What Went Right: Alfonso Soriano

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the best position player acquired by any team at the trade deadline.

(Ron Antonelli/Getty)
(Ron Antonelli/Getty)

Coming into the season, I think we all knew the Yankees were not going to hit for the same kind of power they have in the past. This was even before Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in Spring Training. You don’t replace Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez with Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Youkilis and not expect to hit fewer homeruns. Not realistically, anyway.

Once Granderson and Teixeira (and Youkilis) got hurt, the lack of power was alarming. At one point Yankees went nine straight games without a homer, their longest such streak since going ten straight in 1984. They went four straight home games without a dinger for the first time in new Yankee Stadium history and just the third time this century. The Yankees hit 18 homers in June and just ten (!) in July, the first time they hit 18 or fewer homers during a calender month since April 1989 (min. 20 games). They managed to do it in back-to-back months. Their 78th game of the season was their 31st homer-less game, matching 2012’s total. It was bad.

Aside from the lack of power in general, the biggest problem specifically was the complete lack of thump from the right side of the plate. From June 25th through July 28th, a span of 477 plate appearances, the Yankees did not get a single homer from a right-handed batter. Not one. Literally zero in 28 team games and more than a calendar month. That’s just unfathomable. Triple check the numbers kind of unbelievable. And yet, it’s true. The Yankees didn’t have the ability to close the gap or extend the lead quickly with one swing of the bat and it cost them games all summer long.

On July 26th, after about a week’s worth of rumors, team ownership pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cubs that brought Alfonso Soriano back to New York in exchange for minor leaguer right-hander Corey Black. Brian Cashman said he preferred to wait rather than trade a good but not great pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder, but ownership wanted Soriano and what ownership wants, ownership gets. The Cubs ate $17.7M of the $24.5M or so left on Soriano’s contract to facilitate the deal.

Just like that, the Yankees had a legitimate right-handed power source. Soriano whacked ten homers in his final 21 games with the Cubs and that carried right over into pinstripes. He went deep in his third game back with the team and 12 times in his first 32 games with New York. During a four-game rampage from August 13th through the 16th, Soriano went 13-for-18 (.722) with five homers and 18 runs driven in. That tied the all-time record for runs driven in during a four-game span in baseball history. Here’s where Soriano ranked in MLB following the trade (min. 200 plate appearances for the rate stats):

AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR RBI ISO fWAR
Soriano 0.256 0.325 0.525 130 17 49 0.269 1.8
MLB Rank 81st 63rd 11th 31st 1st 1st 3rd 40th

For the cost of a good minor league arm and $6.8M in salary obligation, the Yankees acquired a top 40 position player for the remainder of the regular season. Maybe top 30 or so depending on your opinion of fWAR and all that stuff. Despite not arriving until the trade deadline, Soriano finished second on the Yankees in homers (first among righties), third in runs driven in, and sixth in total bases (115). As an added bonus, New York finally had a player who could flip a bat, pimp a homer, and a put on a nice show:

This wasn’t a homer, but he thought it was and it’s the thought that counts.

Soriano was exactly what the Yankees needed: a legitimate middle of the order hitter who could hit the ball out of the park from the right side of the plate. His defense in left field was surprisingly solid as well, especially when ranging to his right towards the foul line. I thought he struggled a little bit on balls hit to his left and into the gap, but overall he was good defender. Certainly not below-average, which is what I had expected given his reputation with the Cubbies.

Unfortunately, Soriano’s heroics weren’t enough to get the Yankees into the postseason. He was the only player they acquired at the trade deadline, which meant many other holes (catcher, shortstop, rotation) were left unaddressed, and that led to the club falling short of a wild-card spot. Soriano did his part though. He was more than just the team’s best non-Robinson Cano hitter after the trade — he was one of the very best hitters in baseball and the team’s best trade deadline pickup since David Justice back in 2000.

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  • RetroRob

    Let’s hope he has one more good season in him. The Yankees will need it next year.

  • OhioYanks

    Yankees replaced Martin with Cervelli, really. Then when Cervelli got hurt they replaced Cervelli with Stewart. Doesn’t make much difference in terms of HRs, but makes a huge difference in terms of overall offensive production. Cervelli has a career wRC+ of 93 compared to Stewart’s wRC+ of 59. And there’s really no reason to be counting HRs instead of offensive production.

