The Yankees proved by signing Rafael Soriano that money is no object. The cost for the free-agent closer, who will man the eighth-inning role for the Mariano Rivera-led Yankees, was $49 million (adding in estimated luxury tax levies). So let's look at the deal from a baseball perspective.
Here's what I wrote about Soriano in the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball Annual (on sale now at local newstands):
His 1.73/0.802 averages (ERA/WHIP) will get him a long-term deal probably but how projectable is it for us. Baseball owners always grab the hot reliever, but they rarely have the foundational stats to stay that hot. And you can see how Soriano's defy gravity. His K/9 of 8.23/9 was way below his career rate (9.62). His fastball was below his career average, too (92.9 mph). He added a cutter, but still relies heavily on his slider (21.6% of pitches), despite a long history of elbow problems. The league is not going to hit .212 against him again on balls in play (though note his career BABIP allowed is .256). Injury history advises us to pay for 50% of his 2010 value. In other words, pass.
Perhaps we should expect more from fantasy leaguers than we do of Brian Cashman, as the former has fixed budgets by rule.
I stipulate that the fact that Soriano will not close for the Yankees is not a big factor in his worth. And I also concede he's a quality reliever. The Yankees shorten the game this way and get late-inning certainty. But it's pretty easy to find quality relievers cheaply, so have they gained enough of an advantage on the field?
Looking at the most valuable relievers according to Fangraphs (measured by WAR -- wins above replacement), in the top 25, we have: Matt Beslisle, Rafeal Betancourt, Mike Adams, Darren Oliver, Joaquin Benoit, Clay Hensley, Tyler Clippard, Joel Hanrahan, Sean Burnett, Wilton Lopez and Matt Capps. Everyone of them was had (or could have been) very cheaply.
Attacking the eighth inning with Soriano for $49 million over three years (yes, we're counting the luxury tax, but we must, to be accurate) seems desperate or stupid. These terms may be redundant here, as they usually are everywhere.
Consider only eight relievers pitched more than 40 games where they entered in a high-leverage situation as it's defined by Baseball-Reference.com. None had more than 48. Mariano Rivera had 39. Let's assume that Soriano gets 45 and averages an inning per outing in these high-leverage games. That's a lot of money for 45 important innings (and we're being aggressive in giving Soriano even that many).
And this assumes that the Soriano we saw in 2010 will not regress mightily, far from certain when we consider that his expected fielding independent ERA last year was 3.81 (Rivera's was 3.65 due mostly to his diminishing K/9).
Are Soriano and Rivera definitely as good or better than Jonathan Papelbon (whose demise was wildly overstated when you look at his peripherals) and Daniel Bard (seemingly pretty lucky, but basically as good last year as career-average Papelbon)? Not with Rivera now in his early 40s. Old guys hold up well until they do not and then it's never really a surprise. The Rivera Circus is going to pack up and leave town one day, it's inevitable. And we're only going to see it coming in hindsight.
The Yankees with this signing seem a lot like my 10-year-old son Ryan when he's flush with Christmas or birthday cash. "There's got to be something in here that I can buy right now!" Another stuffed animal? A winter hat with monkey ears and eyes? XBox versions of board games when the board games gather dust in our basement? Toys for our cat? I always plead: "Save it up for something you'll really want down the road."
But when you don't need to save, when you're Richie Rich, does prudence even matter? Baseball's Prodigal Sons never need to repudiate their ways because the cash flows in as if from a water fall. And that shields them from consequences relating to their acumen in picking players like Soriano relative to cost.