The other guy in the A-Rod trade

Pettitte not expected to decide on 2011 this week
Stealing Wins: The 2010 Yankees & Baserunning
Twenty minutes later, Luis Gonzalez totally ruined this moment for everyone. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

For Yankee fans in the early part of the 21st Century, few players in pinstripes elicited as much excitement as Alfonso Soriano. He was tall and thin — sinewy almost — and with a bat speed that simply wowed the crowd. His home runs were majestic; his speed on the base paths blazing. He made it look so easy, but after a rapid rise, he quickly fell out of favor. It would change the Yanks forever.

Signed as an international free agent out of Japan, Soriano made his Yankee debut in September of 1999, and he quickly made a mark. His first Yankee hit was a walk-off home run against Norm Charlton and the Devil Rays on a Friday night in the Bronx, and as Chuck Knoblauch began to suffer from baseball-induced psychosis in 2000, Soriano’s hot hitting drew raves.

In 2001, Soriano emerged as the Yanks’ starting second baseman, and he had a respectable rookie campaign. He hit .268 but with only a .304 on-base percentage and slugged .432. He did steal 43 bases and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. For a few minutes at the end of Game 7 of the World Series, it seemed as though Soriano would emerge as the hero. His 8th inning home run off of Curt Schilling gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead with Mariano looming. But alas.

Still, Soriano seemed to use that home run as a spring board to greatness, and the next season was truly his break-out campaign. He struck out too often and walked just 23 times, but he still hit .300/.332/.547 with 39 home runs and 41 stolen bases. It was good enough for a third place MVP finish. In 2003, the power dipped, but the patience improved. He hit .290/.338/.525 with 38 home runs but stole just 35 bases.

Yet, rumblings of displeasure were emerging out of the Yankee camp with Soriano. In the playoffs against Boston and the Marlins, Soriano went just 9 for 55 and struck out 20 times. He was benched in the World Series, and the Yankees seemed to think that he spent too much admiring his home runs and not enough time closing the holes in his swing. When destiny intervened in February, the Yanks did not hesitate to send Soriano off to the Rangers.

As Alex Rodriguez came to New York, Soriano went to Texas, bound for a last-place team. The Yanks had no real clear successor to Soriano at second base as Robinson Cano was still just a prospect, and those close to the Yanks were sad to see Soriano go. “We gave up a great player” Yogi Berra said to the Daily News. “Once he learns the strike zone, he’ll be even better.”

Others shared Yogi’s sentiments. “He’s got a long way to go. He hasn’t even come near reaching his potential. “I was excited to see him grow and develop into the player he is,” Jorge Posada said during the early days of Spring Training. “A-Rod is an exciting player, but Alfonso is pretty similar. He’s going to develop into an A-Rod. He has that potential, and when everything is said and done, when he’s 32, we’ll talk about Soriano as the best player in the big leagues.”

Of course, things didn’t quite turn out A-Rodian for Soriano. He gained two years of age when he was traded, and suddenly, the Yanks had sent not an up-and-comer to the Rangers but someone just a year younger than A-Rod west. Both teams knew of the age discrepancy at the time of the trade.

Since leaving the Bronx, Soriano has had an uneven career. He never did find the strike zone as Yogi thought he would, but he has belted 216 home runs in the intervening seven seasons. As he’s aged, his stolen bases have trailed off to just five last season, and he’s battled hamstring problems while playing the outfield for the Cubs. He’s under contract in Chicago for another four years, and the Cubs still owe him $72 million. They’d move him if they could.

When Soriano hit 46 home runs for the Nationals in 2006 and the Yanks grappled with mid-decade failures, it seemed as though he would become the one who got away from the Yanks, but time has a way of changing things. These days Alfonso Soriano is working to regain that stroke and consistency he once flashed in the Bronx. He’s fifth in strike outs since his 2001 season and eighth in home runs. Alex Rodriguez, of course, leads baseball in the former category over the last ten years, and despite those fears and a very respectable career, Soriano never did become an A-Rod-like player. Almost, but not quite.

