Heyman: Yankees won’t give up a good prospect for Alfonso Soriano

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are unwilling to give up a good prospect for Alfonso Soriano, nevermind a top prospect. He suspects they would absorb $10M of the $36M left on his contract, however.

Soriano, 37, had a nice bounceback year in 2012 after looking close to finished in 2011. As I wrote in a mailbag over the holidays, his resurgence looks to have been aided by a switch to a lighter bat. The Cubs are reportedly willing to pay $26M of Soriano’s contract, but they want a quality piece in return. I’m not quite sure with the Yankees would do with him other than use him as the right-handed hitting outfielder/Travis Hafner injury replacement, but they could have signed Scott Hairston for like half the money to do that.

Holiday Mailbag: Alfonso Soriano

(Brian Kersey/Getty)

Several people asked: What about Alfonso Soriano?

Soriano, 37 next month, is coming off a .262/.322/.499 (116 wRC+) line with 32 homers this past season, his best performance in about four years. He’d hit .248/.305/.463 (100 wRC+) in nearly 1,600 plate appearances from 2009-20112 until the dead cat bounce in 2012. Soriano did not benefit from BABIP luck — his .303 mark exactly matched his career average — but his HR/FB rate did spike back up to 17.8% after sitting at 12.4% from 2009-2011 (17.1% from 2006-2008). There is an explanation for that.

After opening the season with no homers and a .250/.288/.302 batting line through his first 125 plate appearances, Soriano switched to a lighter bat — 33.5 ounces to 32 ounces according to Gordon Wittenmyer — in mid-May to compensate for his age-related loss of bat speed. He hit seven homers from mid-May through the end of the month and .265/.331/.551 with all 32 of those homers in his final 490 plate appearances of the year. The lighter bat led to a big change in batted ball profile, which you can see in the day-to-day graph…

(Green = grounders, blue = fly balls, red = line drives)

After posting a ground ball rate right at 30% from 2009-2011, Soriano was hitting the ball into the ground 40-45% of the time early in the season. The ground ball rate came down and the fly ball rate went up following the change in bats, and more fly balls means more homers. Unlike many HR/FB (and therefore overall production) spikes, there’s a tangible reason why he started hitting the ball differently after mid-May.

Soriano has hit left-handers pretty well over the last three seasons (127 wRC+) and that continued this past year (117 wRC+). He’s been good enough against righties (116 wRC+ in 2012 and 105 from 2010-2012) that he’s not a straight platoon candidate. Soriano will still strike out a bunch (23.3 K% from 2010-2012) and not walk (6.2 BB% from 2010-2012 when you remove all the intentional walks), plus these days he is no longer a stolen base threat (13-for-17 in stolen base attempts from 2010-2012). Depending on your choice of defensive metric, he’s either pretty good (UZR and Total Zone) or pretty bad (DRS and FRAA) in left. Based on what I’ve seen these last few years, which admittedly isn’t a ton, I lean towards the latter.

Soriano’s contract is a nightmare, as the Cubs still owe him $18M in both 2013 and 2014. Jon Heyman recently reported Chicago is willing to pay $26M of that $36M to facilitate a trade, but only if they get a good prospect in return. If the Yankees were to swing a trade for their former second baseman, the luxury tax would only apply to whatever they’re paying Soriano. Say the Cubs eat that $26M, the luxury tax would only apply to the remaining $10M ($5M annually) assumed by New York. It wouldn’t be an $18M luxury tax hit even though he’ll actually earn that much salary.

The Yankees need both a right-handed hitting outfielder and a DH, two roles Soriano is qualified to fill at this stage of his career. Scott Hairston is likely to command a two-year, $10M deal similar to what Jonny Gomes received from the Red Sox, so the Bombers could simply sign him for the same salary as Soriano and keep their prospect(s). They’re both low-OBP, power-driven right-handed hitters, but Hairston is quite a bit younger. The lighter bat is nice, but you still have to worry that at some point Soriano just won’t be able to produce anymore given his age. More than anything else, the price will dictate if he’s a reasonable acquisition. Both the money and prospect cost has to be right since he’s a git, but not a perfect fit.

Mailbag: Melky, Soriano, Swisher, Felix, Garcia

Got seven questions for you this week, so consider this a jumbo-sized edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions and whatnot.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Countless people asked some variation of: Can/should the Yankees sign Melky Cabrera to a cheap one-year deal after the season following his suspension?

Sure, it’s worth exploring. Based on my last few days at MLBTR, the fans of the other 29 teams are wondering the same thing as well. I suppose the Yankees may have a leg up considering their history with Cabrera, plus the fact that his good buddy Robinson Cano plays here. Either way, I’m sure the club can make a competitive offer if they’re so inclined.

