- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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Almost six months after he said these words -- "I am coming back. Put it down. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going down like this. God willing and given the strength, I'm coming back." -- suddenly Mariano Rivera is not so sure.
That is only natural, given his age, professional stature, financial security and the prospect of spending another nine months on the road after having enjoyed the comforts of home and family since May.
It pains me to write the following sentence, but here goes: It's probably best for everyone concerned if Mariano follows his gut and decides to stay home with Clara and the boys.
It is painful because Mo is by far the best Yankee in the clubhouse -- human, real and easy to talk to, one of the few adults in a world largely stuck in perpetual adolescence.
It will be painful for the fans, because as good as any replacement the Yankees might find for Rivera may be, he will not be Mo, a central figure on five championship teams and the only member of the Core Four whom you can safely say they could not have done it without.
Initially, it will be painful for Mo, because no athlete wants to go out the way he did -- writhing in the outfield in Kansas City after tearing up a knee indulging in one of his favorite diversions, shagging batting practice fly balls.
But in the long run, it will work out better for him. And in the short run, it will work out better for the team.
For Mo, it means going out on top and leaving the fans wanting more -- the way so many Yankees greats have, including Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mattingly and, hopefully, Jeter.
After all, Mo's legacy is secure. Forty more saves can hardly burnish his reputation, nor does he need another ring or, presumably, another $10 million. Does he get a second plaque in Cooperstown for retiring with 648 saves instead of 608 or six rings rather than five?
Either way, he goes down in history as the most valuable specialized baseball player in the history of the game.
On the flip side, while an unsuccessful comeback could never really tarnish him, does anyone really want to see Rivera finishing up the way Trevor Hoffman did?
And for the Yankees, a Rivera retirement solves the Mariano/Soriano conundrum, by far the most vexing problem the club must face in what is likely to be an offseason of upheaval.
This is not to say that Mo should retire just to make Brian Cashman's job easier. But the truth is, if he decides to come back, some hard decisions are going to have to be made that could affect the future of the franchise.
While Mariano may not be sure what he is going to do, you can bet your house on what Rafael Soriano is about to do. Within three days of the end of the World Series, as early as next Thursday, he will opt out of the final year of his contract and put his wares on the open market.
(For the umpteenth time, no agent in history has ever insisted on an opt-out clause in a player's contract unless he intends to exercise it. If you don't use it after the season Soriano had in 2012, when do you? By the way, the agent is Scott Boras. Look up the history, starting with Alex Rodriguez, circa 2007.)
Once Sori opts out, the Yankees have to make a call, and just about every option is a bad one.
Do they let him walk and gamble that Mo will not only come back to play in 2013 but also return to the form he showed before the injury?
Do they re-sign Sori -- at a raise over the $14 million he is already guaranteed for 2013, plus probably two more years -- and run the risk that they will be paying three times the going rate for a setup man if Mo comes back strong?
This would be a nightmare assuming Hal Steinbrenner sticks to his guns about cutting the payroll to $189 million by 2014 -- a near impossibility if you are paying nearly $30 million a year for closers, one of whom will be pitching the eighth inning. Oh, by the way, have you forgotten how much Soriano looooves pitching in non-save situations?
The worst-case scenario of all: They let Sori go, Mo decides to retire or, worse, finds that at 43 years old his body can't bounce back from a torn ACL, and they are left without a legitimate closer for 2013.
It would certainly simplify matters if Mo decided to call it a career, allowing the Yankees to pass the torch to Soriano, who proved to be up to the task.
That is why, as difficult as it would be to see Mo go, it might be even more difficult to see him stay.
No one knows for sure if he will be able to pitch effectively again after major knee surgery. Despite Mo's singular talent and impeccable work ethic, the file on 43-year-old closers coming back from such an injury is not only thin but nonexistent.
Already, Mo had been doing what no closer had ever done before. It may be that asking him to do this would finally be asking too much.
In some sense, Rivera may know it. That could be why, six months after he was so sure he would come back, suddenly he is not so sure.
You know the old saying about how once you start thinking about retirement, you're as good as retired, because you've already got one foot out the door?
Clearly, Rivera already has one foot out the door.
For his sake, and the Yankees', maybe it's time for the other foot to follow.
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