Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Steinbrenner's Promise Fulfilled? Yankees Close to Bring Alfonso Soriano Back Home

A year or so after the Yankees dealt Alfonso Soriano to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez, George Steinbrenner promised a disappointed female fan that one day he would bring Soriano back to the Yankees. Nine years later it appears that the late Steinbrenner's promise will be fulfilled by his sons and the front office.

George King of the NY Post was the first to report that the Yankees and Cubs were close to a deal that would send Soriano back to New York for a mid-level prospect. While the components of the deal could be worked out soon, Soriano would have to waive his no-trade clause for the deal to go through and that will not be an automatic.

After being a perennial contender to join the 40/40 club (Home runs and steals, not Jay-Z's place) in his younger days as a poor fielding second baseman, the now 37-year old outfielder is a mature leader in the Cubs’ clubhouse. He likes playing at Wrigley and turned down a deal to go to the San Francisco Giants last year. (Perhaps his last chance for a ring too.) He was recently commended by the Cubs management for his work ethic, which included doing extra work to continue to improve his defense in left field. Not many 37-year olds would do that. It was not always that way.

Soriano always worked hard, but his level of maturity needed to improve. He was caught too many times watching his would-be home run shots instead of running hard out of the box. His defense got worse and worse at second base. After two years and 44 errors playing for Texas, the Rangers sent Soriano to the Washington Nationals for Termel Sledge, Brad Wilkerson, and Armando Galarraga. Needless to say the deal was awful for Texas, even though Soriano only had one more year on his contract.

There was also the issue of making no contact in too many at-bats. One of the memories of the 2002 and 2003 playoffs (30 K's in 88 at-bats) was watching Soriano swing and miss at pitch after pitch well out of the strike zone. His strikeout to walk ratio was terrible during those two years as well. Except for two seasons (2006, 2012) since then, Soriano cut down on his strikeouts and improved on his walk total. He began to work the count more and put more balls in play. Oh, and that 2002 season may be remembered for his playoff failure, but Soriano led the AL that year in hits (209), runs (128) and stolen bases (41), and missed the 40/40 club by one home run.

The first year for Soriano in the outfield was the one year he played with the Nats. Defense aside Soriano could not have picked a much better year to lead into free agency. He joined the elusive 40/40 club with 46 home runs and 41 steals. He had a career high .911 OPS, earned the fifth of his seven All-Star selections, won his fourth Silver Slugger award, and finished sixth in the National League MVP voting.

It all paid off when he signed an 8-year, $136MM deal with the Cubs prior to the 2007 season. Though his skills have diminished since his first year in the Windy City- he never stole 20 or more bases again - Soriano still averaged 29 home runs and 98 RBI from 2011-2012. This year he has a .756 OPS (.785 with RISP) with 17 HR and 51 RBI in 92 games.

The money factor is a large when you take into account the $18MM Soriano is owed in 2014, the final year of his deal, and the remainder of the $18MM he's owed for the rest of this season. The Yankees want their 2014 salary to meet the $189MM luxury tax "line in the sand" and Soriano's contract could greatly impact it depending on how much salary the Cubs pay. The Yankees total salary next year might also be impacted by some apparent inside information the Yankees could have a hold of concerning Alex Rodriguez's pending suspension.

According to the Post's Joel Sherman (thank you to @TroyMags for texting me this info) any monies lost by A-Rod during a suspension would not count towards the luxury tax total. So Soriano's $18MM would then have much less of a dent in the Yankees 2014 plans.

While Soriano's acquisition might not have a big impact on where the Yankees finish this year, just ask yourself this. Would you rather watch Soriano hitting or Vernon Wells/Travis Hafner?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

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