This weekend is all about football for sports fans with the NFL playoffs having reached the divisional round. There are always, however, things to talk about when it comes to the New York Yankees. So, Yankee fans, let's start the day by doing just that.
The most interesting thing that has come to light about the Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano (which I love, incidentally), is that Hal and Hank Steinbrenner overruled general manager Brian Cashman on this one.
Less than a week earlier, GM Brian Cashman had said he wouldn't give up the first-round draft pick required to ink Soriano. But Hal and Hank Steinbrenner didn't agree with his game plan - according to a source familiar with the Yankees' thinking - and overruled him, giving the righthander a deal that could ultimately go to three years and pay him $35 million.
The overwhelming concern among the Yankee brass, the source said, was that the club was going into the season with an uncertain starting rotation and little protection for closer Mariano Rivera. The move leaves the team without the draft pick Cashman coveted, but with one of the best bullpens in baseball.
According to the source, the Steinbrenners were bothered by Cashman's blueprint. One of the big issues was that Joba Chamberlain, a prized prospect yet to reach an expected high ceiling, was going to be Rivera's primary set-up man.
Cashman had maintained his confidence in homegrown relievers Chamberlain and David Robertson, but Bombers' braintrust did not. If nothing else, they saw Soriano, coming off a career best 45-save season with a 1.73 ERA, as a premium insurance policy they couldn't pass up.
Love it. I can appreciate Cashman's wanting to hold onto the draft pick, and his belief in the organization's home-grown talent. Those are good things. In this case, though, the Steinbrenners are right. Besides which, after all of Hal's talk about running the Yankees like a business it's nice to see a "we want to win right now" move their father would have been proud of. That isn't always the right thing to do, but I think it was in this instance.
Turns out, Yankee closer Mariano Rivera apparently had a lot to do with convincing the organization to pull the trigger on the Soriano deal.
"Mariano knows this kid very well,'' the source said. "All those issues the Yankees were concerned with came up in the negotiations, but Mariano spoke to Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner and convinced [them] that he had matured and was worth getting. He told them he would look after the kid as a Yankee, bring him along so that in two years, he'll be ready to close for them.''
Works for me.
SI.com's Tom Verducci pointed out that the downside of surrendering the 31st pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, which the Yankees have done to sign Soriano, is that it puts the organization is a bad spot draft-wise compared to the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. Writes Verducci:
As for the draft, of the first 40 selections this summer the Red Sox have four picks and the Yankees zero. The Rays now have seven picks between No. 24 and No. 51 and will get two more high picks now that reliever Grant Balfour, a Type-A free-agent, has reached a deal with the A's.
What the Yankees do have, though, is a stable of highly-touted young pitchers in their minor-league system who are close to being major-league ready, as well as hitters like Jesus Montero knocking on the major-league door. Right now, the farm system seems to be in good shape. Prior to the Soriano signing, you really couldn't say the same about the 2011 major league pitching staff.
Of course, the Soriano deal has already led to plenty of speculation about the future role of Joba Chamberlain. Start? Relieve? Trade?
"He's definitely got value," an NL talent evaluator said yesterday. "The problem is in the past two years his stuff has gone backwards."
There is a belief around baseball that the Yankees will move him back into the starting rotation with Soriano now filling the setup role. The Yankees have said all winter that Chamberlain will remain a reliever after bouncing back and forth for his first three years.
Some teams also believe the Yankees have messed up Chamberlain, but he can be fixed in the proper situation with the proper coaching.
"It depends on how the organization that would be interested in him would view him," the talent evaluator said. "There's still some people that think he can start."
As of now, baseball writers and bloggers are the only ones talking about Chamberlain as a starter. The Yankees haven't said a word to that effect. From here, the best guess is that the Yankees will quietly gauge the market for Joba and see what they can get. No matter what anyone here, or anywhere else on the Internet believes, right now it doesn't seem like the Yankees see Chamberlain as a viable big-league starting pitcher.