Scott Boras provided the strongest indication yet his client, Rafael Soriano, will indeed shun his $14 million player option for next season.
In a conversation with The Post, Boras said he still has to have further conversations with Soriano and the Yankees before finalizing plans. But the Yankees are unlikely to make a long-term offer to the reliever in the next two weeks. That being the case, Boras never firmly said Soriano would opt out, but essentially made a case that logically led to this question: Why wouldn’t he?
“There is a strong chance that he would have tremendous value as a free agent,” Boras said. The agent cited relative youth (33 in December), a strong walk-year season (40 saves, 2.26 ERA in place of Mariano Rivera) and a deep pool of clubs that could use a closer (big-market teams such as the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Nationals and Giants could be in play) as reasons to test the market.
Soriano signed a three-year contract through 2013 in which he controlled options for the final two seasons. He has until three days after the World Series to either accept or reject his option. If he rejects, he contractually receives a $1.5 million buyout. The Yankees would then have until five days after the World Series to make a qualifying offer.
That offer (for the average of the top 125 salaries in the game) will be for about $13.3 million-$13.6 million. Soriano would then have an additional week to decide whether to accept that total or become a free agent. If he chose free agency, the Yankees would get a sandwich draft pick next June between the first and second rounds. But that would hurt Soriano’s marketability because a team that signs him would lose a high draft pick that would be determined by their 2012 record.
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The Yankees probably will re-sign Rivera. But he turns 43 next month and is coming off a serious right knee injury. Thus, they would love to retain Soriano as a safety net. Nevertheless, the Yankees probably would feel better served using Soriano’s money elsewhere and hoping David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, David Aardsma and whatever they find in the marketplace could back up Rivera.
Soriano’s worth also is a question. He is not beloved in the industry, having come to the Yankees with a reputation for being distant, moody and self-interested. In addition, many teams have moved away from spending big on a closer. That might only be furthered following Heath Bell’s implosion for Miami after signing a three-year, $27 million pact and Tampa Bay’s ability yet again to construct a superb pen on the relative cheap.
Soriano would be hunting a multi-year deal that makes it easy to walk away from $12.5 million (the $14 million option minus the $1.5 million buyout). If he feels a weak market, he could accept the Yankees’ qualifying offer, which would turn his $14 million player option into about $15 million (the $1.5 million plus the qualifying offer, which will be at least $13.3 million).
The Yankees probably will make the qualifying offer, but do have to think about the risk of Soriano taking it and potentially turning from a $14 million setup man to a $15.1 million setup man and also removing the possibility of using those dollars elsewhere.
joel.sherman@nypost.com

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