    • Craig Sagermetrics

      Of course there is, homeruns are the most important stat and pretty much the only thing that really matters! (Hoping the sarcasm is obvious, but some people here are actually closer to that frame of mind than you might think)

      Mike also has a love affair with Russell Martin almost equal to his hatred for Ichiro. Any chance to extoll the virtues of the former Yankee backstop are not to be passed up.

      • ropeadope

        Mike also has a love affair with Russell Martin almost equal to his hatred for Ichiro.

        lol, not even close. Throw Ms. Lizard’s love for Martin atop of Mike’s, and it still doesn’t approach Mike’s hatrid of Ichiro.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          This.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Explain why anyone here should have something other than disdain for 2013-era Ichiro, please.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      Valid point, although it’s questionable whether Frankie would have been able to sustain his performance throughout the whole year. Still would’ve been better than stomaching a full year of Stewart.

      Cervelli definitely isn’t anything resembling a power bat though, so Mike’s point about lack of power still stands.

    • Tom

      HR’s are a crude proxy for power. The article was about Soriano and he went through the actual statistics on him.

      This is just yet another example of you nitpicking around the edges because you can’t own up to how wrong you were about thinking it was fine the Yankees let Martin go and how there wouldn’t be the major dropoff people were forecasting. It was one of the biggest blunders of last offseason, and it was just as clear at the time as it is in hindsight. And had they kept Martin, they could have just as easily went with Cervelli as the backup; so spinning this as Martin being replaced by Cervelli is yet another hollow argument to make the move look less dumb. It could have just as easily been Cervelli replacing Stewart too.

  • Darren

    Thank Sweet Baby Jesus for Alfonso Soriano. June and July were really unpleasant to watch. Once he arrived, at least we had fun and hope for a little while. All the jackasses who were pissed about this trade should go lick some pine tar.

    • Lukaszek

      Soriano was certainly a rainbow in an otherwise dark season

  • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

    Hope Sori has another season like that left in the tank!

  • Juan Chulo

    nothing better to me than pimped non-HRs.

    like seeing Sori’s run with the Yankees. worry that he’s in line for a Ichiro next season where he won’t be able to sustain his production from the previous short term but we can hope.

    • mitch

      Not that comparable IMO. Ichiro had been trending downward for a few years. It wasn’t a surprise that he couldn’t match his 2012 stretch with the Yanks.

      Soriano definitely might decline a little due to his age, but his production over the last few years has been consistent.

      • jjyank

        Exactly. Ichiro was pretty bad for a year and a half before the trade to the Yankees in 2012. Then he was good for a month or so.

        Soriano had wRC+’s of 100, 116, and 112 in 2011, 2012, and 2013, respectively. Ichiro over that span was 79, 90, and 71.

        Soriano isn’t amazing or a savior or anything, but let’s not compare him to Ichiro at all. The only thing that those two have in common is that the Yanks traded for both of them in the middle of a season.

  • qwerty

    I was not a huge fan of this trade, only because the yanks had to give up Corey Black. Outside of this I had no issue with trading for Soriano. Ownership had to do what they had to do since their GM wasn’t getting the job done. If Cashman had elected to trade for him in the offseason when his value was worthless Black would still be here, but as usual Cashman went with his baseball instincts and traded for Vernon Wells instead.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      How exactly was Soriano’s value “worthless” over the winter?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Because this world is cold, dark place and no one loves us.

      • jjyank

        Because some guy named “qwerty” says so. Duh!

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I always liked asdfg better.

      • qwerty

        Who precisely was asking for Soriano and his contract during the winter? As far as I could tell, it was no one, hence why he was worthless. Correct me if I’m wrong on this. If I’m attempting to get rid of a player that no one wants, then he has zero value in trade talks, meaning you’re not going to get anything for him and you’d be lucky if another team is willing to just take his contract off your hands. I’m not precisely certain why you needed this spelled out to you.

        • AllyinCt

          Cough::cough:: I believe that was me. It had been reported that Chicago would pick up all of his salary except for 5 million dollars each year, in exchange for a nominal prospect. His stats had been way better than Wells in recent years. I was totally against the Wells acquisition.

    • BFDeal

      Cashman was holding out on the trade because he didn’t want to give up Corey Black…but I guess that doesn’t matter to you and your ax grinding.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It’s funny that this still constantly gets brought up.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

          Honestly, it was one of the very few actual Cashman opinions that I didn’t agree with.

        • BFDeal

          Qwerty was a bull dog in another life.

