Archive for Alfonso Soriano

Only five questions this week, and some of the answers are kinda short. We must have received about a dozen different variations of the first two questions. Great minds think alike, I hear. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)

(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Many people asked: What about Nick Franklin?

Now that Robinson Cano is locked in at second base for the next decade, the Mariners don’t have an obvious spot for the 22-year-old Franklin. He hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homeruns and six stolen bases in 412 plate appearances this past season, his first taste of the show. Franklin is a switch-hitter who has always struggled against lefties, so much so that there’s been talk of making him hit exclusively left-handed. He’s the anti-Derek Jeter on defense — good amount of range but makes a lot of errors because he boots grounders and makes bad throws — and the total package is more solid regular than future All-Star.

Franklin has understandably been getting talked up as a trade chip since the Cano signing and the hype has surpassed reality, kinda like Mike Olt a year or so ago. He’s good but not truly great. The Yankees can use a young second baseman now and Franklin would certainly fit, though I don’t think the Mariners are ready to move him. They could always send him back to Triple-A and have him work at other positions or wait for a better offer. There’s no need to rush into a decision. I’m more intrigued by Dustin Ackley to be honest, because at least there’s All-Star caliber talent hiding in their somewhere. I’d rather see New York buy super low on him and hand him over to Kevin Long than pay market rate for Franklin. Franklin fits a need, no doubt, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between what he actually is and how he’s being valued.

Many people asked: What about moving Alfonso Soriano to second base?

This ain’t happening. Soriano hasn’t played second base at all since 2009 or regularly since 2005, and, in case you forgot, he was pretty terrible there. We saw it firsthand from 2001-2003. He wasn’t Eduardo Nunez bad, but he misplayed a lot of balls on the infield during his time there. Soriano is going to be 38 next month and he’s played 3.2 innings at second base over the last eight years. This isn’t even something the Yankees can seriously consider.

Andrew asks: Will Dean Anna be competing for a MLB roster spot in Spring Training or was he added purely for depth in the minors? I have not heard any discussion about him being a potential 2B option for the Yanks.

Can’t it be both, compete for a job in camp and be added for depth? The Yankees have an open position player spot right now — could be two if they cut one of Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — and that figures to go to whatever infielder they acquire in the coming weeks. If they don’t add an infielder, Anna probably has to beat out Nunez for a roster spot. For some reason the incumbent always seems to have up in these competitions. I’m intrigued by Anna’s on-base skills and like him as an up-and-down depth player, but if he makes the team out of camp as even a semi-regular at second, something probably went wrong somewhere.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Andy asks: Can you make up what a potential Yankees line-up would look like now? Against both lefties and righties.

Given the roster as it sits today, meaning no obvious second/third baseman, here are the lineups I would run out there:

                  vs. RHP                   vs. LHP
1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2.   LF Brett Gardner 2.   SS Derek Jeter
3.   RF Carlos Beltran 3.   1B Mark Teixeira
4.   C Brian McCann 4.   DH Alfonso Soriano
5.   DH Alfonso Soriano 5.   RF Carlos Beltran
6.   1B Mark Teixeira 6.   C Frankie Cervelli
7.   3B Kelly Johnson 7.   3B Kelly Johnson
8.   SS Derek Jeter 8.   2B Brendan Ryan
9.   2B Brendan Ryan 9.   LF Brett Gardner

You and I both know Jeter will bat second against righties and lefties as long as he’s healthy. That’s just the way it is. I would bat him lower in the order against righties until he shows he can hit them, however. The Cap’n had a 99 wRC+ against same-side pitchers even during his big bounceback 2012 season, so I’m skeptical about what he can do at his age and following what amounts to a lost season.

Ellsbury and Gardner had almost identical batting averages (.246 vs. 247) and on-base percentages (.317 vs. .323) against lefties last season, but Gardner hit for much more power (.071 vs. .180 ISO). That doesn’t really jibe with the rest of his career though. Ellsbury and Gardner have identical career 96 wRC+ against southpaws, so the tiebreaker goes to the guy who will steal 40+ bases no questions asked (who also happens to have a $153M contract). Batting Gardner ninth instead of eighth against lefties allows him to serve as a second leadoff man, so to speak.

The rest is pretty straight forward, right? Soriano was awesome last year but McCann is the (much) better hitter against right-handers, which is why I have him batting cleanup against righties. I’d use a straight splatoon at catcher as a way to give McCann regular time off as well. He’s going to need the rest, it comes with the territory, so you might as well rest him against southpaws and get Frankie in there. Jeter and Teixeira still mash left-handers (or at least they did the last time they were healthy), making them a natural fit for the two-three spots against southpaws.

Laying the lineup out like this makes it easy to see how much the team needs a second or third baseman, preferably a righty bat. Those lineups would look so much better if they moved Ryan to the bench, shifted Johnson to second, and had someone like Mark Reynolds to bat seventh or eighth, no?

