The other guy in the A-Rod trade

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

Earlier today, we reported that the Yanks aren’t expecting Andy Pettitte to return, but we did say they were expecting to hear from the lefty this week. Apparently, those earlier reports were erroneous. As Brian Costello of The Post reported this afternoon, Brian Cashman said he doesn’t believe he’ll hear from Pettitte this week.

In a related post, T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com’s Rangers reporter, confirms that Texas did indeed reach out to Pettitte. The ballclub was informed that Pettitte “will either retire or go back to the Yankees.” Sullivan believes Pettitte will make up his mind in February which is in line with what we’ve heard concerning the Yanks’ decision to move ahead on the assumption that Pettitte will retire. Either way, Pettitte, says Sullivan, “wants to retire as a Yankee,” and the club will happily give him the time he needs to come to a decision.

Open Thread: A.J. turns his number

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

A happy birthday goes out to A.J. Burnett today, the right-hander turns 34. There’s no beating around the bush here, the Yankees need Burnett to be better than he was last year, and that would be true even if the team managed to sign Cliff Lee. Hopefully a new pitching coach and an offseason of rest (both physical and mental) does the trick. Know who else celebrates a birthday today? The best bad utility infielder infielder ever, Luis Sojo. He turns 45. Happy B-day to both.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team in action, which kinda sucks. Baseball can’t come back soon enough. You know what to do, so have at it.

Rothschild to meet with Burnett in coming weeks

Via Buster Olney, new pitching coach Larry Rothschild is expected to fly down to Maryland to visit with A.J. Burnett in the coming weeks. A.J. called Rothschild as soon as he was hired, and the two are expected to talk about mechanics and whatnot at the upcoming pow-wow. I’m sure the cynics among us will say this should have happened weeks ago, but these guys can’t focus on baseball all year long. It’s 162 games plus Spring Training plus the playoffs, and everyone needs time to unwind and clear their head.

It’s official: Yankees sign Pedro Feliciano

The Yankees have officially signed left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano to a two-year contract worth $8M. The deal also includes a club option for 2013. The two sides agreed to the deal in the middle of December, but the holidays got in the way of the physical and stuff. Feliciano presumably steps in as the team’s late-inning lefty reliever since he’s the “proven veteran,” pushing Boone Logan into the middle innings.

Our 2011 Draft Order Tracker and Depth Chart pages have been updated.

The RAB Radio Show: January 3, 2011

After some time off, the RAB Radio Show returns with some storylines to start 2011. We start at the most logical place: Andy Pettitte. We should hear something this week, and if he returns we’ll have Andy Pettitte Day on the show.

If Pettitte does not return, the Yankees will have a few options. Mike and I talk about the idea of finding a reliever now, to help shore up the bullpen, while they wait for the right starter to become available. Then we talk about which reliever we’d prefer, Soria or Soriano.

Finally, do any of the youngsters have a chance at breaking camp in the rotation? If you’re wondering about my answer, I repeat it a half-dozen times.

Podcast run time 21:53

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Yanks anticipating the end of Andy

I turned the page on Andy when December ended. The Yanks are seemingly prepared to do the same in January.

As the Hot Stove League stumbles on, the Yankees are still waiting for the best remaining free agent pitcher to determine his future. Andy Pettitte has waited for over two months to announce his intentions for the 2011 season, but the Yankees believe an official announcement will come this week, Wallace Matthews reports. Unfortunately, says Bob Klapisch, “everything” points toward Andy’s retiring this winter.

With Pettitte’s decision nigh, Brian Cashman and Co. will have to shift their focus to other targets. Despite earlier reports that the Yanks were moving forward under the assumption that Pettitte would not be back, one club official told ESPN New York that the team is still waiting to hear from the 38-year-old lefty before setting their sights on someone else. “Starter, reliever, a bat, it depends on what’s out there,” the nameless source said. ‘”But we gotta know what Andy is gonna do first.”

Without Pettitte in the fold, the Yanks are looking at Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova as internal candidates for the fourth and fifth starter spots, but pitchers and catchers do not report for over 40 days. There are moves to be made yet. Even still, considering Pettitte’s recent injury history and age, it’s not unreasonable to think he would be good for only around 20-25 starts in 2011, and the club is well aware of Pettitte’s limitations right now.