Pettitte not expected to decide on 2011 this week
Stealing Wins: The 2010 Yankees & Baserunning
  • Esteban
  • seimiya

    The second baseman of my heart, regardless of his downfall. Watching him play OF for the Cubs is heartbreaking.

  • Matt DiBari

    I remember thinking Soriano was set to be the WS MVP. Looking back now, it probably would have gone to Roger, but Sori did have two (potential) game winning hits.

  • MikeD

    I seem to have blocked out of my memory anything baseball related from the last couple of games from November 2001 and October 2004. Did Sori do something in 2001?

    It’s interesting to read player comments about other players like Soriano. I don’t think any sane person thought Soriano was going to be in A-Rod’s class. In retrospect, save for the 46 HR season, we got the best from Soriano, and he also brought us A-Rod, who helped bring us a couple of MVPs and a World Series. Not bad for an internationl free-agent signing who couldn’t take a walk.

  • Joe DiMaggio’s Ego-Ghost

    It’s hard to believe he’s in his mid-30s already. It seems like just yesterday I saw him play for Double-A Norwich. And I’m only 20 now…

  • nsalem

    In 2002 when we thought Soriano was age 24 his 92 XNH’s were a staggering number topped only once by Junior Joe D and Hank Aaron. It is a number that Mays, Mantle and A-Rod have never reached. His swing and body type reminded many of a young Hank Aaron. I am a big fan and watching his career has been bitterly disappointing. I have often wondered what happened and have written it off to either a lack of discipline or a lack of caring. Maybe they are one and the same. Maybe he had the potential to have the tools of A-Rod, but unfortunately
    his career was nowhere near the same. His defense at points has been awful. I also believe A-Rod’s and Alfonso’s work ethic and feel for the game are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

    • nsalem

      sorry that was 92 XBH’s

    • JGS

      topped only once by Junior Joe D and Hank Aaron. It is a number that Mays, Mantle and A-Rod have never reached

      Junior actually did it twice (93 in 1997 and 92 in 1998), and it’s been done 57 times total (including twice by Albert Belle, who hit 103 extra base hits in 143 games in strike-shortened 1995). A-rod may never have had 92 XBHs in a season, but he had 91 when he was 20 years old in 1996.

      • The Fallen Phoenix

        A-Rod had a 10 WAR season at the age of 20. 10 WAR. That STILL boggles my mind. Like, damn.

        But as good as Soriano was, I don’t think he ever had the upside of A-Rod. His discipline and defense just wasn’t ever there. He had a lot of talent, to be sure, but there are very, very few players who have A-Rod upside.

        Again. 10 WAR. At age 20. Unbelievable.

        • OldYanksFan

          WAR-wise that’s amazing. His OPS+ that year was 160.
          He has however, posted a 173 and 176 OPS+ as a Yankee.
          His best year was really 2007. Fangraphs has his WAR lower in 2007, but BR has it higher.

          By the way, how can we keep using WAR as ‘The’ stat, when FG and BR often have a fair amount of difference?

          “….what happened [with Soriano] and have written it off to either a lack of discipline or a lack of caring.”

          Yeah… while we all admire great talent, the more I follow baseball, the more I realize that work ethic and commitment is what really makes a player. I mean, we all know that Gritner pales, talent wise, to many players, but wasn’t it a pleasure watching him excel last year? And while Soriano was dripping with talent, wasn’t it often frustrating and disappointing to watch him?

          And what about KGjr.? Talent wise, he was out of this universe. Had he had ARod’s commitment, while still a great player, he might have been more iconic then Babe Ruth.

          And Cano… man, he used to remind me of Soriano. Somewhat different skill set, but both guys loaded with talent, but questionable between the ears. Yet while Sori never reached his potential, it seems Robbie has gotten on the boat. I still need to see him do it for a few more years as he (still)impresses me as a guy who could go either way.