Jon asks: Explain the minor league Rule 5 Draft. How could you just lose players for $12,000? How many could you protect? Could the Yankees have chosen players from other minor league teams for $12,000 or did their lack of room on the 40-man roster prevent it?

The lack of 40-man space has nothing to do with the ability to make picks in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The minor league phase is pretty complicated, so I’ll direct you to this J.J. Cooper explanation. I don’t even fully understand it. All I know is that if you take a player in the minor league phase, he’s yours to keep. Those guys do not have to go through the same roster hoops as the players drafted in the Major League portion. The Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to give players an opportunity with a new organization if they’re buried or overlooked by their current team, and, for the most part, it accomplishes that goal.

Categories : Mailbag
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Oct
21

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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(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

This has been a long and occasionally painful season, but it’s still hard to believe there are only ten games and eleven days left on the regular season schedule. The Yankees are three games back of the second wild-card spot in the loss column and their chances of making the playoffs are remote — 3.4% according to Baseball Prospectus — but they do still have a chance. A very small one, but a chance nonetheless.

Soon after the end of the regular season, the BBWAA crew will vote on the various major awards. The playoffs aren’t considered even though the official announcements aren’t made until sometime in November. The last Yankee to win a major award was Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, when he took no prisoners en route to his third MVP. It usually takes that kind of otherworldly season for a Yankee to win a major award because there is some voter bias. At least lately there has been thanks to the dynasty years and all those division titles.

This season doesn’t figure to be any different. The Yankees don’t have a 2007 A-Rod or a 2001 Roger Clemens on the roster, but they do have a handful of players who will garner at least some consideration for the major awards. At this point of the season, it’s hard to think anything that happens between now and Game 162 will change the voters’ minds. Let’s look at which Yankees have a shot at the various awards.

Most Valuable Player
The team’s only serious MVP candidate is (who else?) Robinson Cano. He’s hitting .311/.383/.514 (141 wRC+) and is top ten in the league in both versions of WAR. Obviously his chances would greatly increase if the Yankees sneak into the postseason, but even if they don’t, Cano should get a fair amount of love because he was New York’s only real offensive threat for most of the season. Fairly or unfairly, the voters do take that stuff into consideration. It’s the whole “he had no protection!” idea.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Alfonso Soriano could get some votes because of his huge production following the trade — Jack Curry wrote about this last week — but I have a really hard time seeing that unless he swats like, six more homers from here on out and the Yankees win a wildcard spot. I’m sure it’s happened plenty of times before, but the only time I can remember a midseason trade pickup getting serious MVP consideration was Shannon Stewart in 2003. He hit .322/.384/.470 (127 wRC+) in 65 games for the Twins following the deal while Minnesota went from 7.5 games back to winning the division by four games. The narrative was pretty strong.

I suppose Mariano Rivera could draw some honorary down-ballot votes in his final season, which would be kinda neat. He’s received MVP votes in nine different seasons and has finished as high as ninth in the voting (2004 and 2005). This hasn’t been Mo’s best year — he’s still been pretty great by normal closer standards — and he doesn’t really deserve MVP votes, but who knows what’ll happen. Could A-Rod get a tenth place troll vote or two if they made the playoffs? That would be a riot. Ain’t happenin’ though.

Cy Young
Unless Rivera gets some going away votes — unlikely since this ballot only goes five players deep — the Yankees’ only Cy Young candidate this year is Hiroki Kuroda. He led the league with a 2.33 ERA as recently as August 16th, but he crashed into the fatigue wall this week and is no longer in the mix. Kuroda, who now has a 3.13 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 189.2 innings, could steal a fourth or fifth place vote from a New York writer. It would surprise me though. There are a ton of worthy Cy Young candidates in the so-called Junior Circuit this year.

Rookie of the Year
Do you know who leads Yankees rookies in the FanGraphs version of WAR this season? Melky Mesa at 0.3. He came to the plate 14 times before being released. The Baseball-Reference version is a little kinder and has Adam Warren in the lead at 0.9. Either way, I think you get the point. They don’t have a horse in this race.

Comeback Player of the Year
Finally, an award a Yankee might actually win. Rivera is coming back from his knee injury and has the whole retirement thing going for him, which is probably enough to get him the popular vote regardless of his performance. Mariano is an icon and we’ve already seen how beloved he is around the game, by opposing players and writers alike. I hesitate to call him a shoo-in, but I think you have to consider Rivera the overwhelming favorite here.

There’s a chance Brett Gardner could get some Comeback Player of the Year love, but I would expect all the Yankees-related votes to go to Mo. Eric Hosmer, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana figure to be Rivera’s primary competition. So yeah, his to lose I think.

Manager of the Year
I wrote about Joe Girardi‘s Manager of the Year chances way back in May, and obviously a lot has changed since then. The Yankees were exceeding every possible expectation at the time and we were still expecting guys like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to come back and be productive. That didn’t happen and the team faded in a big way during the summer months. They’ve been trying to climb out of the hole for a few weeks now.