The real question is what kind of hitter do you expect him to be going forward? I don’t buy that testosterone alone turned him into an MVP caliber hitter, but I also don’t think this season’s performance — .346/.390/.516 (146 wRC+) — is a reasonable expectation going forward simply because I don’t believe anyone is a true talent .346 hitter. Not Melky, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not Derek Jeter. No one. If he’s more of a .310 hitter doing forward, that’s still really awesome and shouldn’t be considered a knock. If they can get him for one-year at like, $5-8M to shore up the outfield next season, sure that’s something they should seriously consider. Whether or not it’s actually realistic is another matter entirely.

Daniel asks: The Cubs are offering to turn Alfonso Soriano into a $3M/year player. Any interest in him as a RF solution next season?

This is an unequivocal no for me. Soriano is having a real nice .263/.320/.448 (112 wRC+) year with the bat, but he’s a 36-year-old one-dimensional player. If he’s not hitting homers, he has zero value. Soriano doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t steal bases anymore, and doesn’t play much defense either. He’s under contract through 2014 so you’re talking about a $6M commitment for a player that is basically a bad HR/FB% slump away from a forced retirement. Soriano would be like, my Plan F for right field next season.

Brett asks: Let’s say the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher this offseason and then think like you and let Cano walk after 2013. With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (Yankees sign him after Cano leaves) all two years older and currently not even performing that well, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher, do you really think the Yankees lineup will be good enough?

I spy a nice free agent payday. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Well that’s the thing, why are we assuming catcher is a black hole? If they let Cano and Swisher walk, the Yankees will have the opportunity to turn over the second base, right field, catcher, and DH positions in the next two offseason. If you think A-Rod is resigned to being a DH down the line, then you can bring in a new body for third base. That four of the nine lineup spots they have to work with. Plenty of room to add some offensive punch.

Bill asks: So with Swisher all but assuredly leaving next year, what do you think the chances are he ends up in Boston? The team needs some pop in right field and they need a good clubhouse guy, with everything that is going on in Boston right now. Think this is a possibility?

Absolutely. If for whatever reason the Yankees had declined his option last offseason, I think the Red Sox would have been the first team to call Swisher’s agent. Pretty much every contending team in need of a bat — the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Giants, Reds, etc. — figures to have some interest because he’s versatile (corner outfield or first base) and a switch-hitter. Swisher could go 0-for-October and he’ll still have plenty of suitors on the free agent market after the winter.

Sal asks: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where teams start structuring contracts so that players are paid appropriately in their peak years but the contract dollars are “tapered” in the end years so that they don’t over pay for a players decline?

No, definitely not. I’m sure the club would love it, but I highly doubt the players and agents would. I think it’s pretty normal to want to make more money the older you get, which is why most multi-year contracts include some kind of year-to-year raise. Another part of this is that most GMs won’t be around to see the end of the multi-year contracts they hand out, specifically the big six and seven-year ones. What do I care if I saddle the next GM with a back contract when I could win right now and enhance my reputation? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think the players and agents would go for it.

I found this floating around on Twitter and have no idea where it originated, but props to you good sir (or madam).

Tucker asks: This is a bit of a hypothetical, but would the Yankees even have the pieces to acquire Felix Hernandez if he were made available? Could the Rangers swoop in and nab him instead?

No, I don’t believe the Yankees have the pieces to acquire any kind of high-end talent like that right now. Not unless they’re willing to dangle Cano and the other club really values him despite being a year away from free agency. The lack of impact, near-MLB ready prospect really hurts them here.

The Rangers could certainly jump in and make a great offer for Felix if they wanted — if you’re Seattle, don’t you have to listen if Texas offers Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? I have to think that would at least get their attention. The Yankees can’t put together any kind of offer like that right now, so they’re handcuffed on the trade market. As much as I’d love to see him in pinstripes, there’s just no realistic trade scenario for Justin Upton at the moment.

Craig asks: Do you think Freddy Garcia is now (or should be) in the post-season rotation?  Even if Andy Pettitte comes back?  I think I’d rather take my chances with him than Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes.

Right now, with both CC Sabathia and Pettitte on the shelf, yes Freddy would definitely be in postseason rotation. I’d probably have him start Game Two behind Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario, which is … yikes. If Sabathia and Pettitte come back, I would use Freddy as the fourth starter and stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen for October. I don’t see how they could trust Nova in the postseason given his current performance, but he does have about six weeks to figure things out.

Assuming David Phelps is headed back to the bullpen at some point, I’d rank the potential playoff starters are Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Garcia, Hughes, Nova. Just remove players and bump everyone else up as needed due to injury. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Phelps pitches his way ahead of Nova in the pecking order, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think he’ll run out of innings before that happens.

The other guy in the A-Rod trade

Twenty minutes later, Luis Gonzalez totally ruined this moment for everyone. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting the Alfonso Soriano trade

When the Rangers and the Yankees square off, I always think about Alfonso Soriano and today’s Texas second baseman Joaquin Arias. As we all know, he was the Arlington-bound centerpiece of the package the Yanks dashed off to Texas in exchange for Alex Rodriguez, and Arias was the player the Rangers selected from the Yanks’ organization.

