Rafael Soriano brought a reputation with him to Yankees pinstripes and it wasn’t a good one.
From his reluctance to pitch more than one inning or in non-save situations for the Rays last season to the tantrum he threw when brought into a playoff game(!)—the final game of a series—to keep the score close when his team was trailing, it was clear that he wasn’t a Yankees-type from the start.
Add in his frequent injuries and penchant for giving up the home run ball in big games and you start to see why—in addition to the money and lost draft picks—Brian Cashman didn’t want Soriano.
But Randy Levine and the Steinbrenners overruled their GM and signed Soriano to a 3-year, $35 million contract to set-up for Mariano Rivera and possibly replace the iconic closer one day.
Will Soriano pitch well for the Yankees?
For the most part, he will.
In a big game in Boston with the game on the line, will he grip the ball too tightly and let the Fenway Park crowd affect his delicate sensibilities to the point where he can’t throw strikes or grooves a fastball to Adrian Gonzalez?
These accommodations the club is providing to a pitcher who has accomplished nothing are stark and disturbing.
Since when do the Yankees let players not named Derek Jeter or Rivera dictate the terms upon which they participate in a spring training game?
That’s exactly what they’ve done with Soriano this spring.
First he decided—unilaterally—that he didn’t want to pitch against division rivals so they wouldn’t gain an advantage against him for the regular season.
I could almost understand if it was against his former club, the Rays; but he refused to pitch against the Orioles—the same Orioles he pitched against in 9 games last season. Soriano appeared in 6 games each vs the Red Sox and Blue Jays as well.
Did he develop a new pitch that he didn’t want them to see? Fix a mechanical twitch? What were these clubs going to face that they hadn’t faced before?
But the Yankees gave him sway over his use and let him throw 21 pitches in a minor league game in lieu of pitching against the Orioles.
Then on Saturday it was reported that after pitching 2/3 of an inning he decided—again unilaterally—that it was his last spring appearance and he was “ready to go”.
Where in the Yankees universe has it ever been such that a player like Soriano gets the final say in his training regimen?
Whether or not Soriano is effective with his idiosyncratic behavior is beside the point; he is a part of the team and is making demands on his new employer that they would never tolerate from anyone—not even Jeter and Rivera; that’s mostly because Jeter and Rivera wouldn’t behave in such a way.
That’s the point.
Who does Soriano think he is?
For a variety of reasons, they weren’t right for the team, the clubhouse or the city.
They didn’t fit.
Soriano joins the Yankees, a club that judges seasonlong success or failure on whether or not there’s a parade in the Canyon of Heroes in November. He arrives with a grand total of three post-season appearances in his career. In two of them, he allowed home runs—the second one being in the ninth inning of game 5, breaking the Rays’ collective backs as they were facing a dominating Cliff Lee.
It’s appropriate that I mention Lee because it was his shunning of the Yankees offer that spurred them to make the desperation move for the next biggest name in a weak free agent crop—Soriano.
Desperation breeds mistakes.
Much like the familiar caveat I provide when the complaints about A.J. Burnett reach a fever pitch: this is what they bought!!
They bought a pitcher who has never been able to handle pressure.
They bought a pitcher who is making his own rules and putting forth the implication that he holds the hammer over the Yankees heads with the contract opt-outs after 2011 or 2012.
They bought a problem.
The championship Yankees had troublemakers (David Wells); partiers (David Cone); hotheads (Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada); quirky people (Bernie Williams); even megastar divas (Alex Rodriguez; Roger Clemens), but this is different.
Those players earned the right to be who they were.
If he’s already a problem in March, just wait until September.
They were warned.
Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.