Even if the Yankees don’t make the postseason, I think Girardi’s going to get a fair amount of Manager of the Year support because the roster has been decimated by injuries. This wasn’t one or two injuries, this was half the lineup. In some cases their replacements got hurt. It’s not an accident the Yankees have used a franchise-high 56 different players this year. That wasn’t out of the kindness of their heart, they needed all of the warm bodies. Girardi has managed to keep the team in the hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season and that’s pretty remarkable.

Furthermore, I think Girardi has done a masterful job of handling the A-Rod situation. That could have easily been a big distraction — and it was for a while as the two traded barbs through the media — but he’s kept it contained and a non-issue for a good month now. It would have been very, very easy for that whole situation to blow up and become a major daily issue, but Girardi made sure it didn’t. I don’t think he will win the award — John Farrell has the worst-to-first thing going for him — but he’ll definitely get votes and could finish as high as second on the ballot. There isn’t a ton of competition for the award this year.

Categories : Players
Comments (46)

Just four questions this week but they’re really good ones. The best way to send us anything is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Jason Miller/Getty)

(Jason Miller/Getty)

Travis asks: Should the Yankees look to sign Scott Kazmir for 2014?

It’s hard to believe Kazmir is still only 29 years old. He won’t even turn 30 until January. Kazmir missed essentially all of 2011 and 2012 due to shoulder and back injuries before showcasing himself in an independent league. He turned a non-roster invite from the Indians into a rotation spot in Spring Training, beating out Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kazmir has pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 4.00 FIP in 125 innings across 23 starts this year, his best season since 2009 and a very impressive comeback. He deserves some major props for sticking with it.

Kazmir hasn’t gotten many ground balls (40.3%) and he has been homer prone (1.22 HR/9 and 12.2% HR/FB) this summer, but his strikeout (8.28 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) rates are really good. He’s handled left-handed batters very well (.242 wOBA and 2.22 FIP), righties not so much (.361 wOBA and 4.80 FIP). After all the injuries, the thing you worry about most is the quality of his stuff. He uses his two-seam fastball far more than four-seamer at this point and the velocity has been fine all year:

Kazmir Two-Seamer

It’s not the blazing upper-90s heat he had back in the (Devil) Rays days, but that will work. His trademark slider averages 82.8 mph and more importantly, PitchFX says it’s averaging 4.6 inches of movement overall. That’s in line with 2007-2009 (the first years of PitchFX) and better than what he showed in 2010. Having seen him pitch a few times this year, I’m comfortable saying it isn’t the same wipeout slider that helped him lead the AL in strikeouts at age 23. The pitch is more effective than it has been in years, however. Kazmir also works with an upper-70s/low-80s changeup.

When I first read the question, my initial reaction was “no way.” I mean, c’mon. It’s Scott Kazmir. He hasn’t been effective in like forever. But, when I saw that he was missing bats, limiting walks, sustaining his fastball velocity, and getting more break on his slider, I have to say that I’m intrigued. I would be very skeptical about giving him a multi-year contract though. Yes, he is only 29, but he’s got an ugly (arm) injury history and he is still a homer/fly ball prone lefty with a massive platoon split. Lots of red flags. There’s a non-zero chance he could turn back into a top shelf starter, but I think you have to consider him more of a back-end guy at this point. The Yankees will need starters this winter and while Kazmir might not be the most ideal solution, he’s someone worth considering.

Damix asks: Josh Johnson was both terrible and injured this year, but given the budget and rotation uncertainty, is he worth a shot for next year?

Johnson, who turns 30 in January like Kazmir, was indeed awful (6.20 ERA and 4.61 FIP) in 81.1 innings across 16 starts for the Blue Jays this year. He missed a little more than a month with a triceps issue earlier this season and is now done for the year with a forearm strain. Johnson had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007 (has it really been that long already? geez) and missed most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation. He had a 3.81 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 191.1 innings with the Marlins last summer, and that’s the guy Toronto was hoping they’d get in 2013.

Unlike Kazmir, Johnson is injured right now and will head into the free agent market as an unknown. There’s still time for Kazmir to break down, but that’s besides the point. It’s been three years since Johnson was truly dominant in a full season of work, but he did miss bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and get ground balls (45.1%) for the Blue Jays this year. He also gave up a ton of homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.5% HR/FB) and got slaughtered by right-handed batters (.441 wOBA). If they could get him on a one-year contract with a low base salary and bunch of incentives, great. The Yankees won’t have a ton of money to spend under the $189M luxury tax threshold and they can’t afford to spend $10M or so on a reclamation project pitcher. They need some more certainty.

(The Orlando Sentinel)

(The Orlando Sentinel)

Michael asks: Please give me a statistical reason to think that Dante Bichette Jr. is not done as a prospect.

First things first: statistics are just a small part of the prospect pie. The further you get away from the big leagues, the less meaningful the stats become. The scouting report should always come first in my opinion.

