NEW YORK -- The Yankees have created one of the game's top late-inning relief combinations, as the club announced Tuesday it has signed free-agent right-hander Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contract.
Soriano and the Yankees came together on the deal late Thursday, according to a source. The All-Star right-hander was formally introduced at a Wednesday news conference.
With Soriano installed in the Yankees' bullpen, the team will enter 2011 showcasing a new setup man for Mariano Rivera, as well as a possible future successor for the long-occupied closer role in the Bronx.
Soriano will earn $10 million in the first year of his pact, with an additional $1.5 million if he opts out of the deal; $11 million in the second year, with an opt-out payment of $1.5 million; and $14 million in 2013.
Widely considered the best available talent remaining on the Hot Stove market, Soriano converted an American League-leading 45 saves, out of 48 chances, last year, helping the Tampa Bay Rays edge the Wild Card-winning Yankees for the AL East title.
Rafael Soriano's three-year contract with the Yankees has an annual salary that places him fifth on the all-time list for relievers.
Salary (in millions)
But moving elsewhere into a closer's role proved more difficult than expected for the 31-year-old, who posted a 1.73 ERA, an .802 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings over an All-Star campaign.
Instead, he and agent Scott Boras found the Yankees to be an opportunity to pitch for a winning team in 2011 while leaving open the possibility that he could opt out of the deal after the season and again try his hand on the free-agent market.
The Yankees will lose their first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft to the Rays because of Soriano's Type A free-agent status.
The move represents a surprising reversal of sorts by general manager Brian Cashman, who strongly insisted last week that he was not willing to give up that first-round pick to sign Soriano or any player not named Cliff Lee.
But the Yankees have endured a difficult offseason, stemming mostly from Lee's rejection of a larger contract offer to instead return to the Phillies, but also including drawn-out negotiations in re-signing iconic shortstop Derek Jeter.
By the time Lee came off the board, the Yankees found opportunities to upgrade their starting pitching scarce, and they figure to head into this season relying heavily on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in their rotation.
Having also added catcher Russell Martin and left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano this winter, the Yankees can now hope that Soriano and Rivera can shorten games as one of the game's knockout relief combinations.
Soriano effectively replaces right-hander Kerry Wood, who greatly stabilized New York's bullpen as a bridge to Rivera after arriving in a July 31 trade from Cleveland but became a free agent and returned to the Chicago Cubs.
With 559 career saves, Rivera will enter 2011 chasing the recently retired Trevor Hoffman's all-time record of 601, but Soriano could also appear in save opportunities on days when Rivera is unavailable to pitch.
Soriano became a full-time closer in 2009 while pitching for the Atlanta Braves. He came up in the Seattle Mariners system and broke into the Majors in 2002 as a starter before locking into a middle-relief and setup role. He has a career 2.73 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 422 strikeouts in 395 innings.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.