In a move mirroring those of his famous father, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner overruled general manager Brian Cashman in giving a $35 million, three-year contract to Rafael Soriano.
Distancing himself from the decision after a news conference Wednesday to introduce Mariano Rivera’s new setup man, Cashman said he didn’t think it was worth playing closer money for a pitcher the team plans to use in the eighth inning.
And the general manager didn’t want to lose his first-round pick in June’s amateur draft, which will now go to Tampa Bay as compensation.
”I think it’s certainly a sign that at times if Hal feels that he wants to go in a different direction, that could happen,” Cashman said. ”I think that’s certainly the case. This is their team. Does that happen often? Will it happen a lot? I just think it depends on the circumstances.”
Cashman stayed with the Yankees after the 2005 season, in part because Steinbrenner gave him increased authority over baseball operations and removed interference from other factions in the organization.
But George Steinbrenner turned control of the team over to Hal in November 2008, and the owner died last July at age 80. Cashman’s contract expires after this season.
”Ultimately Hal is in charge of making a final call and what he feels is the best direction at that time frame, and Hal made the call,” Cashman said from the news conference room across from the Yankees’ clubhouse.
”It’s a part of business. This is Hal Steinbrenner and his family’s franchise. This is not mine,” he added. ”It’s never been, obviously, and you never want to make it feel like it is. I’m charged with making recommendations. There’s a chain of command. It certainly was followed. This was not something that was done without me being aware of it. I had my say.”
Agent Scott Boras, also at the news conference, said Yankees president Randy Levine negotiated for the team during conference calls that led to Soriano’s contract, which allows the reliever to opt out after the 2011 or 2012 season. Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost were there, but not Hal Steinbrenner.
Soriano joins what appears to be a strong bullpen that includes right-handers Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, and left-handers Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan.
New York’s rotation is far more problematic, with Andy Pettitte still leaning toward retirement. After CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, New York has Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre as the best options for the final two spots.
The Yankees could consider Detroit’s Armando Galarraga, who was designated for assignment Tuesday and figures to be traded.
”We’ll continue to try to address it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ”When you look at the situation that we are in with our starting rotation, it’s important to shorten games.”
Girardi thinks five innings could be enough distance from his starters, given the bullpen depth.
Soriano was an AL All-Star last year, when he had a league-leading 45 saves for Tampa Bay in his only year with the Rays. He gave up closing to become Rivera’s understudy.
”I know that a lot of people will find this strange, but I’m very happy to be close to one of the greatest closers,” Soriano said through a translator. ”And hopefully in the future, I will after being a setup man, be a closer, too. I’m going to learn a lot from him.”
Cashman said the Yankees will be a better team with Soriano. He just wasn’t sure this was the wisest use of New York’s money.
”Maybe I’m too patient, but I do believe that there’s a lot of choices that eventually present themselves over time,” he said. ”We’d still have a tremendous team.”
NOTES: Boras planned to speak with the Yankees about another client, Andruw Jones, about a possible role as a backup outfielder.