That said, it’s tough to defend DBJ at this point. He hit .248/.322/.331 (84 wRC+) with three homers in 522 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season, was sent back there this year, and responded by hitting .210/.291/.322 (80 wRC+) with ten homers in 470 plate appearances. The increase in power (.083 vs. .112 ISO) comes with an increase in strikeouts (18.0 vs. 24.0 K%). Bichette, a righty bat who turns 21 next month, managed a .250/.319/.440 line in 94 plate appearances against lefties this year, so I guess that’s the reason to think he’s still a prospect.  He was productive against southpaws. Things are looking grim, but I wouldn’t write him off yet at this age.

Stephen asks: Half-embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea Alfonso Soriano was close to 400 homeruns. I figured at the end of his career he may be closing in on that, but at this point, he is close to making 500 a real possibility. Is Soriano a Hall of Famer? I have honestly never even considered the possibility because he has only had two really good years, but his career numbers are pretty solid. He’ll also probably get his 300th stolen base in the next year or two as well.

Soriano hit his 400th career homer on Tuesday night, making him only the 43rd player in history with 2,000 career hits and 400 homers. He’s only the sixth with those two milestones plus 250 career steals. Only 24 of those 43 players are in the Hall of Fame, but I count ten more who will be or should be enshrined at some point: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Piazza. A few others are on the bubble. Obviously guys like Bonds, A-Rod, and Manny have no prayer of getting into the Hall at this point, but their bodies of work are Hall of Fame worthy.

Anyway, out of those 43 players in the 2,000-hit/400-homer club, Soriano’s career 28.2 WAR ranks … 43rd. I guess that makes sense since he just joined the club, but it goes to show how much of his offensive value was squandered on defense over the year. Soriano should zoom passed Paul Konerko (28.7 WAR) at some point, but the next guy on the list is Carlos Delgado (44.4 WAR). That would be very hard to do at age 37 (38 in January). He hasn’t hit fewer than 20 homers since his rookie year in 2001 and even though he’s about to have his second consecutive 30+ homer season, it will probably take him at least four and possibly five seasons to get to 500 career. Even if he does, I don’t think 500 homers is an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame anymore.

I remember being so enthralled by Soriano when he first broke into the league because he was this rail-thin guy who huge power and big speed. He was so exciting. It’s hard to believe his career is coming to an end now and even harder to believe how much he’s accomplished. Four-hundred homers? Two-thousand hits? Almost 300 steals? Did anyone realistically think that was possible when he was a rookie? Crazy. Soriano is a career .272/.321/.504 (113 OPS+) hitter who’s had a brilliant career. A brilliant career at is just short of Cooperstown worthy in my eyes.

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“I would say we are in a desperate time. Ownership wants to go for it. I didn’t want to give up a young arm [Corey Black]. But I understand the desperate need we have for offense. And Soriano will help us. The bottom line is this guy makes us better. Did ownership want him? Absolutely, yes. Does he make us better? Absolutely, yes. This is what Hal wants, and this is why we are doing it.”

That’s what Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman just days after the Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano last month. A lot of people have taken that to mean Cashman didn’t want Soriano, but he didn’t really say that. Maybe he meant it, but he didn’t say it. He simply said he didn’t want to give up a good but not great Single-A pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder. Considering the Cubs had little leverage after Soriano said he would only waive his no-trade clause to come back to the Yankees, you can argue Black was an overpay. I think it was a fair trade, but that’s just me. Maybe Cashman thought they could get him while giving up something less. That’s not unreasonable.

Now that Soriano is pretty much carrying the team offensively — or at least producing the loudest with all the homers — Cashman’s taking a ton of heat for not wanting him even though that’s not what he said. It kinda sounds like he said that though and now he looks silly. Such is life. Does that have any actual impact on the team’s performance? Maybe, but I find that hard to believe. Maybe Cashman’s ego is bruised, but who really cares about that. He’s been the GM of the New York Yankees for a long ass time; I’m pretty sure he’s learned to tune out the public perception of him and the job he’s doing. You kinda have to to survive that long.

The question I and I think a lot of people have is why? Why did Cashman go public with his disagreement with the trade? Was he simply responding to a question or was it unprovoked? Was he suggesting the Yankees stink and should focus on rebuilding rather than adding another ancient player signed through 2014? Is he just sick of being over-ruled? No one knows other than Cashman and that sucks because it leads to all sorts of speculation. We’re all guilty of it and none of it is productive. Sure is fun though.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

There is one thing I do know: Brian Cashman isn’t stupid. If you’ve listened to him talk at any point in the last like, 15 years, then you know he’s mastered the art of saying both a lot of words and nothing at all. He gives these long-winded answers and there’s nothing to them. Lots of words and no information. It’s amazing. Joe Girardi has gotten good at it as well. When Cashman does say something with actual substance, it’s because he wants to. There’s a reason he came out and said he didn’t agree with the Soriano deal trading Corey Black. There’s a message for someone in there.

