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Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Hey Cash, you want Soriano now?

By Wallace Matthews

NEW YORK -- Just imagine where the New York Yankees would be right now if Brian Cashman hadn't been overruled on signing Rafael Soriano.

The guy that he wanted in his bullpen, Pedro Feliciano, tried to play catch for the first time in two weeks on Tuesday afternoon. That went so well that, on Wednesday, he's headed back to the MRI tube and might just wind up on the 60-day disabled list by the end of the week.

And Luis Ayala -- the guy Cashman chose to replace Feliciano when Feliciano originally went to the DL with what the Yankees are calling a "rotator cuff strain" -- went on the DL himself with what Joe Girardi called a "lat strain."

Pedro Feliciano
Pedro Feliciano will have an MRI on his aching left shoulder Wednesday.

Right now, it looks as though the only useful guy added to the Yankees bullpen this offseason will be the guy Cashman didn't want. (I don't really count Bartolo Colon because I assume he's just killing time in the pen until Freddy Garcia inevitably falls out of the starting rotation.)

The Yankees GM has made a lot of excellent deals over the past couple of years, and even this offseason, added two players, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez, who have already been of great help to his ballclub and a third, Andruw Jones, who might well turn out to be.

He deserves credit for those moves.

And you can't really blame him for Cliff Lee, either, because how was he to know the guy liked Philadelphia so much that he was willing to trade off a year and about $17 million on his proposed Yankees contract to go back there?

Plus, his reasoning on Soriano was solid -- what's the sense of spending $13.5 million a year on a set-up man when you could get a perfectly good one for less than half that -- even if it turns out that he's now lucky to have him.

But he also deserves blame for not doing better with the rest of his bullpen. He knew as well as anyone that Feliciano had appeared in just about every Mets game -- well, OK, just 266 of them -- over the past three seasons.

Still, he signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract with a team option for a third year.

He threw all of four innings in spring training before coming up lame and who knows if he'll ever throw another pitch as a Yankee this year. (By the way, Feliciano's locker in Yankee Stadium is right next to that of Damaso Marte, the guy Feliciano was supposed to be replacing. He, too, will collect 4 million Yankee dollars this season, probably without throwing a pitch.)

It wasn't long before Cashman began pointing fingers at the Mets for Feliciano's injury, and while he was probably right, what does it say about him that he signed Feliciano anyway?

Probably, that he was desperate for pitching and especially, left-handed relief pitching. Obviously, he knew the Yankees could not survive with Boone Logan as the only lefty in his pen, and so far, Logan has proved him right, running up a 9.00 ERA in his first four appearances.

But now, unless Cashman shakes one out of his sleeve, Logan is going to be the only lefty in that bullpen for the foreseeable future.

Joe Girardi made the announcement about Ayala's injury and Feliciano's setback right after Tuesday night's Yankees-Orioles game was officially rained out. Earlier, Feliciano had given a lukewarm thumbs-up after his first throwing session since March 27 back in Tampa, but it was obvious his heart wasn't in it.

Afterward, he admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that the session in fact hadn't gone well at all, that he felt "a pinch" behind his shoulder when throwing. He rattled off terms like "supraspinatus" and "teres minor," the kind of words pitchers only know when something is very wrong with their moneymaker.

He said, "It didn't feel like my arm. I'm not happy."

On Wednesday, an orthopedic surgeon will shoot some dye into that shoulder to get a deeper, more comprehensive look at an injury that is clearly not the "muscle soreness" Girardi tried to pass it off as a couple of weeks ago.

And no one knows exactly what is wrong with Ayala, because by the time Girardi announced his injury, the right-hander was long gone. But this time, it will be hard for Cashman to blame the Mets, who used him as their emergency closer in 19 games after Billy Wagner went down in 2008, or the Twins or Marlins, his next two stops, for having sold him damaged goods.

Ayala threw only 40 big league innings in the two years previous to signing with the Yankees, and last year was released by the Marlins after amassing an ERA of more than 11.00.

Now, the Yankees will have to dig down into the farm system to come up with yet another replacement, this one a replacement for a replacement for a replacement. It could be Steve Garrison, the lefty who was in the running to fill Feliciano's spot but lost out to Ayala. It could be Andy Sisco, a 6-10 left-hander who has had some big league experience. Maybe they'll take a chance on one of the Killer Bs, perhaps Andrew Brackman -- but sorry, neither Manny Banuelos nor Dellin Betances -- to fill the gap.

But the question remains, how does a team spend $200 million and come up short in the bullpen? And even more tellingly, how do they commit $8 million, and two years, to a pitcher who clearly was on the verge of a breakdown before they signed him.

Those are questions only Brian Cashman can answer. Right now, the GM should just be thankful that the guy he didn't want is in his bullpen, because the guys he did want are no longer able to be.