Archive for Alfonso Soriano
Exhibition games start tomorrow and the regular season is five weeks away. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2014 Yankees not individually, but by grouping players (and personnel) together into different categories. Today we’re going to look at the guys who will put the Bombers in Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees made history last season and not in a good way. They hit 101 (!) fewer homeruns last year than they did the year before, the largest year-to-year drop in baseball history. New York went from leading baseball in dingers (245) and ISO (.188) in 2012 to ranking 21st out of the 30 teams in both categories (144 and .133) in 2013, and their runs-per-game average dropped from 4.96 (second) to 4.01 (17th). The lack of power is a big reason why they missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Blame injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) and blame roster construction (Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart replacing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, etc.) for the decline in power. All of that and more was a factor. The Yankees set out to fix that problem starting at the trade deadline last summer and they continued to add some power-hitting pieces over the winter. I doubt they will be able to hit 240+ long balls this coming season, but they should improve on last year’s power production overall. Here are the team’s primary power sources.
To the surprise of no one, Robinson Cano led the Yankees with 27 homers last season. Soriano managed to finish second on the team with 17 despite not returning to the Bronx until the deadline. The Yankees were that power starved. Cano left for the Mariners over the winter but the club will now have a full year of Soriano, which will help compensate a bit.
Despite turning 38 last month, Soriano has put together back-to-back 30+ homers seasons these last two years and he’s hovered in the .225-.238 ISO range over the last four seasons. He’s no longer the 40+ doubles threat he was earlier in the career, but he has managed between 27-33 two-baggers the last three years. Soriano is a steady 60+ extra-base hit bat and, most importantly, the average direction and distance of his batted balls has not changed at all since 2007. From Baseball Heat Maps:
You can click the image for a larger view. The chart on the left is the horizontal angle of the ball off the bat — so +45° is the left field line and -45° is the right field line — and the chart on the right is the distance. Each red dot is an individual batted ball (grounders excluded, so this is everything he hit in the air) and the vertical clusters are individual seasons, so 2007-13 from left to right.
At Soriano’s age, any change in his batted ball angle or distance would have been a red flag and possibly an indication his bat has started to slow beyond the point of no return. Instead, Soriano continues to hit the ball to all fields (slightly more towards right field) and just as far as he did seven years ago. Sure, he’s had to make adjustments over the years, most notably switching to a lighter bat in 2012, but the end results are the same. He’s hitting the ball the same way he has for much of the last decade.
Now, that isn’t to say this will continue in 2014. Things can go south in a hurry when you’re talking about a player closer to 40 than 35, but there have been no obvious red flags in Soriano’s game to date. Outside of 2009, when he missed a month with a knee problem, Soriano has been a consistent 25+ homer, 25+ double, .220+ ISO hitter for a decade now, and aside from sudden age-related decline or injury, there is no reason to expect anything different in 2014. He is the Yankees’ best full-time right-handed power source by frickin’ far.
New York’s catchers hit eight total homeruns last season, three of which came from Frankie Cervelli before he got hurt in mid-April. The catcher position was an offensive blackhole in 2013 and the Yankees rectified that problem by giving McCann a five-year contract worth $85M. The just-turned-30-year-old is one of only two catchers with 20+ homers in each of the last three seasons (Matt Wieters) and one of only eleven players (all positions) with 20+ homers in each of the last six seasons.
Of course, McCann hit all those dingers while with the Braves in Atlanta, playing his home games in a park that has been perfectly neutral in terms of left-handed homers over the last five seasons according to the park factors at FanGraphs. His lefty power was extra desirable to the Yankees because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, which is tailor made for McCann’s pull happy swing:
Don’t trick yourself into thinking McCann is something he isn’t. This guy is a pure grip it and rip it hitter who is going to try to yank everything over the right field wall. He’s going to hit .250-ish and walk enough (9.9% walk rate since 2011) to post decent but not great OBPs, but his real offensive value comes from his power. Homers too, forget about doubles.
I think the whole “sign a left-handed hitter and he’ll automatically hit a bunch more homers in Yankee Stadium” idea is generally overstated — not everyone’s swing fits the ballpark (see: Overbay, Lyle) — but McCann is exactly the kind of hitter who can really exploit that short porch. His career-high is 24 homeruns (2006 and 2011) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes this year with 30-35 homers, especially if he spends some of his catching off-days at DH.