An important thing — maybe the most important thing — to remember is that there are reputations involved here. What if Cashman was in trade talks with other clubs and told them Black was untouchable? It sure would look bad if he turned around and dealt him to the Cubs, wouldn’t it? That would make it tough to trust the guy in future trade conversations in my opinion. I remember a few years ago, while speaking at a WFAN charity event, Cashman said part of the reason he was so outspoken following the Rafael Soriano signing was because he had told other agents he was unwilling to go three years on a relief pitcher. He had to let those guys know hey, it wasn’t me. My bosses did it.

Cashman said he didn’t want to trade Black for Soriano for some reason. Some reason we don’t know. I don’t think he was out there thumping his chest trying to reassert his dominance over the baseball operations. He and the Steinbrenners reportedly have a great relationship and that’s the most important thing. That he’s not a simple “yes man” and is voicing his displeasure is a good thing (to some extent) even if comes off as unprofessional. A bunch of guys sitting around a table agreeing with each other is no way to build a baseball team. There has to be different voices. Cashman has been more outspoken these last few years — I find it really refreshing because he’s snarky and often brutally honest — and I think all of it is calculated. He’s not doing this for fun. There’s a method to Cashman’s madness.

Categories : Musings
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Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

John asks: Looking ahead to next year (because that’s sort of all we have at this point) the Yankees clearly need another outfielder (or two). As such, being purely hypothetical here, would you rather have Curtis Granderson at 1/$14M, Carlos Beltran at 2/$30M or Shin-Soo Choo at 4/$60M?

Of those three choices, I’m definitely taking Granderson on a one-year, $14M deal. Beltran would be my second choice and Choo a distant third. Choo sure gets a lot of attention for an injury prone platoon player who isn’t all that good on defense, doesn’t he? He’s awesome against right-handed pitchers, among the best in the world, but there’s much more to life than that.

Anyway, Beltran is still a really good hitter, the the big drop in walk rate and overall rise in swing-and-miss rate are major red flags for a 36-year-old hitter. I’ve explained this before. Add in his injury history and the overall risk that comes with guys closer to 40 than 30, and I’m very skeptical about giving him a multi-year pact. I don’t think it would be a disaster if the Yankee signed Beltran to a two-year, $30M contract (that would be a nice raise from his current two-year, $26M deal), but it’s not a slam dunk at this point.

Granderson, even at a premium salary, on a one-year contract is a pretty great deal. All of his injuries this year were flukes, he’s shown his old power, and he’s not at the point where you’d expect him fall of a cliff at age 32 (33 in March). The Yankees have enough really old veteran players on multi-year pacts and I really don’t want to see them add another to the pile at this point. Granderson for one year limits the risk and gives them a productive player. He’s the lesser of three evils, in this scenario.

Nick asks: Suggested post (motivated mainly by Jon Morosi’s column): Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of winning the Cy Young. Consider the contenders and say what Hiroki realistically needs to do between now and season end to be in with any kind of shot.

I looked at the AL Cy Young race a little more in depth at CBS last week, so I’ll point you to that rather than regurgitate it all here. Long story short: there are a lot of legitimate candidates in the AL but Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer stand out from the pack right now. Chris Sale deserves to be in that group as well, but he won’t get much love thanks to his crummy teammates.

Kuroda has the great 2.33 ERA and AL-best 174 ERA+, but his record (11-7) isn’t anything special, his strikeout rate (6.40 K/9 and 18.1 K%) is below-average, and his FIP (3.25) is very good but not on par with the other Cy Young candidates. To make a serious push for the award, pretty much one thing has to happen: the Yankees need to win his starts. A lot of them. He’ll have to maintain that ERA/FIP and finish the year with an 18-8 record or something to have a serious shot. That’s the easiest way to do it.

Even then, it’s probably not enough. Remember, for a Yankee to win a major award, they need to have an insanely great year that is far better than the other candidates. Think 2007 Alex Rodriguez. There’s definitely a Yankee bias at work in the voting. Kuroda’s been awesome, but his performance this year is still a notch between Felix, Scherzer, and Sale for me. Those guys have been outrageously good.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

Brian asks: I saw a little blurb on MLBTR regarding Mike Trout and the Angels. Trout is obviously worth far more than his current league minimum contract, but if the Angels sit back and decide to continue to paying him league minimum, could Trout theoretically hold out like they do in football? Is there any baseball precedent to that?

There is no precedent for that in baseball as far as I know, certainly not recently. If he were the hold out, I imagine the team would suspend him without pay, which would do some damage to his image. It happens. At this point of his career, Trout is stuck making whatever the Angels are willing to pay him. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the salary system that was collectively bargained.

Trout has one more year at (or near) the league minimum before becoming eligible for arbitration, when he’ll at least have some say in his salary. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 campaign. I don’t know if Trout will hold enough of a grudge to pass on a long-term contract if the Halos make an offer, but it would surprise me. He’s already in nine-figure contract extension territory and that’s hard to pass up.

Rosco asks: I know a lot of people are praising MLB for suspending players for PEDs associated with the Miami clinic, but shouldn’t we worry that none of them tested positive? How many other players are using that we do not know about because it seems the testing systems has some holes?

