The career of the greatest closer of all time may be over.
Mariano Rivera tore his ACL before the Yankees game in Kansas City on Thursday night, and he likely won't pitch for the rest of the season. At 42 years old, Rivera might never pitch in an MLB game again.
With Rivera out for what will be at least several months, the Yankees need a new closer. It's been almost two decades since the Yankees have had to decide who would close out games. Rivera took over the role in 1997, and has saved 608 games in his career. Now, it's someone else's turn.
Assuming the Yankees don't make a big trade, most people will call for David Robertson to get the job. After all, he may be the best reliever in the game. Robertson pitched to a 1.08 ERA in 2011, and has still yet to give up a run this season. Almost half of his outs have come via the strikeout, and his youth makes him the logical successor to Rivera.
It's hard to argue with the idea of having Robertson pitch in the ninth inning. He's certainly proven that he can do a comparable job to Rivera. But the Yankees should make someone else Rivera's replacement--Rafael Soriano.
Soriano has underachieved since becoming a Yankee. He had a 4.12 ERA in an injury-riddled 2011 campaign, and hasn't lived up to his 3-year, $36 million dollar contract.
But Soriano's lack of success is exactly why the Yankees should make him their closer.
After 17 seasons, Rivera has seemingly not lost a step. However, even with his dominance, Robertson has been the Yankees most important reliever since the beginning of last season. Rivera is credited with the saves because he pitches the last inning, but Robertson has been more valuable since the beginning of 2011.
It's not a knock on Rivera. Robertson has just been that good.
Rivera recorded 44 saves last year, but the term save doesn't always accurately explain the game situation. Twenty-seven of Rivera's saves came with New York winning by at least two runs. Almost all of his appearances came with Rivera starting the inning with nobody on base.
The same can't be said about Robertson.
The Yankees eighth inning reliever is known for coming into games with men on base, and leaving the inning unscathed. In 2011, he faced 19 batters with the bases-loaded. He allowed just one hit during those situations, and struck out 14.
Both Rivera and Robertson have excelled in their roles. Robertson has been the guy who comes in the late innings and gets the Yankees out of jams, and Rivera is the pitcher that closes things out at the end of games. Just because Rivera can no longer be used in his role, doesn't mean Robertson should be moved.
Therefore, Rafael Soriano is the perfect candidate to be the Yankees new closer. Using Soriano in the ninth inning would allow Robertson to remain in his current role.
With Robertson as a setup man, Yankees manager Joe Girardi can use him whenever he wants. If a starting pitcher is in trouble, Girardi can put in Robertson to do what he does best--strand runners on base.
Robertson struck out 100 men in less than 67 innings last year. He's built for coming in with runners on base. Soriano's strikeout numbers aren't nearly as impressive, and he is best served starting an inning with the bases empty.
While he certainly doesn't deserve to make $12 million dollars a year based on his performance, Soriano is still a good reliever. He has a 2.00 ERA this season, and was much better when he returned from his injury a year ago. His ERA was 5.40 when he got injured on May 13, but he finished the season at 4.12.
Because such a high premium has been put on saves in recent years, the notion that a team's best reliever must be their closer has become widely accepted. That shouldn't always be the case, and the Yankees are the perfect example.
New York currently has the MLB's most dangerous weapon in the bullpen with Robertson as their setup man. Why make a change?
Girardi would likely be criticized for not putting Robertson in the closer's role. Many will think it's foolish not to replace Rivera with New York's best pitcher.
But the Yankees will likely lose more games with Soriano as the team's primary setup man than they would with him as the closer. It may not be conventional, but Soriano is the best option for New York.