Full Name: Alfonso Guilleard Soriano
Position: Second base/Left field
Born: January 7, 1976 (San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic)
Yankee Years: 1999-2003, 2013-2014
Primary number: 12
Yankee statistics: 626 G, 276/.315/.492, 147 2B, 10 3B, 121 HR, 130 SB, 112 wRC+, 10.6 rWAR, 11.0 fWAR
When you think about the most important figures in the history of baseball, Alfonso Soriano is not the first player to come to mind: he never won an MVP, did not make significant contributions to a World Series champion, and received just six Hall of Fame votes when first eligible in 2020. And yet, when you sit down to tell the story of baseball in the 21st century, it is impossible to ignore No. 12. From his signing with the Yankees as a minor league free agent that generated international headlines — and international controversy — to his inclusion in a 2004 trade that transformed the American League landscape, Soriano transformed the sport of baseball internationally more than almost all of his many teammates throughout his 16-year career.
And Sori did it with the same reckless “reckless abandon and maximum swag” that every single middle schooler who played ball with their friends in the local rec league, except instead of bringing that energy to the plate against the pitcher who sits next to you in history class, he brought that energy against the best players in the world. It made him one of the most popular players of his generation; kids may have modeled their swing after Derek Jeter, but they modeled their attitudes after his double-play partner.
Across the Ocean and Back Again
Born into a baseball family in the Dominican Republic — his uncle, Hilario Soriano, spent several years as a journeyman Triple-A catcher and worked as both an international scout and a minor league manager — Soriano’s background led to an atypical path to stardom. As he recounted in 2006, his mother insisted that he stay in school rather than attending morning baseball academies, so most of his play came in the afternoon against Japanese academies. So Nippon Professional Baseball clubs saw him much more often than their MLB counterparts, and thus, the Hiroshima Toya Carp were the ones who signed him in 1994.
After training at Hiroshima’s Dominican facility, the young Soriano spent 1996 and the first half of 1997 playing for their minor league team. On August 5, 1997, he was called up to the NPB team; in nine games, he went 2-for-17 with a pair of walks and four strikeouts.
Unsatisfied both with the Carp’s training schedule and with his comparatively meager salary, Soriano turned to renowned agent Don Nomura for help. In the relative Wild West that was the pre-posting system days, Nomura had helped both Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu get out of their NPB contracts to sign with MLB teams by having them file retirement paperwork. First, Nomura attempted to get the contract voided, claiming that Soriano had been a minor when he signed. When Japanese courts ruled that the contract was signed under Dominican law, in which a teenager could sign a contract at the age of 18, and thus was valid, Soriano followed Nomo’s and Irabu’s lead. He filed for retirement, and announced his intention to head east to sign with an MLB club.
Although the Carp filed an injunction to prevent Soriano’s move to the United States, citing language within the MLB-NPB agreement that closed this loophole, MLB’s lawyers pointed out that the NPB amended their preexisting agreement without their consent. Ultimately, commissioner Bud Selig declared Soriano a free agent, and Hiroshima backed down. In response, the two leagues negotiated the posting system that regulated the transfer of players between the two leagues and allowed for Japanese teams to receive compensation for players that leave for North American ballclubs.
Hello with Style
On September 29, 1998, Soriano signed a $2.5 million contract with the Yankees after being declared a free agent, officially beginning his journey to The Show. He spent the majority of the ‘99 season in Double-A Norwich, where he hit .305 with 15 homers and 24 stolen bases in 89 games. Originally intended for the hot corner, Soriano bounced around the infield before ultimately being pegged as the Bombers’ successor to Chuck Knoblauch and the second baseman of the future.
It didn’t take long for the 23-year-old to make an impression, as he was picked for the first-ever MLB Futures Game and took fellow prospect/eventual “Big Three” co-ace Mark Mulder deep at Fenway Park (not to mention Milwaukee’s Kyle Peterson).