That’s the part going completely unnoticed. Not a single player tested positive and a local newspaper in Miami managed to get wind of the scandal before the league. That’s the nature of the beast though, the drugs will always be ahead of the tests. There’s no doubt the recent suspensions send a strong message — we’re going to go to great lengths to find you if you’ve been cheating! — but that alone won’t be enough of a disincentive for many players. The only thing MLB can do is test and test, that’s all. Sports will never be completely clean.

Lee asks: I saw these stats on defensive shifts a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t seen any commentary on them anywhere, and would love to hear your thoughts. The Yankees are THIRD in the use of defensive shifts? Wow, I guess I’ve been so mesmerized by how bad their offense is that I didn’t notice! But even more incredible, ZERO runs saved???? That’s almost funny — they just can’t get anything right this year.

Yeah, the Yankees definitely seem to suck at shift. Anecdotally, they seem to pitch away from the situation quite a bit, meaning they pitch outside with soft stuff while playing the hitter to pull. That doesn’t make sense. The defense on the left side of the infield has been terrible pretty much all year, which is another factor. I give them credit for trying — it’s interesting that four of the top five shifting teams are from the AL East, no? — but I’m not sure they have the personnel to pull off some fancy shifts at this point. The infield defense is too immobile.

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Five whole questions for you today. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

Soriano was a great Yankee. But A-Rod was better. (AP)

Soriano was a great Yankee. But A-Rod was better. (AP)

Nathan: Looking at their stats since the trade, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano aren’t too far apart. In retrospect, would you still have made that trade? A-Rod has the better stats but has been the bigger headache.

First, the side-by-side comparison (2004-present):

G AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR SB K% BB% fWAR bWAR
A-Rod 1249 0.292 0.387 0.538 143 302 141 18.9% 12.0% 48.9 52.0
Soriano 1354 0.268 0.321 0.504 110 292 159 21.4% 6.5% 28.1 17.7

A-Rod was the far better player because he was a better hitter and a better defender at a tougher position. Does the headache, which really only became truly insufferable these last few weeks (at least to me), outweigh the production? I definitely don’t think so. The Rodriguez-Soriano trade worked out marvelously for the Yankees. It’s the new ten-year contract they gave Alex after 2007 that has been mostly a nightmare. The 2009 World Series does still counts for something.

Bruce asks: Why is Michael Pineda still only throwing four innings a start?

The Yankees say it’s “innings management,” and it makes sense they would try to limit his workload following shoulder surgery. He did throw six full innings in his third minor league rehab game (with Double-A Trenton), but since reaching Triple-A Scranton he has yet to throw more than five innings and 86 pitches. The last two starts have been limited to three innings (41 pitches) and four innings (58 pitches).

Pineda has thrown 39 innings in nine official minor league games this year. That doesn’t count all the simulated and Extended Spring Training games though, and there were a ton of those as you probably remember. I’m guessing they want to limit him to about 100 innings or so (hooray round numbers!) this season, and want to make sure there are some left for the big league team in September. Pineda’s has already been down long enough to delay his free agency a year, so that’s not a concern. I prefer flat out skipping starts to short starts to control innings, but the Yankees obviously feel differently. I’m sure Pineda will be allowed to start pitching deeper into the game in the coming weeks.

Sal asks: Based on the way Derek Jeter‘s Yankee Lifelong Legend Legacy is going, and with all kinds of earning potential out there for him even after he retires (corporate sponsorships and maybe even buying a stake in the Yankees), do you think he can end up with more lifetime earnings from the game of baseball than, uh, you know where I’m going with this … Alex?

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

According to Baseball-Reference, A-Rod is baseball’s all-time career earnings leader at $353.4M. Jeter is second at … $253.2M. That’s a nine-figure gap between first and second place. Geez. Keep in mind that Alex still has four years and $86M left on his contract after this season while the Cap’n just has a $9M player option for 2014. Given what feels like an inevitable Biogenesis-related suspension, A-Rod probably won’t see all of that $86M. He’ll probably still get a nice chunk of it though, so the career earnings gap will only widen.

I am completely out of my element when it comes to sponsorships and ownership stakes; I have no idea how lucrative that stuff can be outside of “very.” Forbes has Jeter at $9M in endorsements (Nike, Ford, Gillette, etc.) this year and A-Rod at just $0.5M. We’ve seen him in ads for Nike and Pepsi, among other stuff, in the past. I have to think Alex’s endorsements well will dry up following the Biogenesis stuff, but will that be enough to allow Jeter to pass him in career earnings over the time? It’s possible, especially if he does wind up purchasing a stake in the team, but he’s got a ton of ground to make up.

Mike asks: Does the Yankees being in 4th place make the waiver market at least slightly more favorite than in years past? Seems like there has been times where another team behind them was able to block a player from getting to them, now will they have easier access to players they want and can they now block players from getting to Boston, Tampa, or Baltimore?

