Prior to the season’s start, both EJ and Ben Kabak (of RAB) discussed ways in which the addition and utilization of Soriano might be most helpful to the Yankees organization. The concensus was that he should become the team’s proverbial “fireman.” The premise of each post was fairly straightforward. Given how the roster was constructed at the time, Joe Girardi had four outstanding bullpen arms at his disposal — Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and of course, the newly acquired Rafael Soriano.
Obviously, Rivera would remain the Yankees closer come hell or high water (and rightfully so). Rather than simply assigning the other three guys to the 6-7-8th inning roles respectively though, the pitchers would be used more according to circumstance. More specifically, situational leverage would be the dictating factor in a pitcher’s useage, with the idea that Soriano would be accountable for the bulk of critical high leverage, non-ninth-inning pitching opportunities.
Even though Soriano wouldn’t have the official Eighth Inning GuyTM label next to his name, he’d still absolutely be maximized in terms of importance as he’d be thrust into action during some of the game’s most impacting moments (thusly justifying some portion of the monstrousity that is his contract). Additionally, aside from the benefit of Soriano handling some of the AL’s more daunting batters during crucial points of the game, Girardi would also still be able to deploy Chamerblain, Robertson, or even Feliciano in other innings (which would theoretically provide a more well rounded, sustained bridge to Mo). This absolutely would have been quite the luxury for the Yankees pitching staff, and at the time, I absolutely concurred the premise.
Well, you know what they say about baseball. Chamberlain ultimately found himself on the shelf after needing Tommy John surgury. Rafael Soriano found himself on the Disabled List with elbow soreness. Apparently, Feliciano’s approximated 10,000 innings of work with the Mets finally caught up to him which propelled Boone Logan back into the figurative LOOGY driver-seat. Meanwhile, Robertson on has continued to quietly deliver some of the best production of his career while Mariano remains the same anchor of the bullpen that he’s always been.
Soon enough though, Rafael Soriano — affectionally known by some as MFIKY — could be rejoining the Yankees bullpen and at this juncture, I think it’s fair to re-examine how he’ll be utilized going forward. For the time being, and the sake of the excerise, let’s take a giant leap of faith and assume that he rejoins the team healthy and in good form. If this were to indeed be the case, I could see him quickly reclaiming the “#OfficialSetupGuy” tag. Although I’m typically not in favor of such static role designations, I suppose there could be some benefits worth considering.
First and foremost, Soriano would be able to enter the game with a “fresh slate,” as it were. During his brief time with the team, inherited runners were a major struggling point. What better way is there to solve that problem than eliminate the baserunners? Second, it might preserve his health a bit going forward. Rather than being called upon sporadically throughout the game to warm up (and at times be forced sit down), his opportunities would be much more rigid and predictable in terms of scheduling. Third, the public perception of MFIKY is that he’s a rather tempermental guy; so pacifying his ego a bit by not “demoting” him in terms of percieved responsibility, may favorably impact his performance.
Most importantly, the idea “fireman” role wouldn’t necessarily have to be jettisoned. David Robertson, who has beenbeen fantastic this year, could still be called upon to handle many of the high leverage situations — which by design, very well could ultimately be more important than the eighth inning duties anyway.
I realize these “perks” aren’t the most substantial in the world, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. In any case, with Soriano healthy and effective, the bullpen becomes that much deeper and that much more flexible. Slotting Soriano into a particular inning certainly might not be the most strategic solution, but it may very well be the most practical given the circumstance. Moreover, when one considers Girardi’s steadfastness when it comes these types of decisions, it may also be the most realistic outcome (for better or worse).
That said, for whatever it’s worth, Girardi has been fairly non-comittal (as one would imagine) about Soriano’s usage upon return thus far. When the topic was brought to his attention, he replied with the following:
We have to see how he’s throwing and how he’s feeling before I can make any Determination. The big thing is we have to get him back healthy and throwing the way that he’s capable of. We’ll just see what happens. But we have to get him back first.
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