SPORTS

Soriano Reaches $35 Million Deal with Yankees, Source Says

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2010, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Rafael Soriano delivers the ball to the Texas Rangers during Game 3 of the American League Division Series baseball game in Arlington, Texas. A person familiar with negotiations tells The Associated Press that the New York Yankees have reached a three-year agreement with Soriano, last years AL saves leader. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2010, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Rafael Soriano delivers the ball to the Texas Rangers during Game 3 of the American League Division Series baseball game in Arlington, Texas. A person familiar with negotiations tells The Associated Press that the New York Yankees have reached a three-year agreement with Soriano, last years AL saves leader. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)  (AP2010)

For the better part of a decade, no one would argue that in Mariano Rivera, the Yankees had the best closer in baseball.

Now it seems they have the best set-up man in the game, too.

The Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year deal that could be worth $35 million, a source told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the deal has not been finalized. Soriano must pass a physical to complete the contract.

Soriano, 31, who closed games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, had 45 saves. He was 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA in his only year with the Rays and was a member of the AL All-Star team.

The deal allows Soriano to opt out after his first or second season with the Yankees. In time, though, the team hopes Soriano might be the answer to who could become Rivera's successor.

The signing would mark the first major free-agent addition for the Yankees this offseason after they missed out on ace Cliff Lee.

Soriano becomes the latest prominent player to leave the cost-cutting Rays, who have won two of the past three AL East titles. Speedy outfielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Carlos Peña departed as free agents this offseason, in addition to relievers Joaquín Benoit, Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate. Starting pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett were traded.

AL East rival Boston has been especially busy this winter, signing Crawford and trading for All-Star first baseman Adrian González.

Soriano is assured $11.5 million, even if he decides to leave the Yankees after the first year. He's guaranteed $22.5 million for staying at least two seasons.

The Yankees likely will use Soriano to replace Kerry Wood as their top eighth-inning reliever. Wood, acquired by the Yankees from Cleveland at last year's trade deadline, became a free agent this offseason and went back to the Chicago Cubs, signing a $1.5 million, one-year contract.

Soriano, however, would give the Yankees extra insurance on days when they might want to rest Rivera. And with New York's rotation somewhat unsettled — Andy Pettitte isn't sure if he'll return for another season, Javier Vázquez signed with Florida — Soriano would help add length and depth to a bullpen that might need to pitch extra innings for shaky starters.

Earlier this winter, New York signed left-handed specialist Pedro Feliciano to an $8 million, two-year deal.

Soriano made his major league debut with Seattle in 2002 and didn't start closing on a somewhat regular basis until 2009 with Atlanta. He had 27 saves with a 1-6 record and a 2.97 ERA that year with the Braves, then was traded to Tampa Bay after the season.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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