Sure, being this low in the standings will definitely help the Yankees on the waiver trade market. Of course, I wish the team was higher in the standings and didn’t need the players, but that’s not the case. The Yankees have waiver priority over all of their wildcard competitors (Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Royals), meaning they’ll get first crack at whoever is on waivers. That means they can both block players and trade for them, if they want. It’s a nice consolation prize and could be helpful at some point.

Shaun asks: It may be to early to speculate, but do you see ownership’s trend of going above Brian Cashman being a problem with Cashman’s next contract? I know autonomy was a big deal to him during previous negotiations. If anything, ownership is making it more difficult to get under the $189 threshold.

Eh, I doubt it. Cashman knows how the Steinbrenner’s operate, and I believe even he said there is no such thing as true autonomy at the GM level. Besides, he signed his most recent contract after the Rafael Soriano signing. Hal is much less meddlesome than his father, though I suppose Cashman could be sick of it after 15 (!) years on the job. Ownership has gone over his head quite a bit these last few years, but it would surprise me if that was a big problem for him going forward.

That said, I do think this is Cashman’s last contract as Yankees GM. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. His current deal expires after next season, at which point I think he will be promoted to some other position. The “President of Baseball Ops” position the Cubs made up for Theo Epstein sounds nice. The Nationals just promoted GM Mike Rizzo to that just yesterday, so it’s already a trend. Cashman will have been the GM for 16 years when his deal is up, and a promotion is the natural order of things at that point. It appears as though former pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler is being groomed to take over sometime soon, or at least he’s the only obvious in-house successor. I would be surprised if the Yankees brought in a new GM from the outside and threw them to the wolves. Experience and familiarity with the New York market would be a prerequisite.

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Via Joel Sherman: Team ownership pulled the trigger on the Alfonso Soriano trade even though Brian Cashman advised against it. “I would say we are in a desperate time. Ownership wants to go for it. I didn’t want to give up a young arm. But I understand the desperate need we have for offense. And Soriano will help us. The bottom line is this guy makes us better. Did ownership want him? Absolutely, yes. Does he make us better? Absolutely, yes. This is what [Hal Steinbrenner] wants, and this is why we are doing it,” said the GM.

Sherman reiterates that ownership was also behind the Ichiro Suzuki re-signing while Cashman preferred to spend the money on the combination of Russell Martin and Nate Schierholtz, who was seriously considering the team’s offer. Since officially taking over for George Steinbrenner in November 2008, the Hal-led regime has been behind the Derek Jeter contract, the Rafael Soriano contract, the Ichiro contract, and now the Soriano trade. Who knows what else. The trade was fine in my opinion, but I don’t like that ownership has made a habit of going over the baseball ops department’s head. That’s generally bad news.

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Jul
26

Game 103: The Return of Soriano

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Alfonso Soriano-002

Nine years and five months ago, the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano (and Joaquin Arias) to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. Today, Soriano makes his return to New York after being acquired from the Cubs for a minor league right-hander Corey Black.

The Yankees were — and still are, really — desperate for power, particularly from the right side, which is why Soriano made sense. He’s a flawed player, no doubt about it, but the Bombers needed another guy who can put runs on the board with one swing of the bat. Having only one player who can do that is no way to go through life in a small ballpark in the AL East. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Jeremy Hellickson:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  3. 2B Robinson Cano
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay
  6. SS Eduardo Nunez
  7. DH Travis Hafner
  8. 3B Brent Lillibridge
  9. C Austin Romine

Soriano’s return is the big story, but the Yankees really need a strong outing from tonight’s starter, left-hander CC Sabathia. The team’s nominal ace has a 5.19 ERA and 4.37 FIP in his last eleven starts, which includes 14 (!) homers allowed in 76.1 innings. He needs to be better and he knows it. Tonight would be a good night to start being better.

It’s a little cloudy outside but the weather is fine in New York. High-70s/low-80s with some humidity and no threat of rain. Pretty good baseball weather. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on My9. Enjoy.

Roster Updates: Obviously, the Soriano trade is official. He will wear #12 with Vernon Wells switching to #22 … Thomas Neal was sent back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a 25-man roster spot for Soriano. The team already had an open 40-man roster spot.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (quad) did non-baseball activity today and will progress to fielding drills and soft-toss hitting tomorrow … Derek Jeter (quad) continued to hit and run the bases today. He’s scheduled for a check-up and another workout tomorrow. If all goes well, he could come off the DL on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible … Frankie Cervelli (hand) has some soreness and will be re-evaluated.

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Got five questions for you today. If you want to send us anything throughout the week, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.

Former Ranger Mike Olt. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Former Ranger Mike Olt. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Alex asks: Guys, do you think that with the haul the Cubs got for Matt Garza, the Yankees could reasonably expect to obtain a Mike Olt type of prospect for Phil Hughes? Obviously the package would be less than what the Cubs got for Garza, but using the framework, could the Yankees get a pretty solid return for Hughes?

