If Mariano Rivera never threw another pitch, he’d still be considered the best closer of all-time and would wait just five years before the Hall of Fame came calling.
However, the soon-to-be 43-year-old is looking to make a comeback after a tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in early May, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
The Yankees actually have several options in handling this issue.
Of course, the team can bring back Rivera as its closer. But Rivera would likely have to accept an offer much less than what he’s earned the past five seasons: $15 million.
Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record reported that the Yankees don’t plan on a back-and-forth contract negotiation with Rivera like in April 2011, in which the two sides agreed on a two-year, $30 million extension.
Klapisch wrote that Rivera will likely be insulted by the Yankees’ initial offer, but a contract laden with performance incentives would likely bring the deal closer to what Rivera is seeking.
Still, even a $10 million guaranteed contract to Rivera may not be in the Yankees’ plans. Even so, they’ll need a closer for 2013.
This year’s closer, Rafael Soriano, filled in nicely for Rivera after the injury. Soriano saved 42 of his 46 save opportunities. However, Soriano opted out of his contract and has become a free agent, where he should be a candidate for a multi-year deal worth about $13-15 million per season.
The Yankees will likely scour the free agent market in search of a closer if a deal with Rivera cannot be reached. There are several intriguing candidates, but all have some sort of baggage.
Jose Valverde is a free agent, and the Tigers have said they will not pursue him. He’s was lights out during the regular season but fell apart in October. The Yankees expect to play every year in October, and they’ll look for guys who can get the job done of the big stage. Based on his performance, Valverde doesn’t necessarily fit the bill.
Joakim Soria is coming off Tommy John surgery, but he appears ready to pitch again. When healthy, he was one of the most underrated closers in the game. What’s interesting about Soria is that he’s openly said he would be Rivera’s set-up man in the Bronx. However, for any other team, he’d like to close.
There are a few other mid-level closers available who wouldn’t break the bank, including Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers. And the Yankees have shown that they are willing to spend on top-notch relievers.
An internal candidate would be current Yankees’ set-up man David Robertson. As an eighth-inning guy, Robertson has been the best reliever in baseball the past two seasons, and his strikeout ratio of 1.42 per inning is off the charts.
However, he showed last season that he wasn’t quite ready to take over full-time for Rivera, as he blew three of his five save opportunities.
Robertson would be the cheapest candidate, but in the end, it’s tough to imagine Rivera not in pinstripes. A deal will likely get done in which both sides sacrifice to keep everyone somewhat happy.