NEW YORK – AL saves leader Rafael Soriano and the New York Yankees have reached agreement on a three-year contract that could be worth $35 million to the free-agent reliever, a person familiar with the negotiations 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.
The deal allows Soriano to opt out after his first or second season with the Yankees. He's likely to become the primary setup man for 41-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, who recently signed a two-year deal for $30 million.
Soriano was successful on 45 of 48 save chances last season in helping Tampa Bay edge out the wild-card Yankees for the AL East title. The 31-year-old righty 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 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 Pena departed as free agents this offseason, in addition to relievers Joaquin 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 Gonzalez.
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 hope he remains in the bullpen for all three years and maybe even longer, possibly as Rivera's eventual successor as the closer.
For now, Soriano is likely to replace Kerry Wood as Rivera's top setup man. 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 still somewhat uncertain — Andy Pettitte isn't sure if he'll return for another season, Javier Vazquez 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.
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.