After 20 games with the Columbus Clippers, then the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, Soriano was recalled to The Show when rosters expanded in September. Serving primarily as the team’s designated pinch-runner late in ballgames, he had just two plate appearances across his first five games.
On September 24th, Soriano once again filled that role, pinch-running for Chili Davis after the DH worked a leadoff walk with the Yankees down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Soriano was thrown out at second on a fielder’s choice, but the Yankees tied the game anyway to send it into extras. Two innings later, the newcomer led off the bottom of the 11th. In his first career at-bat in the Bronx (and third of his career), Soriano gave fans a glimpse of what was to come, as he deposited an 0-2 pitch into the left-field seats to win the game — and clinch an AL East title.
Up for Good
During the 2000 championship season, Soriano had two brief cameos, one at the beginning and one at the end, spending most of his time at the hot corner. After Knoblauch’s catastrophic yips led to the former Gold Glover losing his hold on the second-base job due to the yips, the Bombers decided to hand the keys to the keystone to their rookie infielder on Opening Day in 2001. Primarily batting towards the bottom of the lineup, Soriano posted a respectable .268/.304/.432 slash line with 18 home runs, 34 doubles, and 43 stolen bases, good for a 91 OPS+.
While that performance earned Soriano a third-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year vote, behind standouts/future Yankees teammates Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia, it was his performance in the 2001 postseason that truly put him on the map. The first flash came against his old friend Mulder, as Soriano knocked a two-run single that knotted up the decisive Game 5 of the 2001 ALDS early. The Yankees won, 5-3, and advanced to play Seattle in the ALCS.
He notched two hits and a stolen base in the Game 1 victory in Seattle, and Bernie Williams’ eighth-inning blast in Game 4 led to an opportunity for Soriano to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth. All-Star closer Kazuhiro Sasaki was on for the M’s, but that didn’t deter the rookie:
Just like that, the 116-win Mariners were down 3-1 in the series. They were effectively toast, and Soriano scored twice in the 12-3 blowout win that gave New York its fourth consecutive AL pennant.
The World Series against Arizona bestowed even more attention on Soriano. He was quiet with just two hits across the first four games, but after Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter shocked Byung-Hyun Kim and company in Game 4 to tie the series, the rookie seized the spotlight in Game 5. Scott Brosius sent yet another Fall Classic showdown into extra innings. Then with the bases loaded in the top of the 11th in Game 5, Soriano made a rare defensive gem at second with a diving catch to retire Reggie Sanders for the second out of the inning.
One inning later, Soriano called “game,” driving in Knoblauch with a single to right to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory and put them one win away from their 27th World Series championship.
Three days later in Game 7, with the score tied at one in the top of the eighth against Curt Schilling, Soriano gave the Bombers a late 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, instead of becoming a signature Yankee moment that might have earned him a place in Monument Park, he instead joined an ignoble list, alongside Yogi Berra and DJ LeMahieu, of Yankees hitters whose postseason heroics were unfortunately rendered moot in the bottom of the ninth.
Despite the lackluster end to the 2001 season, however, it became clear to all involved that Alfonso Soriano had arrived and was ready to make an impact in the Bronx for years to come. With that in mind, the Yankees bid adieu to Knoblauch, and manager Joe Torre slotted Soriano — now wearing No. 12 rather than No. 33 with David Wells back in pinstripes— into the leadoff spot starting on Opening Day.
Sori rewarded his manager’s faith in a big way, slashing .300/.332/.547 with 39 home runs — the AL record for second basemen until Brian Dozier hit 42 in 2016 — 51 doubles, 5.6 fWAR, and a league-leading 41 stolen bases; this left him just one shy of the coveted 40/40 Club.
Although Soriano led the league with 209 hits, he ranked just 97th among qualified hitters in on-base percentage, the result of his free-swinging approach that limited his walks for most of his career. Despite this, he wound up finishing third in the AL MVP vote, behind Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez.
Torre kept Soriano at the leadoff spot in 2003. While this seems natural to us — he was clearly one of the organization’s best hitters — this was still the era before power hitters such as Mookie Betts and George Springer were considered typical leadoff options; a player with 40-home run power would more likely be dropped in the lineup, with a more traditional leadoff hitter put in front of him.