This afternoon, while I ducked out of the living room and had to listen to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman for a few minutes, Waldman mentioned how the Yanks almost gave up Robinson Cano in that trade. I didn’t recall that and went digging for answers. I found a Jim Callis piece from 2004. The Baseball America scribe wrote, “Though initial speculation was that New York would give up a pitching prospect, baseball sources say the five-man list contains four hitters, including outfielder Rudy Guillen, shortstop Joaquin Arias and second baseman Robinson Cano, as well as righthander Ramon Ramirez.”

Eventually, Callis amended his list to include Bronson Sardinha and replaced Ramirez, today a pitcher with the Red Sox, with Jose Valdez. The Rangers on March 23 took Arias, and since 2004, they’ve waited and waited for him to arrive. This year marks his fourth season with an appearance in the Majors, and his track record is inconsistent. He had an impressive cup of coffee in 2006, missed most of 2007 to injuries, played 32 games in Texas in 2008 and played in AAA in 2009. For 2010, he’s hitting over .400 and may, at age 25, may finally be developing into a Major League infielder.

The Yanks don’t miss Arias because they have Robinson Cano, and it’s only through that twist of baseball fate that Cano stuck around. The team offered him to the Rangers, and the Rangers went with Arias. As Cano matures into the team’s number five hitter, I’m happy to see him in pinstripes, and the A-Rod trade would have looked much different had the Rangers opted for the right player.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Soriano has been in the news these days but for all of the wrong reasons. The Cubs, Dan McGrath writes in The Times today, don’t know what to do with him. The Cubs owe him $90 million and have him under contract through 2014. Yet, at age 34, he’s falling apart. His knees aren’t healthy, and his foot and bat speed are both on the wane. He hit .241/.303/.423 in 117 games and stole a career-low nine bases. His offense has picked up this weekend, but his defense in left field has taken a turn for the worse.

Since leaving the Yanks, Soriano has hit a very respectable .275/.328/.514 with 193 home runs. I thought the Yanks would miss him more than the team has. He gained two years after his real age came out following the trade, and his years as a 30/30 player seem to be behind him. I’ll take A-Rod – and Robinson Cano.

By the Decade: Second base sluggers

We pick up our Yankees By the Decade series today with the guys who manned the second base spot. Much of the decade was dominated by two top-hitting second basemen with a whole bunch of rather forgettable — but ultimately adequate — fill-ins in between.

[TABLE=46]

Between the two of them Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano combined for 74 percent of all Yankee second base at-bats, and they didn’t do too badly for themselves. On the whole, Yankee second basemen hit .290/.327/.460. The on-base percentage is a little low, but the batting average and slugging figures look a-OK to me. As a comparison, Boston’s second basemen hit .274/.330/.420 on the decade.

Individually, Soriano and Cano were both among the top of the game at their position, and yet, fans always wanted more. Before getting sent to Texas for A-Rod, Soriano launched 95 home runs and hit .286/.325/.505, mostly at the top of the Yankee order. Cano doesn’t have the same power as Soriano but has show a bit more patience. He has hit .305/.337/.475 with just 330 strike outs to Soriano’s 410 in 1000 more ABs.

Why then do Yankee fans always feel as though their second basemen should be better than they are? Cano takes a lot of guff for seemingly not hustling in the field or for being a lackadaisical base running. Soriano was accused, rightfully so, of flailing and too many pitchers, and fans and commentators always wanted him to exhibit more patience than he did at the plate. Always, it seems, Yankee fans want more, more, more.

What we can see from the chart, though, is how the Yankees have it good with a decade bookended by Soriano and Cano. Although Soriano’s .830 OPS is slightly better than Cano’s .812 mark, I have to give the decade award to Robinson Cano. He has far more playing time in pinstripes this decade than Soriano, and I like the OBP edge. We might be singing a different tune had Soriano’s late-game home run held up on a Sunday night in Phoenix, but that’s ancient history now.

Beyond those two, the decade was filled with a quest to fill the whole. I was surprised to see Miguel Cairo’s numbers at second base looking so decent. In nearly a season’s worth of at-bats, he hit .293/.344/.414. Considering those numbers are far above his career triple-slash line of .266/.315/.358, the Yankees were able to catch a bit of lightening in a bottle with Cairo, and it’s no wonder that Joe Torre seemingly fell in love with giving him playing time.

In the end, the Yanks had a good run this decade largely in part because of the solid play at second base. Robinson Cano has been an anchor since 2005 after the misguided Tony Womack experiment came to end. Before him, we lived through the era of Soriano, and even the guys who filled the hole for a year weren’t too bad. Meanwhile, Cano is just 27, and the next decade should belong to him. We know what he brings to the table; we know what he doesn’t bring to the table. As he hits his peak years offensively, he’s a great second baseman for a great Yankee team.