NEW YORK — Rafael Soriano turned out to be a vital insurance policy for the New York Yankees. Now, they might need a new one.
The fill-in closer opted out of the final year of his $35 million, three-year contract Wednesday and will likely seek a long-term deal in free agency. Soriano had 42 saves for the AL East champions last season after Mariano Rivera tore knee ligaments in early May.
Soriano was set to make $14 million next year and had until Wednesday to opt out. Instead, New York will pay him a $1.5 million buyout. The Yankees can make him a qualifying offer of $13.3 million before Friday’s midnight deadline and if Soriano signs with another team, they will get draft compensation.
“I’m not surprised because (agent) Scott Boras told me he was confident he could get him 15 times four (years), $60 million. If that’s the case, it would be a good deal for Soriano,” Yankees president Randy Levine told The Associated Press. “I hope that’s what’s real in the marketplace.”
Soriano, who will be 33 in December, signed his lucrative contract with New York before the 2011 season after saving a career-high 45 games for Tampa Bay. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner overruled general manager Brian Cashman in making the deal after Cashman was opposed to it.
Soriano began his stint with the Yankees as a setup man, then took over as the closer after Rivera was injured and did an outstanding job. But his potential departure further complicates an uncertain situation at the back of New York’s bullpen for 2013. Rivera, who turns 43 in November, vowed right after his injury to return next year, but recently said he isn’t sure whether he will pitch again.
While Soriano appears poised to leave the Yankees, Ervin Santana is headed to Kansas City and Ryan Ludwick plans to test the open market.
The Royals made their first move toward shoring up their shaky rotation, acquiring Santana from the Los Angeles Angels for minor league reliever Brandon Sisk.
Santana was an All-Star in 2008 and threw a no-hitter in 2011, but struggled with the long ball this year. He allowed a major league-worst 39 homers and went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA — although he showed improvement down the stretch.
“We were able to scout Ervin during the entire year, specifically the second half,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “His August and September were really good. From a statistical standpoint, he was very good.”
As part of the deal, the Angels sent $1 million to Kansas City. Los Angeles had exercised its $13 million option on Santana’s contract for next season before trading him to the Royals.
The Royals declined their $8 million option on closer Joakim Soria after he had elbow ligament-replacement surgery and missed last season. Soria will receive a $750,000 buyout.
Even though Soria, a two-time All-Star with 160 saves over five seasons, is a free agent, both sides have expressed interest in working out a new contract.
David Wright ($16 million) and R.A. Dickey ($5 million) had their contract options picked up by the New York Mets. General manager Sandy Alderson has said signing the two All-Stars to long-term deals is his top priority this offseason.
Tampa Bay exercised options on pitcher James Shields ($9.5 million), closer Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million) and catcher Jose Molina ($1.5 million). The Rays declined a $6 million option on designated hitter Luke Scott, instead paying him a $1 million buyout.
Ludwick and Cincinnati Reds teammate Ryan Madson became free agents when they declined mutual contract options.
The 34-year-old Ludwick turned down $5 million and received a $500,000 buyout. He batted .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs for the NL Central champions before going 6 for 18 (.333) with three homers and four RBIs in the division series loss to World Series champion San Francisco.
Cincinnati signed Ludwick to a one-year deal for 2012 that included a $2 million base salary, and the outfielder earned an additional $350,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances. Although the Reds are interested in keeping him, Ludwick decided to see what kind of deal he can get on the open market.
Madson needed reconstructive elbow surgery after tearing a ligament during spring training and missed the entire season. Aroldis Chapman moved into the role and saved 38 games in 43 chances.
Madson had a $6 million salary this year, of which $2 million was deferred until Thursday and another $2 million until Nov. 1, 2013. He agreed to that deal in January after a $44 million, four-year deal to stay with the Philadelphia Phillies collapsed last November.
Madson would have made $11 million next year under the mutual option. Instead, he got a $2.5 million buyout. The Reds weren’t going to exercise the 2013 option. They’ve expressed an interest in signing him to a less-expensive deal and giving him a chance to continue his recovery.
The wild-card Baltimore Orioles exercised their $1 million option on reliever Luis Ayala but declined an $11 million option on first baseman Mark Reynolds, who gets a $500,000 buyout and is eligible for salary arbitration.
The Cleveland Indians picked up their $5.75 million option on pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Also, the team declined its options on designated hitter Travis Hafner ($13 million) and starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez ($6 million), formerly known as Fausto Carmona.
The Pirates picked up their option on third baseman Pedro Alvarez ($700,000) and parted ways with catcher Rod Barajas, who had a $3.5 million option. Pittsburgh also released reliever Hisanori Takahashi.
The Toronto Blue Jays exercised their $3 million option on left-handed reliever Darren Oliver and signed outfielder Rajai Davis to a one-year, $2.5 million contract after declining the option on his previous deal.