Over the last three years, only ten outfielders have racked up at least 50 extra-base hits in each season. Soriano is one of them and another is Beltran, his new teammate. Heck, if you want to bump up the arbitrary criteria, Beltran is one of only four outfielders with at least 55 extra-base hits these last three years. Soriano is not one of the other three.
The Yankees finally snagged their white whale (well, I think he was the fans’ white whale more than the team’s) this winter by signing Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45M, nine years after declining to sign him at a discounted rate before he joined the Mets. Beltran has aged remarkably well as a hitter, dipping below a 120 wRC+ only once in the last eight years, and that was his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. He’s also managed 20+ homers and 25+ doubles in each of the last three years and six of the last eight years, with 2009-10 being the only exceptions. Injuries limited him to 145 total games those two seasons.
Unlike Soriano and McCann, Beltran is a switch-hitter. He maintained a .200+ ISO against both righties and lefties these last two years (.214 vs. LHP and .202 vs. RHP) but he is a different type of hitter from each side of the plate. Beltran is pretty much a dead pull hitter as a righty and an all-fields guy as a lefty, though he does the most damage from the left side when he pulls the ball to right field at this point of his career (spray charts). That’s perfectly fine and plays right into Yankee Stadium. The concern is the declining distance of his batted balls:
Given his age (37 in April), that little downtick last year (really the last two years) is a concern. It’s not much, but pretty much anything is a red flag with a player this age. On average, Beltran did not hit the ball as far last year as he did the year before. Could be a one-year fluke, could be a sign of age-related decline. We’re going to find out in the coming months.
I am pretty confident Beltran will be a 20+ homer, 25+ double guy for the Yankees this coming season and right now that is the most important thing. He could fall completely off a cliff in 2014 but it would be a surprise to me. (The 2015-16 seasons are another matter for another time.) Even if he is starting to slip due to age, some of Beltran’s would-be homers should still go for doubles in 2014. The guy is such a good pure hitter and it’s not like he was bad in 2013. The somewhat early signs of decline are there though. No doubt about it.
Teixeira is a total unknown heading into this season. He missed almost all of last summer with a wrist injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after a brief and failed return to the lineup. Teixeira is currently taking batting practice and is slated to start playing in Spring Training games in early-March, but wrist injuries are known to sap power even after the player has been cleared by doctors.
Even as his overall production has declined, the 33-year-old Teixeira has always remained a source of homers, hitting at least 33 dingers from 2008-11 and then 24 in 123 games in 2012. He has never once had a sub-.220 ISO during a full season in his entire career. Teixeira has admitted to changing his hitting style to take advantage of the short porch as a left-handed hitter and there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything differently going forward.
Guys like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz had similar wrist tendon sheath problems in recent years and it took them a few months before returning to their previous form. It’s easy to say Teixeira will hit for power because he’s always hit for power, but there’s just no way of knowing what he can do following the injury. He’s included in this post because hitting the ball over the fence is his thing, but there is a chance he might not do that in 2014, at least not early in the season. It might take him a while to get back in the swing of things.
The Yankees gave Johnson a nice little one-year, $3M contract back in December and he is now their everyday third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. The 32-year-old isn’t much of a doubles guy but he has hit at least 16 homeruns in each of the last four seasons, and he has power to all fields:
Johnson can hit the ball of the park in any direction, which is a good thing. He’ll get some help from the short porch but he’s also shown he’s strong enough to drive those outside pitches the other way. Is he ever going to hit 26 homers with a .212 ISO like he did in 2010 again? Probably not, but the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 and 2013 might become 18-22 in the Bronx. Considering the Yankees only had one guy mash 18+ taters last summer, getting a similar number from a player like Johnson, who is slated to bat seventh, will be a welcome addition.
* * *
On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees do not figure to get much power from second base (Brian Roberts), shortstop (Derek Jeter), left field (Brett Gardner), or center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) this year. From that group, only Jeter (15 HR in 2012) and Ellsbury (outlier 32 HR in 2011) have managed to hit double-digit homers at some point in the last three years and neither is a lock to do it in 2014. Sure, Ellsbury might pop a few extra dingers with the move into Yankee Stadium, but for the most part his ground ball/opposite field approach won’t boost his homer total all that much. Those four guys will pick up some extra-base hits with their speed, but over-the-fence power isn’t happening. Soriano, McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, and Johnson will be leaned on for homers and extra-base hits.
