broke his ankle.
The bad luck didn’t end there. In a playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles, Chamberlain was hit by a broken bat on his pitching arm and the area around his elbow began to swell. It was classified as a bruise but his ability to stay healthy going forward has to at least be questioned.
Aardsma, like Chamberlain, spent most of this season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees signed him to a two-year deal knowing he would spend the first year of that contract mostly in rehab. They did the same thing with Jon Leiber in 2003 and Leiber was a valuable member of the rotation in 2004 before leaving as a free agent in 2005.
Although Aardsma has closing experience, I don’t know if the Yankees view him as a closer right now. He appeared in only 1 game for the Yankees this season after suffering a few minor setbacks in his rehab. Although he should be healthy for 2013, he can’t be counted on at the moment.
There are few other options in-house that the Yankees can look at as legitimate closers. That means, they will probably have to look outside the organization. Soriano, if he elects free agency and Mo retires should be the first choice. He proved he can handle the pressure of closing in New York and is a familiar face in the clubhouse.
After Soriano the market drops off dramatically. Octavio Dotel, Mike Adams, Brandon League, Matt Capps, Jonathan Broxton, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jason Grilli are the next tier of free agent relief pitchers. You can rule out Farnsworth and Dotel who already have had stints in the Bronx that weren’t exactly something to write home about. Adams struggled in Texas. League has experience closing but it is unknown if he can handle closing for the Yankees. Capps and Broxton might have closing experience but I sincerely doubt the Yankees will chase either one for the job as they don’t represent a significant upside over Robertson or Chamberlain or Aardsma.
Soriano remains the best choice to replace Mariano. Now, the only question is, will he remain a Yankee?