          While a young Jeter was great statswise, it was really his mental makeup that has people gaga over him. And it seems to me that Cashman is also concerned about a players makeup, and has been shying away from the flakes.

          • dalelama

            I think you are unfair to Junior as far as commitment. His injuries were often caused by too much commitment. Like the Mick, many of Junior’s injuries were caused by his going all out on every play.

      • nsalem

        When I use the term topped, I meant greater than so I think Junior only did it once. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

  • Steve

    Soriano could be a good fit for the righty bat off the bench (the Marcus Thames role, maybe with a little more playing time). His lefty splits are very good- he posted .944 OPS vs lefties last year. Too bad his contract still has 70mil remaining…

  • Anthony Murillo

    What the hell was Posada smoking?

    Seriously, I was 13 when the trade was first announced and I was really bummed (Soriano was one of my favorites and I had JUST bought his player t-shirt). But when I realized who the Yankees were getting…hard to be really bummed. It’s Alex F’N Rodriguez.

  • bonestock94

    I was devastated when this trade happened. I despised ARod and I thought Soriano would be as good. Happy things went the way they went now.

  • Jess

    I was just reading someone say they would trade AJ for Soriano to DH. AJ has three years left for $49.5. Soriano has four more years for $72. Not even close.

    I’ll go with Mike Francesa for once and agree that AJ will bounce back to his 2008 form.

    • YankeesJunkie

      I would be shocked to see him bounce back 2008 form let alone 2009 form.

    • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

      Sorry, Burnett only performs well during seasons before free agency. You’ll have to wait a little longer.

      • JAG

        Yes, because he was a free agent in 2009 and had a huge payday coming on the market during the off-season.


  • JohnC

    Anyone have a clip of that 2001 game 7 homer off Schilling? Can’t find it anywhere

    • Mike Axisa

      I just saw on it MLB Network last week. First pitch fastball on the inner half, it was gone as soon as it left the bat. Landed about dozen rows back in left.

      • Fair Weather Freddy

        Actually no. It was on an 0-2 pitch. Was a splitter that Sori went down and golfed, if I remember correctly

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    …I don’t get it. So was this Soriano / A-Rod trade good for the Yankees?

    But seriously, that 2001 WS Game 7 was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, and Soriano would have been a legend to us fans if not for that selfish Luis Gonzalez.

    Of course, there was no way to predict that Robinson Cano would be major league ready just a couple of seasons later, but the acquisition of A-Rod and subsequent development of Cano makes me wonder: what other trades have made such an impact and worked out so well for the Yankees like this one? Other than the trade for Jay Witasick.

    • Fair Weather Freddy

      Game 7 was won by Rivera. His bad throw to 2nd on the sac bunt was the killer. If his throw is on the mark, the game ends differently. The real hero for the Dbacks was Womack with his clutch double to tie the game and set up the winning run.

  • Mike HC

    Excellent post. I always loved watching him play, or hit, I should say. It was sad to see him go but ARod was just too good to pass up, and then he aged two years, and it was a bit easier to let go. I can’t believe the Cubs are still on the hook for 4 more years and 72 million to him. Just reminds you how ugly those big contracts can get in a hurry. Maybe the Yanks dodged a bullet or two this off season. Blessing in disguise missing out on everyone (wishful thinking).

    • dalelama

      Arod’s contract will give us another reminder in a couple of years.

  • Pounder

    Soriano and Gonzalez……steroids!

  • LGY

    How often does somebody homer more than they walk? That’s just amazing.

  • Chris0313

    Jorge Posada has to lead the league in ridiculous quotes

  • Mr. Jones

    As a Yankee fan I was happy to see Soriano go. At first I was his biggest supporter I honestly thought he had Arod potential. But after watching his inconsistent play in 2001-2003 and how lazy and incompetent he could be at times I thought getting Arod for Soriano was a fantastic deal. And let’s be honest, it worked out fine.