By batting leadoff, however, Soriano was able to put pressure on opposing hitters early and often — his 13 leadoff home runs to start a game remains the single-season record, and his 12 in 2006 is tied for second. When he didn’t homer, hitting in front of Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui, allowed him to leverage his speed to create havoc on the basepaths. Overall, he joined the 30/30 club for the second straight year, as he finished the season with 38 home runs and 35 swiped bags. To date, he and Bobby Bonds (1975) are the only Yankees in franchise history with 30/30 seasons.
Soriano had established himself as one of the league’s most exciting young players, but the downside was that he was unable to build on his 2001 postseason breakout. He mustered only a .562 OPS in 21 playoff games between 2002-03 as New York first fell in the Division Series to Anaheim and then in the World Series to Florida.
The Trade Heard ‘Round the League
On February 15, 2004, the Yankees traded Soriano to the Texas Rangers in one of the biggest trades in baseball history. With third baseman Aaron Boone out for the season with a knee injury and with minor league depth at the keystone, the Bombers flipped their leadoff hitter and a player to be named later (it would turn out to be Joaquin Arias, selected from a list that included Robinson Canó) to the Rangers for reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez.
Across his two seasons with the Rangers, Soriano slashed a respectable .274/.316/.498 with 64 homers, 75 doubles, and 48 stolen bases in 301 games. While his performance took a step down from his pair of 30/30 seasons in the Bronx, he still went to two All-Star Games, recorded a 6-for-6 game, and won a Silver Slugger both years. Despite their first winning season in five years in 2004, Texas was a couple of years away from true contention, and so they flipped Soriano to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Brad Wilkerson, Armando Galarraga, and Terrmel Sledge.
Soriano spent only one year in Washington, but he made that time count. Content with their current second baseman, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden acquired Soriano to play a position he had not played at the professional level: left field. When he arrived, Soriano refused to go to the outfield, saying, “They have three weeks to fix it” before departing for the World Baseball Classic. Upon his return, he refused to take the field, but once threatened with financial penalties, Soriano gave in.
That was the right move for everyone involved, especially since Soriano was frankly a dismal defender at the keystone. He took to the outfield with ease, where his strong arm helped him rank among the league leaders in outfield assists, and he finished the year with 18 Defensive Runs Saved. His performance at the plate was even more significant, not to mention historic: after flirting with the 40/40 club in back-to-back years, Soriano inaugurated the 40/40/40 club by blasting 46 home runs, knocking 41 doubles, and swiping 41 bases.
Because the Nationals were far from in the playoff hunt and destined for last place in the NL East, Soriano’s name popped up in trade rumors all summer. Preferring to make a bid to re-sign him, the Nats opted to hold onto him for the rest of the season.
Cubbin’ in Chicago
Of course, that backfired royally, because Bowden made the one mistake that MLB front offices absolutely love to make: lowball important players when they hit free agency. The Nationals reportedly offered him a $70 million deal. The Cubs offered him an eight-year deal worth $136 million. Understandably, he took his talents to westward to Chicago, signing what was at the largest deal in Cubs history.
Although his stolen base numbers had declined as he aged, Soriano hit much like he did with the Yankees across his first two years in Chicago. He slashed a solid .291/.340/.548 across 244 games, with 62 homers and 69 doubles as the Cubs won back-to-back NL Central crowns. Alas, Soriano went a combined 3-for-28 in the two playoff series and the Cubs were swept each time.
An early-season slump in 2009 saw Cubs manager/PSA Top 100 predecessor Lou Piniella drop Soriano from the leadoff spot, marking the first time since 2001 that the right-hander had not served as the primary leadoff hitter. Despite a brief resurgence after being dropped in the lineup, Soriano slumped to the finish before knee surgery cut his season short.