For all the talk about their shaky infield, the Yankees figure to boast one of the strongest outfield units in baseball this season. They have two legitimate starting caliber center fielders in Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as two veteran, middle of the order corner outfield bats in Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran. Fitting all four guys into one lineup will take some creativity on Joe Girardi‘s part but nothing crazy.
Girardi confirmed earlier this week that Ellsbury will be his everyday center fielder because duh. They didn’t give the guy $153M not to play center field. Since the Ellsbury and Beltran signings, I think the general assumption has been that Gardner will move back to left field everyday while Soriano and Beltran split time between right and DH. Obviously you want Gardner in the field for his defense, and considering their ages, giving Soriano and Beltran regular turns at DH makes sense.
It’s a wonderful plan in theory, but it is a little more complicated than that. Soriano has never played right field in his entire professional career and neither he nor Beltran have spent much time at DH. In fact, they’ve combined to start only 36 games at DH since 2005. Aside from Soriano’s return to New York in the second half last year, both guys spent the entirety of that 2005-13 period in the National League, so when they were in the lineup, they played the field.
“I don’t know,’’ said Soriano to George King earlier this week when asked about his spot in the lineup. “They said something about DH and left field. I want to be in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where … If I am the DH I will have to make adjustments. When the team is playing defense I will have to find a way to keep my body warm and ready.’’
Being the DH is tough, especially for a veteran player used to playing the field everyday. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and when the routine they’ve spent years crafting has to change, it can be a tough adjustment to make. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is something to consider. For all we know, both guys could make that adjustment immediately and make this a non-issue.
The right field thing is a little different, particularly for Soriano. Like I said, he’s never played right field before, so if the Yankees do plan to use him and Beltran in what amounts to a right field/DH platoon, he’ll have to learn the position in Spring Training after spending most of his career in left. Again, it’s not impossible, but it is an adjustment that will have to be made by a veteran player with a routine already in place.
It’s possible that Soriano will not have to make that adjustment, however. The Yankees could instead keep him in left field, where he’s comfortable, and put Gardner in right field. Gardner has never played right field in his career either, but his athleticism and relative youth should make the transition easier for him than it would be for Soriano. His speed would also allow him to simply outrun his mistakes. Gardner has a better arm than Soriano and that should be considered as well — runners are going to go first-to-third on singles all day, everyday against Soriano.
“I played [left field] for a couple of years a few years ago. I feel comfortable over there,” said Brett Gardner to Chad Jennings the other day when asked about moving out of center. “I told Joe I can play right too if he needs me to. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do to help the team win. Wherever I’m playing out there, wherever I’m hitting in the lineup, whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be ready.”
Gardner has already broached the idea of playing right field, so I assume he is on board with the idea. Aside from learning the position, the issue here is that right field in Yankee Stadium is tiny and it would be a waste to stick such a good defender there. There’s more real estate to cover in left and that’s where you want the rangier outfielder. That’s not a deal-breaker but it is something to keep in mind.
If the Yankees want to keep Soriano comfortable and play him in left, the best solution might be a rotation based on whether the team is home or away. At home, Gardner could play left with Beltran in right. On the road, Soriano could play left while Gardner is in right. That way Gardner’s range is used in Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field and Soriano gets to play his usual position.
That arrangement does sound great in theory, but it is a little more complicated than it seems. How will Gardner handle shifting back and forth between positions? Most guys like to have one set position and know where they’re playing everyday. Long homestands and road trips will also throw a wrench into things, especially if the team wants make sure Soriano and Beltran get regular turns at DH to stay fresh.
The Yankees are all but guaranteed to have an excellent outfield defense because of Gardner and Ellsbury, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the right field/DH rotation with Soriano and Beltran. Someone is going to wind up playing out of position most days, it’s just a question of who.
Via George King: Alfonso Soriano is considering retiring following the 2014 season. He is only 12 steals away from becoming the fifth player in history with 400+ doubles, 400+ homers, and 300+ steals. “It depends on how I feel,” he said. “If I am healthy I will play [in 2015]. If not, I will let it go. It depends how I feel.”
