TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees already had to face the reality of a world without Mariano Rivera last year. But after Saturday's announcement that the 2013 season will be the iconic closer's last hurrah, they'll have time to prepare for what comes next.
But of course, even in their wildest dreams, the Yankees can't hope to simply replace Rivera.
He's universally considered the greatest closer to ever play the game for good reason. He has compiled a Major League-record 608 saves in 681 opportunities, a staggering 89.3 percent success rate. He owns a career 2.21 ERA and 0.998 WHIP, both incredible numbers for a season, much less a career. His 206 ERA-plus -- a statistic that accounts for ballpark factors and league averages -- is the best for any pitcher in baseball history.
He's a 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, and his postseason-record 42 saves include 11 in the Fall Classic. He's 8-1 with a 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP in 96 playoff appearances over 16 years. He has been as stable a presence as anyone could hope for, and that's nearly impossible to replicate.
"You'll never see that again," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, repeating it once again for emphasis. "You'll never see that again."
But still, Cashman argued, it will be harder to replace Rivera in the Yankees' clubhouse than in their save situations. As much as his Yankees teammates, coaches, managers and front-office executives over the years have lauded Rivera for his ability on the field, you'll never hear anyone say so much as a negative word about his character, either.
"Mariano Rivera is arguably the greatest closer of all time," said third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Rivera's teammate since 2004. "But beyond that he is a class act and a great human being. It is an honor to be his teammate and his friend."
"He's irreplaceable," Cashman said. "He is the greatest of all time, but you have all had a chance to get to know him. I've known him since he's been in the Minor Leagues, and he's never changed once.
"He's the same guy. If not, he's a better guy. So he's always been a great guy, and if anything, he's gotten even better as a person, if it's at all possible. That's the guy I know. He's going to be harder to replace in that clubhouse as much as on that field."
Longtime manager Joe Torre, who oversaw Rivera's development with the Yankees from 1996-2007, also spoke about Rivera's character.
"What he did on the field is just a fraction of what he does off the field," said Torre, currently managing Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. "He's a special human being and I'm happy for him. Because I know last year he was sort of torn and then once he got hurt, there was no way he was going to go out like that."
Yankees captain Derek Jeter wouldn't necessarily agree with the idea that Rivera will be harder to replace in the clubhouse than on the field, if only out of respect for everything Rivera has accomplished in his remarkable 18-year Major League career to this point.
"He's going to be pretty hard to replace on the field. I don't know if you can rate one or the other," Jeter said. "How do you talk about replacing someone who's done his job better than anyone else?"
Rafael Soriano did a nearly flawless job in Rivera's stead last season, when Rivera was sidelined by a career-threatening torn right anterior cruciate ligament he sustained while shagging fly balls in the outfield at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Soriano racked up 42 saves in 46 opportunities and finished 54 games, compiling a 2.26 ERA.
But Soriano is with the Nationals now, signed this offseason to a two-year deal. The Yankees have a few options on their current roster, most notably right-hander David Robertson, often viewed as the heir to Rivera's throne. Robertson has five career saves to go along with his 2.95 career ERA and 63 games finished.
Robertson had a chance last year when Rivera went down. He saved one game on May 8 despite issuing two walks and a hit, then he took the loss the next game, surrendering four runs in two-thirds of an inning. Shortly thereafter, he missed a month due to injury. Robertson didn't have many opportunities after that, as Soriano seized the job, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently that Robertson learned from that experience.
"He had that feeling for about a week before he got hurt, what it's like and how you have to prepare for that," Girardi said. "But he really didn't have to do it much."
The Yankees also have hard-throwing right-hander Joba Chamberlain on their roster as well as former Mariners closer David Aardsma.
Barring another injury, they'll have a full year to make a decision about who to name as Rivera's successor. But it will be hard to call that pitcher Rivera's replacement, as it's hard to imagine any closer completely filling Rivera's shoes.
"We're going to find out. That's the thing," Girardi said Saturday. "What he's meant to this organization in the postseason, it's been a remarkable run. So we're going to find out, and hopefully it's not the hard way."