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Soriano making pitch for major pay day

09/17/2012 11:05 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Soriano's focus and talent has paid huge dividends for the Yankees in 2012.(AP)

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Rafael Soriano on Sunday became the fourth Yankees pitcher to convert 40 saves since 1969 (Mariano Rivera – eight times – Dave Righetti and John Wetteland). Against his old Tampa Bay Rays team, with whom he finished with 45 saves in 2010, Soriano (2.07 ERA) finished 6-for-6 in save opportunities and is 40-for-43 on the season.

The Yankees’ perceived worst nightmare was life without the great Rivera. It’s terrifying to imagine where the Yankees would be in 2012 without Soriano taking over the closer’s role – following a short run from David Robertson – after Rivera went down with a torn ACL in May. He has the most saves of anyone not named Rivera since Wetteland’s 43 in 1996 and moved his way into 12th place on the franchise’s all-time saves list with 42.

"I think a lot of people were extremely concerned when Mo went down, what was going to happen to the New York Yankees in the ninth inning," said Joe Girardi. "We had to sort that out. It sorted itself out. Baseball has a way of doing that."

Girardi will soon hope the Yankees can work something out with Soriano after the season, when he’s eligible to use an opt-out clause and become a free agent, something CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported he’s likely to do. Soriano is set to make $14 million next season or receive a $1.5 million buyout. If he opts for the latter, he’s in tremendous position to receive a lucrative multiyear deal to either stay in New York or be assured to close elsewhere. If there was any doubt about Soriano’s calling, he delivered a money quote in mid-May once he was settled in as Rivera’s replacement after an uncomfortable season as a set-up man.

 “I love it. Love it,” Soriano said. “When it’s close, no matter if it’s the sixth, seventh, ninth — I feel better when the game is tied, or close, losing by one run, winning by one run. That’s what I like. That makes me feel more better, when I face the 3, 4, 5 hitters. Whatever happens, come back next day, try to do it again.”

Rivera’s health will be closely monitored during the offseason as well as his pending decision to either retire or come back and refuse to end his career laying in agony on the warning track at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. Another factor is the Yankees’ desire to pare payroll down to $189 million by 2014. No matter the circumstances, Soriano is set up to make more money than he ever has in his career. Without Rivera, the Yankees will have to pony up. Or if Rivera decides to return, the Yankees will again need a closer in waiting, and if not Soriano it will be Robertson.

The Yankees may want to consider not letting Soriano walk away, for he’s given the team a major physical and psychological boost. But come the winter, Soriano will be holding all the cards.

"He’s been tremendous,” Girardi said. “I can’t say enough about the job that he has done for us. I've always said that I would not want to be the guy that had to step into Mo’s shoes. That’s a tough call, that’s a tough duty. He’s been tremendous."

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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