The New York Yankees likely will make a qualifying offer to retain Rafael Soriano for 2013, but the prospects of a long-term deal for the right-handed reliever who filled in admirably for the injured closer Mariano Rivera last season are remote if Rivera decides to play next season.
"I'd be interested in talking to anyone who can help us, and we know he can help us," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday.
But Cashman also said the Yankees would not offer Soriano a deal remotely like the one he signed before the 2011 season -- three years, $35 million with opt-out clauses after each of the first two seasons, the second of which Soriano exercised Wednesday -- if the 43-year-old Rivera chooses to pitch next season.
"I don't think Soriano would sign here if he's not going to be the closer," Cashman said. "And I don't think we would do again what we did before. He's going to want closer money and I doubt he would want to come back here as a set-up man."
Under the collective bargaining agreement adopted last year, teams can make a qualifying offer to their departing free agents of $13.3 million for one season. If the offer is accepted, the player returns to his former team; if it is rejected, the team receives a draft pick from the team that signs the player as a free agent.
The Yankees are likely to make the offer to Soriano, expecting that it will be rejected as he and his agent, Scott Boras, seek a long-term deal.
According to Yankees president Randy Levine, who negotiated the Soriano deal, Boras believes Soriano can command a contract in the neighborhood of four years and $60 million based on his 2012 season, in which he converted 42 of 46 save opportunities after assuming the closing duties from Rivera, who suffered a season-ending knee injury May 3.
"Based on that, I understand why he would opt out," Levine said. "I hope he's right. We love him here at the Yankees but we wouldn't pay him $60 million for four years."
The Yankees seem willing to gamble that Boras is overstating Soriano's value on the open market and that the closer will eventually accept the qualifying offer and return to the Yankees as "insurance" in the event Rivera decides to retire -- he indicated to Cashman last week that he was "considering" retirement -- or is unable to perform up to his standards after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.
Rivera's agent, Fernando Cuza, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The Soriano-Mariano situation is just one of a half-dozen decisions the Yankees need to make by Friday night, the deadline for making qualifying offers to their pending free agents.
In addition to Soriano, the Yankees must decide whether to make offers to outfielders Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez; pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte; and catcher Russell Martin. According to a source, the Yankees are likely to extend the offer to Swisher and Kuroda, but not to Suzuki, Ibanez, Pettitte or Martin.
Swisher, who is seeking a long-term deal, does not fit into the Yankees' plan to cut payroll to $189 million by 2014, and likely will reject the qualifying offer; Kuroda, who worked on a one-year, $10 million deal in 2012, might accept it, and the Yankees would like to have him back.
They also would like to retain Pettitte and Martin, but believe both of them can be retained for less money than the stipulated $13.3 million. Pettitte, who is still undecided about coming back for 2013, is expected to want a one-year deal at a substantial raise from the $2.5 million he played for in 2012.
The Yankees and Martin were working on a four-year deal last spring believed to be worth about $24 million, but Martin's side suspended negotiations, preferring to play out the final year of his contract before making a new deal. Although he surged late in the season, Martin's final numbers --.211 with 21 home runs and 53 RBIs -- will probably limit his bargaining power this winter.
As for Suzuki and Ibanez, the Yankees have expressed interest in bringing them back on short-term deals.