Soriano, who turned 39 last month, has been one of the most durable players in baseball these last few years, missing only 18 games due to injury since 2010. He is up there in age though, and that alone brings injury concerns. Soriano will spend the year splitting time between the outfield and DH and it is way too early to know if the Yankees are even considering re-signing him after the season, when the mammoth contract he originally signed with the Cubs finally expires.
Five questions and five answers this week. If you want to send us a mailbag question, you probably know how to do it by now. (Hint: the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.)
Paul asks: Are there still deals that haven’t been made official yet? What’s the hold-up? Is it a 40-man roster thing?
The Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are still not official. I don’t know why but the Yankees tend to drag these things out. I’m guessing the holidays gummed up the works as well. The 40-man roster is full so they’ll have to clear up spot for both guys. They’ll need to do the same if they add another starting pitcher as well, Masahiro Tanaka or otherwise. I suppose they could be working on an Ichiro Suzuki trade to open one spot, but who knows. Roberts and Thornton are the only big league contracts that are still not official yet, however.
To the table:
Ellsbury was the better player overall in the three years prior to signing with the Yankees — Damon was way more durable; his ability to stay on the field was always a big part of his value — but remember that a lot of his production came during that outlier 2011 campaign. Like, 32 of the 45 homers and 9.4 of the 16.3 fWAR came that year. That season is getting further back in the rear-view mirror and I’m not all that confident Ellsbury will come close to that production again. Hopefully he proves me wrong.
I think the best way to answer this question is that Ellsbury is the more exciting player and he offered a greater upside, but Damon was more predictable and reliable. Ellsbury is a few years younger now than Damon was when he joined the Yankees and that’s a big deal. The team will, at least theoretically, get more of Ellsbury’s prime years. The Yankees are obviously counting on that considering the contract they gave him.
Alex asks: What about Joe Blanton as a depth signing? The Angels appear ready to release him this offseason and if the Yanks don’t add Tanaka (or even if they do), there could be value in a workhorse who underperformed his peripherals. What would his upside realistically be?
I mean this is in the nicest possible way:
Blanton was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, so bad that the pitching-starved Angels dropped him from their rotation. He hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since 2009 and he’s underperformed his peripherals in each of the last four seasons (5.09 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 540.2 innings since 2010). I have no reason to think a righty with a below-average fastball (averages a touch over 89 mph these days) will buck that trend in a small ballpark in the AL East. I don’t see Blanton as an upgrade over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. He’s not even worth a 40-man roster spot in my opinion. Easy pass, even if he comes for the minimum. The Yankees need to add good pitchers. Emphasis on good.
Nick asks: With all the talk of contract overpaying this winter, I’d like to bring up Alfonso Soriano. If the Cubs are paying $13m of the $18m he’s owed in 2014, and even at age 38, couldn’t he be a bit of a bargain? $5m for a .250/.310/.480 hitter with 30+homers seems reasonable no?
Oh yes, absolutely. The three projection systems at FanGraphs (ZiPS, Steamer, Oliver) work out to a combined .240/.293/.455 batting line with 25 homers and 11 steals per 500 plate appearances, and that’s with Oliver expecting him to fall off a cliff (-0.1 fWAR). That is definitely worth $5M right there, especially to the Yankees given where they sit on the win curve. Soriano just turned 38 and there’s a chance he will completely crash and show his age next year, but the upside is a 30-homer, 10-steal right-handed batter. Getting that for $5M is great in this market. Among the guys who are not still in their arbitration or pre-arbitration years, Soriano is probably the best dollar-for-dollar player on the roster.
Kevin asks: Am I the only one who really likes Nik Turley? I don’t think he’ll be more than a #4 but the Yankees need to stop walking away from these back-end starter prospects. We could really use a young guy to soak up innings, even if its not elite status.
I see Turley as another member of the Phelps, Warren, and Nuno group, just a notch below because he hasn’t spend significant time in Triple-A yet. Solid enough to be a back-end starter but not exactly someone who is going to come up and make a real impact in the rotation. There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. Teams need those cheap back-end types for depth and to help cover for injuries, and heck, every once in a while one will exceed expectations and turn into Doug Fister. Turley had a good year with Double-A Trenton in 2013 (3.88 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 139 innings) and as a left-hander with a good breaking ball, he’ll get a million chances in this league, at worst as a reliever. I wouldn’t call him untouchable but he’s certainly worth keeping around. The only problem is that the Yankees have a serious 40-man roster crunch and Turley is near the bottom of the pile.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
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.
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.