While it never seemed to be a possibility that general manager Brian Cashman would retain the services of closer Rafael Soriano following his opt out, the idea officially closed its doors yesterday. As first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Washington Nationals and Soriano agreed to a two-year deal for $28 million Tuesday afternoon. The addition of Soriano strengthens one of the true weaknesses of last year's Nationals ball club while also giving Yankees setup man David Robertson the "keys to the cadillac" of setting up closer Mariano Rivera.
After closing out 42 games successfully last season in place of the injured Rivera, it was clear Soriano was not interested in going back to a set-up role in 2013 and waiting his turn to become Yankees closer. Furthermore, after Rivera was lost for the season in May, Robertson was given the first opportunity to close before he too missed time due to injury, which led to Soriano's success.
Needless to say, with Rivera signed to a one year, $10 million deal, he could very well decide this is the final chapter of his illustrious 18-year career. Additionally, with the Hal Steinbrenner edict of reducing payroll, it very well can be an in-house option that follows in the footsteps of the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball.
Here are three names that can be speculated as the next closer of the Yankees;
- David Robertson: as of now, can be considered the clearest choice to fill the role in life after "Mo." Was Girardi's first choice last season following the loss of Rivera, however Robertson's own stint on the 15-day disabled list would open the door for Soriano. While Robertson might not have Rivera's control (19 walks surrendered in 60 innings pitched last season), he does have an outstanding strikeout rate. However, coming off of a 2012 where Robertson saw a spike in ERA, seven losses which included three blown saves, and a rocky game four appearance in the American League Championship Series, 2013 becomes an important season for the right hander. If he can successfully keep the road to Rivera in the ninth clean, Robertson can solidify his status as closer of the future.
- Joba Chamberlain: In 2007 when Chamberlain first burst onto the scene, he had the look of the next Yankees closer. In short appearances, he was a strikeout machine with a high 90's fastball and and an overall fearlessness to establish the inside. Furthermore, after moving around between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Chamberlain showed flashes of brilliance. However, injuries have hindered his progress, including Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a severe ankle injury in March of last year. Needless to say, at 27 years old and entering spring training clear of any ailments, Chamberlain has this 2013 season as an opportunity to establish himself as the potential closer of the Yankees future. Entering spring training, he should ascertain himself to be a seventh inning set-up man, with additional responsibility of spelling the eighth-inning role on days Robertson needs a break.
- Mark Montgomery: An interesting note reported yesterday by ESPNNewYork.com senior writer Andrew Marchand, both Robertson and Chamberlain filed for arbitration yesterday, with Robertson eligible for free agency after 2014 and the latter eligible following this season. In the unforeseen instance where either or depart for greener pastures, Montgomery is an interesting name the Yankees faithful should remember. While splitting time last season between Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Montgomery finished with a 7-2 record while recording 15 saves and 99 strikeouts. In addition, his flourish would continue in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, recording a save and 19 strikeouts in nine games for the Scottsdale Scorpions. With a low 90's fastball and a slider that can wreak havoc, Montgomery is one of the true gems in the Yankees farm system. Moreover, should either Robertson or Chamberlain suffer an injury, one might wonder if they will expedite Montgomery's process and call him up sooner rather than later?
In summary, Montgomery might be considered a little while away from contending for the job. He just finished this past season at Trenton and will need to show his prowess in Triple-A Scranton before getting the call to the Bronx. That leaves Robertson and Chamberlain as the two viable in-house candidates. As they enter the spring with clean bills of health following injury-riddled 2012 seasons, this season could be an indicator of what the future holds in the ninth inning for the Yankees.
It remains to be seen if 2014 will be the beginning of a new era at the closer spot, however it might not be a mystery for long. As Howie Kussoy of the New York Post found out in early December, Rivera will reveal his plans for the future during spring training,
“I'll tell you in spring training,” he said with a smile. “Spring training is going to be the date.”
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