Gotta Go To Mo

In the Fall of 2007, the Yankees resigned Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Those two deals worked out remarkably well considering the risks the Yankees took. In inking their then 38-year old closer to a three-year deal and their then 36-year old catcher to a four-year deal, the Yankees gambled on their health and performance staying at a high level. Posada hasn’t been as healthy as you would like, but he did hit .248/.357/.454 this year. Rivera, well he just kept being Rivera.

The problem is some worrying signs developed in the 2010 version of Mo. His strikeouts are way down and his number of innings fell to only 60. The reduction in innings may be because Joe Girardi was extra careful with his closer, but it is a telling number. If Girardi only felt comfortable letting Mo pitch 60 innings at 40 years of age, what will the number be at 41 and beyond? And if his strikeout drop was not an anomaly, what will it mean if he surrenders a BABIP next season in line with his career average of .263 and not the .222 he posted this season?

Those are things to worry about, but the fact is that the Yankees don’t have an in house candidate ready to replace Mo. Joba Chamberlain did not develop as planned in 2010 and David Robertson was up and down. The Yankees do have an option on Kerry Wood, but for all the praise being heaped on Wood, it’s worth noting how lucky he was as a Yankee. Yes, he posted a 0.69ERA, but he did that while walking 18 hitters in 26 innings. Normally, that would get you killed, but Wood had the good fortune of having a BABIP of only .236. Turn some of those outs into hits and that ERA jumps dramatically.

So, Rivera is needed in 2011, just as he has been needed in the past. The thing is, the Yankees really can’t commit to him beyond 2011, because at his age you just don’t know what will happen. So, the solution in my mind is to offer him arbitration. If he accepts, he earns a raise and the Yankees get a one-year commitment. If he declines, offer him one year with an option for a second year triggered by a certain number of saves and innings pitched. Anything beyond that is insanity and the Yankees have a very good fallback argument in Andy Pettitte. Pettitte is a year-to-year guy right now and while he hasn’t meant the same thing to the Yankees that Mo has, he is certainly in the ballpark. (And obviously, the Yankees should welcome Pettitte back in 2011 if he wants to pitch.)

Having dispensed with Girardi, Jeter and Mo, we will turn our attention to the 40-man roster tomorrow.