      • RetroRob

        Based on Cashman’s statements and the situation, it seems pretty clear that he did want Soriano, but he knew the Cubs had no negotating position since the only place Soriano would agree to come to was the Yankees. He wanted to wait a bit longer to get the price to drop below Black. He was correct. The Yankees could have had Soriano. They probably still could have kept Black. They still would have missed the playoffs.

      • qwerty

        Was Brian Cashman holding out during the winter too? There are some players that Cashman never wants on this team, and Soriano was one of those players. He was not “holding out.” Cashman simply had no interest, and that’s when ownership had to step in and try and save the season.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      1) Cashman apparently didn’t want to make this trade. It was an ownership move.

      2) I don’t see where giving up Black was a big deal. Just a RP at best.

      Soriano spruced up the offense for the last couple months of the year and should help to do the same next year.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Whoda thunk it, really? After a few games, it was almost like he had never left, which was VERY strange.

    • jjyank

      I also thought it was pretty cool to see him and A-Rod play on the same team. Wouldn’t have thought that would happen after the trade.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      One of the coolest parts of this season though. I enjoyed watching it.

  • The Ghost of Eddard

    Don’t forget that it was Hal Steinbrenner who masterminded the whole deal. Trades like this are why I love when ownership gets involved. The What Went Wrongs could be slimmed down to one : Brian Cashman. If Soriano can be productive next season and help the Yankees to the postseason I really think this could go down as the greatest trade since Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

  • I’m One

    Yes, because ownership always makes the right moves.

    BTW, Hank and A-Rod say hello.

    • I’m One

      Reply fail to Ghost’s comment.

  • Nathan

    I liked that I could pull out my old Soriano shirt from my closet and wear it again.

    • RetroRob

      I’m not sure any of my clothes from ten years back would fit me…sadly.

  • JGYank

    He did great for us this year. But it would be unfair to expect similar production next year. He’s only getting older. This is kind of similar to what the Yanks did with Ichiro, trading for a declining vet midseason and after he played well for half a season make them the starter the next season. Soriano obviously is a better hitter and provides pop to the lineup but has a low OBP and will probably have similar overall production to his 2013 numbers next year not the numbers he just put up in NY. Hopefully he doesn’t decline like Ichiro has over the past few years. If Sori loses his bat, he can’t help much in other ways. At least Ichiro can run and play pretty good d and is a good option off the bench. But we only have both for one more year anyway and the Cubs will help pay for Sori.

    • jjyank

      I’m going to repeat what I said earlier, because it apparently needs to be repeated: “The only thing that those two have in common is that the Yanks traded for both of them in the middle of a season.”

      Different players. Different people. Different styles of play. Different career arcs. There is absolutely no reason to include those two names in the same sentence.

      Soriano was productive in 2012 and 2013. Ichiro was not, in either season. Will Soriano decline more? Probably. But can he still be above average at the plate? Probably. Can he have a wRC+ of more 30-40 points more than Ichiro in 2014? Probably.

      Ichiro is a fourth outfielder at this point. Soriano can still start, even if he does some of the starting at DH.

      • JGYank

        I know Soriano can actually hit and is good enough to be a starter but he’s not young and if he declines and loses his ability to hit he’s screwed which is why I wrote “hopefully he doesn’t decline like Ichiro.” Doesn’t mean I think they are similar players. Soriano is way better at hitting right now. I wasn’t actually comparing the two, I was stating how we shouldn’t expect the same Soriano from the second half of 2013. Just like we shouldn’t have expected Ichiro to hit this year even though he was good for us in 2012. The similarity was that the Yanks traded for two old outfielders and are praying that their production doesn’t fall of a cliff after they both hit well immediately after they were traded and both got a chance to start the next year.

        • WhittakerWalt

          I would argue that Ichiro isn’t even a good option off the bench. Maybe if you need a pinch-bunter he’d be OK. He doesn’t even hit the ball out of the infield anymore.

      • AllyinCt

        He has stated in the past that he does not like to DH. He should play LF and Granderson, Beltran, or whomever should DH.

  • Dave M

    Sori was one of my favorite players prior to him being traded. So I was pretty happy to have him back. And I think he did exceed all of our expectations.

    • Argenys

      Back then he was one of my favorites as well, but he was dead to me for almost a full decade after the 2003 postseason. All righties did was throw sliders away, didn’t matter how far away(which was the worst part) and it was an automatic K.