Sunday, November 11, 2007

Yankees Hot Stove: Mariano Rivera

The big debates regarding the Yankees this off-season revolve around replacing Alex Rodriguez at third and the possibility of trading for a starting pitcher like Johan Santana or Scott Kazmir.

On the other hand, there is no debate from the Yankees regarding whether or not they need to bring Mariano Rivera back.

Rivera has been with the Yankees since he broke into the league as a starting pitcher in 1995. Now after 13 years he is testing free agency for the first time and the Yanks are going to try to make sure he doesn’t get carried away.

During spring training this year Rivera approached the Yankees about extending his deal beyond this season. Rivera was mostly concerned about remaining on the team to pitch in the New Yankee Stadium. General Manager Brian Cashman asked him to wait and they would discuss contracts after the season ended, but this did not sit well with Rivera. It was at this time when he first expressed a desire to see what was beyond the pinstripes.

Cashman did was what he thought was for the best as it usually isn’t wise to be extending the contracts of players nearing their forties until you are sure that they are not going to break down. Rivera didn’t help himself out by coming out of the gate very slowly this season. In April he lost two games and had an ERA of 10.57.

As the season progressed though Rivera went back to being Rivera and the idea that maybe you wouldn’t want him to return became increasingly more ridiculous. From May through July Rivera struck out 37 batters while only walking two.

Rivera continued to dominate even as the Yankees went through the 2007 season nearly abandoning their core relievers, Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, and Kyle Farnsworth, ultimately relying on a group of rookies.

Some of them had flashes of greatness, some were inconsistent, and some were consistently bad, but the best one of all, Joba Chamberlain will be gone next year. No he hasn’t gone anywhere but the Yankees plan on using him as a starter next season.

Since Mariano has proven he still has some left in the tank and the Yankees bullpen is relatively young and untested, Cashman is likely wishing he had taken Rivera up on his offer to extend his contract eight months ago.

Now if Rivera walks away the Yankees have two choices they are hoping they don’t have to face. Keep Joba in the bullpen and make him the next closer or go out and pay someone who will never live up to the legacy Mo will leave behind.

If the Yankees were forced to look into hiring their own free agent closer they would have two main options. The first would be to sign Kerry Wood and hope that his body doesn’t splinter into a million pieces. The second would be to sign Eric Gagne and pray you got the Texas version and not the much weaker Boston version.

Since neither of those options are reliable due to obvious reasons they would likely keep Chamberlain in the pen as the closer. While having someone as high caliber as Chamberlain close games is something the Yankees and their fans are quite used to, the Yankees would much rather he go back to starting.

The need to keep Joba in the rotation is important since Andy Pettitte declined his option to return next season. He may still come back, but if he doesn’t it is so much more important for Rivera to come back. Without Pettitte and Chamberlain in the rotation they would go with Chien-Ming Wang and the aged Mike Mussina as the one and two guys followed by 21 and 23 year olds, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. They would also be forced to use the disaster Kei Igawa or acquire another starter.

For those worried Mo might not return, relax, Captain Derek Jeter has. He told the Journal News, “Am I worried? No…I think [he’s] coming back.”

Go to Hot Stove NY for more Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Jets, and Giants news and rumors.

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