Soriano happy to be working with Mo
Yankees' new setup man excited to team with legendary Rivera
NEW YORK -- The Yankees put the finishing touches on one of the game's top late-inning relief combinations on Wednesday, dressing Rafael Soriano in pinstripes at Yankee Stadium.
With the 31-year-old Soriano drawn to New York by a three-year, $35 million contract, the team will enter 2011 showcasing a new setup man for Mariano Rivera as well as a possible future successor for the long-occupied closer role in the Bronx.
"It's a great pleasure to be here, one of the most important days of my career, to represent this uniform," Soriano said through a Spanish translator, donning a home jersey embroidered with No. 29.
"I know people will find this strange, but I'm very happy to be close to one of the greatest closers in Mariano Rivera. Hopefully in the future I will, after being a setup man, be the closer, too."
Widely considered the best available talent remaining on the free-agent market, Soriano converted an American League-leading 45 saves in 48 opportunities last year, helping the Rays edge the Wild Card-winning Yankees for the AL East title.
He'll be expected to answer the bullpen phone in the eighth innings for New York, setting up as Rivera takes aim at the all-time Major League saves record, entering this year 42 behind Trevor Hoffman's total of 601.
"A lot of the success of the Yankees over the years has come because of a knockdown bullpen, and Soriano is adding to that," manager Joe Girardi said. "You could argue that Mariano and Rafael had the best years as closers last year, and we have two closers now.
"When you have a lead, it's important to win those games. I'm going to be very excited to pick up the phone and call down and bring him into the game, and feel good about it."
Soriano's contract, as negotiated by agent Scott Boras with team president Randy Levine, permits the All-Star to opt out and become a free agent after either the 2011 or '12 seasons. Those perks were at Boras' suggestion, Soriano said.
"It didn't come from me," Soriano said. "One of the greatest things about this contract is that at any given time, if I don't feel comfortable, I can always get out of the contract. That was [Boras'] decision, and I think it was a good decision."
Soriano will earn $10 million in the first year of his pact, with an additional $1.5 million if he opts out; $11 million in the second year, with an opt-out payment of $1.5 million; and $14 million for the 2013 campaign.
Soriano said he would like to finish his three years with the Yankees and perhaps play in New York longer, but if his performance holds true in the Bronx, he may entertain some tantalizing closing opportunities. He posted a 1.73 ERA, an .802 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings last year.
"I just wanted to give him the ability to return to his [closer's] role if it was something that he sought to do," Boras said. "It's an unusual contract, but this is an unusual situation, when you have a player coming here for reasons of playing with the greatest closer in the game."
The signing came over the objections of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who did not agree with the financial terms, as well as losing the team's first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft to the Rays because of Soriano's Type A free-agent status.
"I didn't recommend it -- not because I dispute the ability of the player," Cashman said. "He's a tremendous player in what he does. But for me, I'm pretty transparent in how I've evolved in building your team. Early on, we've obviously committed a lot of money to relievers and had some difficulties with that."
But Cashman was ultimately overruled by general partner Hal Steinbrenner, writing another chapter in a difficult winter that saw the Yankees unable to upgrade their starting pitching. Rivera actually played a part in the negotiations, urging the club to go hard after Soriano and promising to help him acclimate to the team's clubhouse.
"Mariano is one of the ones who actually did something for me to be signed by the Yankees," Soriano said. "I'm going to learn a lot from him. He is one of the greatest, and the communication between he and I is going to be wonderful. We're going to do a lot of good for the team."
Soriano became a full-time closer in 2009 while pitching for the Atlanta Braves. He came up in the Seattle Mariners system and broke into the Majors in '02 as a starter before locking into a middle-relief and setup role. He has a career 2.73 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 422 strikeouts in 395 innings.
Having also added catcher Russell Martin and left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano this winter, the Yankees can now hope that Soriano and Rivera will shorten games as one of the game's knockout relief combinations.
"I'll be ready to pitch in the eighth inning," Soriano said. "I think it's important to pitch the eighth inning as well as the ninth inning, because it can be a blown save. I'd like to do a good job pitching the eighth inning, and I will prepare for that situation."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.