Olt, whose stock is down quite a bit this year, ranked 44th on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list. I like him less than that and think he’s more of a 75-100 prospect, but my opinion doesn’t matter. Teams have their own internal evaluation of every player and that’s most important.

Pitchers similar to Hughes — that means a back of the rotation starter due to become a free agent — who have been traded at the deadline in recent years include Ted Lilly, Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, Jason Marquis, Erik Bedard, and Jake Westbrook. Hughes is by far the youngest of the group, but age doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about a three-month rental.

The trade return for those guys ranges from a big league reliever (Saunders for Matt Lindstrom), one good but not great pitching prospect (Westbrook for Corey Kluber), four fringe prospects (Bedard), a promising young big leaguer (Lilly for Blake DeWitt), and a borderline non-prospect (Blanton). No one on par with Olt, obviously.

This is a seller’s market though, mostly because more teams are in contention thanks to the second wildcard and no one wants to sell. If you have an asset like a back-end starter, you might be able to fetch more than expected. An Olt-caliber prospect is probably the best-case scenario for Hughes. I do think the Yankees are going to keep him unless they get a legit big league bat in return, however.

John asks: Who is considered — at this point in their respective careers — a better defender in left field, Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells?

Soriano was a complete disaster in left field when he first made the transition from second base, but he’s worked really hard to improve out there over the years. Experience helps as well. UZR has rated him a bit above-average in recent years while DRS has him a bit below-average. I prefer DRS personally, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I don’t watch enough Cubs games to say if one jibes with the eye test more than the other.

Wells was never as good as his reputation as a Gold Glover, but both UZR and DRS agree that he’s been ever so slightly above-average in the field since shifting to left three years ago. He’s graded out as below-average in center for a half-decade now. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with Wells’ defense, particularly his range, but I suppose it is better than the typical left fielder. Defensive stats aren’t precise enough to argue over fractions of a run and whatnot, and at this point I think Vernon’s the better defensive left fielder. Not by a ton though.

Jeremy asks: Hey Mike, what about Paul Konerko? Tradeable, right-handed, free agent next year…

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Joe had a Konerko kick for a few weeks a while back, but I would go nowhere near him. For starters, Konerko has been dealing with some nagging back problems this summer, at one point receiving six (!) injections. Back trouble for older players (he’s 37) is a total dealbreaker for me.

If that wasn’t enough, Konerko really isn’t hitting this year. He’s at .248/.315/.365 (84 wRC+) with seven homers in 295 plate appearances, though he does have a stellar 149 wRC+ against southpaws in limited time. The strikeouts are up (15.3%), the walks are down (8.2%), the power is gone (possible related to the back trouble) … lot of red flags here. If Konerko was hitting like he did last year (26 homers and 132 wRC+), I’d be all for it. At this point I’m staying far away.

Chris asks: Much has been made of teams handing out monster contracts lately, primarily because the term comes back to bite teams in the long run. Could the solution to this be not allowing teams to control players for longer but shorter? Would MLB and the players union be willing to allow free agency after six years from the draft or two years on a team’s 25-man roster (whichever comes first)?

Baseball’s salary structure is very … weird. Players make the least amount of money during what is usually their best years — their first six seasons, during pre-arbitration and arbitration — and the most when they’re on the decline. The MLBPA would absolutely be in favor of anything that moves free agency up, which means the owners would be very much against it. They only like things that keep costs down. Small market teams would have a hard time competing if their best players could leave after two years. It would be impossible, really.

The only “solution” to prevent getting burned by long-term contracts is to not hand them out. Even if you moved free agency up, teams would still overpay for decline years. That seem inevitable. Whenever a huge contract is handed out, like seven or eight years, a lot of times the GM is assuming he won’t be around for the final few years of the deal, when it tends to go really bad. Many of these contracts are handed out with the idea that the worst part will be someone else’s problem. I have very little pity for clubs who get saddled with a long-term deal gone bad. They make their beds, they have to sleep in it.

Mark asks: Do the Yanks need make it priority #1 to acquire a long-term solution at third base this offseason (or before the trading deadline) as it is all but assumed that Alex Rodriguez will be banned for either 150 games or permanently starting either now or next year? Or is it another year of stop-gap temporary players and pray that either A-Rod is back at age 38/39 and that Eric Jagielo is hopefully ready by the 2015 season?

The Yankees shouldn’t count on Jagielo at all when planning the future of the third base position. He was just drafted and even though he’s polished and expected to climb the ladder quickly, he’s still in short season ball and so very much can go wrong before be makes it to the show. It’s the nature of the beast.

I think priority #1 should be finding a long-term shortstop, but third base is pretty much priority #2. This season confirmed it. They can’t count on A-Rod anymore and there are no real third base prospects on the immediate horizon, so they’ll have to look outside the organization. Finding that young guy to hold down the position for the next half-decade won’t be easy, so they’ll probably have to settle on stopgaps for the time being. Hopefully none with chronic back problems this time. Who knows, maybe Jagielo will emerge before they make any kind of trade for a long-term answer.

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