Firmly entrenched in the middle of the order, Soriano rebounded in 2010 as he reinvented himself as strictly a power hitter capable of putting up extra base hits in bunches, but who did not hit for a high average. During this time, he embraced his role as elder statesman in the league, mentoring the young club during a tough time on the North Side. He also unleashed an all-time quote that can really only be described as baller.
One of James Russell's favorite Soriano stories involved Randy Wells asking for change for $100. Sori responds: "Hundreds are change, babe."— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) April 16, 2014
Back on the field, Sori’s 2012 performance at the plate was his best season since 2008, as he blasted 32 home runs and 33 doubles, good for a 118 OPS+. When he carried that performance over to the first half of 2013, he became one of the most high-profile trade chips available at the deadline as teams weighed the benefits of picking up the end of his contract.
The Savior of 2013
With a battered B-squad lineup that boasted the corpse of Vernon Wells, a past-his-prime Ichiro Suzuki, and a never-was in Jayson Nix, the 2013 Yankees were desperate for a batter with a pulse. And so, on July 26, 2013, Brian Cashman swung a trade with the Cubs to reunite with the player he traded for the third baseman who was, at the time, giving him massive headaches off the field. That night, making his first appearance in pinstripes in almost a decade, Soriano was slotted into the cleanup spot, between the player who ultimately replaced him (Canó) and the first baseman the Yankees were trotting out there for lack of other options (Lyle Overbay).
The 2013 Yankees were, on the whole, not a fun team to watch, but much like Gary Sánchez made the final two months of 2016 fun to watch, Soriano made the end of 2013 bearable. On August 11th, he homered off Justin Verlander to record his 2,000th career hit.
Somehow, that would not be the high point of Soriano’s week.
Two days later, Sori snapped a 1-for-16 stretch with a three-hit night, two home runs and six RBIs, to help lead the Yankees past the Angels 14-7. The following day, he drove in seven runs, becoming just the third player since 1916 to drive in 13 runs across two games. The next day, he “only” had four hits. And finally, on August 16th, he had three hits (including one home run) and drove in four. Across those four games, Soriano had a terrific month, as he went 13-for-18 (a .722 average!) with five home runs, one double, 18 runs batted in, nine runs scored, and — for good measure — a stolen base.
Not surprisingly, Soriano earned AL Player of the Week honors, as he became just the third Yankee to record 18 RBIs in 4 games, joining Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Joe DiMaggio; he was the first to also record 13 hits in that stretch.
Ten days later, Soriano recorded his 400th career home run on the road in Toronto, joining a club that featured only 50 other members in MLB history at the time.
While the Yankees fell far short of the playoffs in 2013, Soriano’s performance in pinstripes — he slashed .256/.325/.525 with 17 home runs in just 58 games — made the team worth watching down the stretch.
Although nobody expected him to replicate his late-season 2013 numbers in 2014, the Yankees penciled him in as the starting DH and part-time outfielder in a new-look lineup that was bolstered by players returning from injury (Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter) and a trio of high-profile free agents (Brian McCann, Carlos Beltrán, Jacoby Ellsbury). Unfortunately, Father Time comes for us all, and for Soriano, that time was 2014. Soriano slashed just .221/.244/.367 with six home runs across 67 games before the Yankees released him in mid-July. In truth, he somehow looked even more lost at the plate than his numbers would suggest.
Soriano did have one last highlight though. On May 14, 2014, he recorded his 1,000th hit in the American League, becoming just the seventh player in baseball history to notch 1,000 hits in both the AL and the NL.
Soriano remained a free agent for the rest of 2014, and he officially retired at the end of the season, saying that he had “lost the love and passion to play the game.” At the time, his 412 home runs put him 50th all time, and his 39.7 fWAR from 2001 (when he first became a starter) to 2014 ranked 29th. Although he only played parts of five seasons in the Bronx in that timespan, his 11.7 fWAR rank 12th.
And in swag, Sori ranks first — and that surely counts for something.
Staff rank: 87
Community rank: 90
Stats rank: N/A
2013 rank: N/A
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