Alfonso Soriano: Yankees Interested? Really?

Ezra Shaw

The list of disincentives to reacquiring the aging slugger is long and heavy.

It's truly bizarre to read that the Yankees are considering a reunion with Alfonso Soriano. Despite the team's lack of right-handed power with Alex Rodriguez on the shelf, Soriano just isn't a good fit for a number of reasons:

  • He's a miserable outfielder. It's an open question as to whether seeing him play, say, seven innings of left field a night against left-handed pitching would get the Yankees much more benefit than just leaving Brett Gardner out there for the whole game.
  • He's signed through 2014 for a total of $36 million. Even if the Cubs pay some large fraction of that, the Yankees will still be left paying quite a bit of money for a player whose role on the club would be platoon left-fielder or designated hitter. You would also have to keep his carcass on the roster for his age-38 season. That's saddling an old team with one more old-timer than it needs.
  • Soriano is 37 and had his best year since 2008 last season. There isn't necessarily more where that came from.
  • Leg injuries have sapped his speed, so he's no-longer the two-way threat of his youth. He's just a low-average slugger who doesn't get on base all that often.
  • The Yankees would actually have to give up something to get Soriano, and if that something is anything more than one of those "player to be named later or future considerations" items that never quite materializes, that would be too much.
  • Who is to say that Soriano, a 12-year regular, is going to be overjoyed to come to New York and sit around waiting to hit against Jon Lester or Gardner to get hurt again?
  • He wouldn't necessarily be that much of an upgrade over Matt Diaz. A career .277/.346/.517 hitter against southpaws, he hit just .260/.342/.489 against them last year, and just .258/.333/.475 against them over the last three seasons. Diaz, also a poor outfielder, is a career .324/.364/.498 hitter against left-handed pitching. Now, Diaz might be done -- he hit just .281/.328/.426 against left-handers, and .210/.258/.294 against righties over the last three years, but he was also dealing with a palm-frond injury. Truly. He's also on a minor-league contract and can be made to vanish at any time if the Yankees find a more viable right-handed bat. Soriano would theoretically be more viable if somehow pressed into everyday service, something a team would never think of doing with Diaz -- he hit .250/.302/.473 against normal-handers over the last three years, which ain't great but it at least has thump. As for Juan Rivera, as Dylan sang, it's alright, ma, it's only pointless. Still, even if Diaz is only the hitter he was the last few years, it's tough to argue that improving from a .750 OPS against lefties over, say, 200 plate appearances to an .800 outweighs all of the possible penalties.
  • And why did I say .800 instead of the roughly .830 Soriano had last year? Because we're also pulling him out of Wrigley Field. Wrigley actually hasn't been a huge boost to Soriano over the past few years -- he's had roughly a .770 OPS at home and an .800 on the road. Still, there's no telling if he would be the same hitter in a different ballpark. Yankee Stadium has been roughly neutral for right-handed hitters over the last three years, Wrigley friendlier.
  • Finally, if the Yankees are really looking for right-handed outfield help, why not give ol' Melky Mesa a try? He's inexpensive, he's young by the standards of the team (26), is a good defensive outfielder, does have speed, and happens to be a right-handed hitter with power. He didn't hit very well against lefties at either Trenton or Scranton last year, but it would be very unusual for a reverse split to be more than a random occurrence.

Ever since the Cubs signed Soriano to an everlasting gobstobber of a contract after the 2006 season, we've gotten to have a thrice-annual conversation about who would be dumb enough to bite on an overpriced player in decline -- once in the spring, once at the trading deadline, once in the winter. It's that time again, that's all. Now, I could be wrong and the Yankees will bite, hoping Soriano can give them more offensive certainty than their other right-handed outfield/DH candidates, but it would be very odd to have them spend all winter passing on more obvious needs, like catching, only to peel off some extra bucks to bring back Soriano.

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