So it's been an interesting week for the Yankees and their fans.
First, the Yankees signed Rafael Soriano, shoring up their bullpen and giving them one of the strongest one-two late-inning punches in baseball. It unquestionably makes the team stronger in 2011, narrows however slightly the gap between them and the Red Sox, and arguably pushes them over the bubble and into being the favorites to make the playoffs again. So, naturally, everyone hates it.
Well, not everyone. Wallace Matthews from ESPNNewYork loves it. Really, really, really, really loves it, to the tune of:
But if you're keeping score at home, score this offseason solidly in favor of the Yankees. … Just like that, the Yankees go from a wild-card team at best to favorites to win their division.
But, other than him, everyone hates* it. They hate the length, they hate the money, they hate losing a draft pick for a middle reliever, they hate the opt-out clauses, and they hate that Rafael Soriano is not a starting pitcher.
On top of that, there seems to be some evidence that Brian Cashman hates it, too, and so opens anew the nearly annual parlor game of "Guess How Much Control the Yankee GM Has Over Yankee Personnel."
(I'm using "hates" more poetically than literally here.)
It started with Buster Olney, who confirmed "there was a split of opinion" on Soriano in the Yankee front office, and that it was a "more ownership-driven deal."
That was somewhat rebutted/clarified by Jon Heyman, who said Cashman "preferred to keep [the] draft choice," but that "he in no way threw [a] body block to [the] Soriano deal." I'm not sure what this means, except that I guess he's saying Cashman didn't care enough to make a huge deal about it. Which makes sense because no one's quitting a dream job like that over a $35 million contract that makes your team better in 2011.
Heyman further commented that no GM has "full autonomy" over a team. Which, of course, is true: Witness Theo Epstein asking John Henry and Tom Werner for permission to throw megabucks at Carl Crawford. Of course, there's a big difference between asking the owner permission to spend his money and the owner forcing you to spend money (and a draft pick you already said publicly you would not give up) on a player you'd rather not acquire because he's "bothered by" your "blueprint" for the bullpen, as Bill Madden and Roger Rubin reported in the Daily News.
And things get weirder. Heyman tweeted that the Yankees would consider moving Joba Chamberlain, now displaced as Mariano Rivera's prime setup man, for a "viable starter." Which is strange, considering the last time we checked, Chamberlain was a viable starter, and not all that long ago either. Would the Yankees be happy getting back someone with a 4.18 ERA in 221 innings? Because that's Joba's line a starting pitcher. Looks pretty viable to me.
Finally, we have a missive today from Madden, in which someone raises a host of worries about Soriano, including whether his temperament is right for New York. Is this a Bronxpocalypse in the making? Probably not.
Madden's one-sentence summary in today's story probably has it about right:
The Steinbrenners' edict to sign Soriano does not necessarily signal a major breech in the Yankee hierarchy as much as it confirms that the GM does not enjoy the unquestioned autonomy he was perceived to have in the years right after George Steinbrenner's health began to decline. Like with the Boss when he was still the Boss, the final decisions are in the hands of the Steinbrenners.
There are worse things that can happen than being forced to compile one of the best bullpens in baseball. The real concerns are in the unanswered questions: Has this been the case for a while? Is this a one-time occurrence? Are we seeing the beginnings of a slippery-slope scenario? I suppose only Cashman himself can answer them, and he'll have that opportunity when his contract expires at the end of the upcoming season.