Thursday, February 23, 2006

Catching Up: Alfonso Soriano

One story getting some coverage in the mainstream media of late is the Alfonso Soriano tale. Most of my Yankee brethren have neglected this story, but I feel it is important to catch up with old friends (though the term “friend” is used loosely in cases like Tom Gordon). So before I launch into my “what is he thinking?” tirade, I’ll begin with a brief back-story.

Soriano’s ploy for $12 million in arbitration was apparent to the Rangers back in December, which prompted them to swap him for Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson, a move that seemingly made no sense for either side. Wilkerson, a center/left fielder, entered an outfield that is overpacked with likes of Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews, Laynce Nix, and David Dellucci, not to mention Phil Nevin at DH. And the move to acquire Soriano made less sense for the Nats, since they have Jose Vidro entrenched at second base.

Apparently, the Nats brass figured that they could simply get Soriano to switch to the outfield, despite his past admonition of such a move. The proverbial monkey wrench was thrown in their plans when Soriano adamantly stated that he would not move to the outfield under any circumstances. Too bad this statement came after he was property of the Nationals.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are laughing all the way to the bank. Even though they have some positional issues to address with Wilkerson on board, they were able to avoid Sori’s $10 million arbitration settlement, which very well could have been $12 mil had he still been with the Rangers. That money was then appropriated for a legitimate need: pitching. And while I don’t think Milwood is a veritable ace, he’ll be the top guy on the Rangers staff next year, taking the place of Kenny Rogers. He and Adam Eaton should provide Texas with a hint of the pitching they’ve been craving for years.

I feel, however, that the Rangers should have kept busy after dealing Soriano and signing Milwood. Sori’s move opens the door for Michael Young, described by many a defensive metric as the worst at his position, back to his natural position of second base. This leaves a hole at shortstop, but they could have easily jumped on Alex Gonzalez. Even as they stand right now, the team should look into trading for Tony Graffanino for second base (unless they have some prospect I’m not privy to, but I’ve glanced the lists and haven’t seen any).

While the Rangers still have some problems to address, the Nats are in much sorrier shape. With nary a man beyond Marlon Byrd to man left field, the Nats are surely banking on a Soriano change of heart, which he has made clear won’t happen.

Moving Jose Vidro to third base may be the Nats best option, but that presents two problems right away. First, who knows how Vidro will adjust to the hot corner. Even Alex Rodriguez, one of the most athletic and talented players in the league, had quite some time with the adjustment. Second, the move would hinder the up and coming Ryan Zimmerman. Sure, he’s only 21 and spending another year in the minors wouldn’t really hurt, but if he’s ready for Major League ball (and the Nats probably think so after his September stint) the team should have him in there.

The most prevalent solution: dish Sori. Problem is, not many teams are willing to part ways with talent and $10 million for a free-swinger like Soriano. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong. But that seems like quite a steep price, one I certainly wouldn’t be willing to pay. But who knows. Maybe a team will befall an injury at second base during spring training. Then, and only then, would any kind of deal for Soriano make sense.

No games have been played since the trade, but time has already told us that this isn’t going to work. The Nationals didn’t take any proactive steps (at least not publicly) to remedy the situation, and now they may reap the consequences. The team is absent a quality every day left fielder, and has two All-Star second basemen. And no DH to boot. But the Nats problems don’t even end there.

The No. 1 off-season concern for the Nats was acquiring another top of the rotation starter, which they failed at unless you consider Brian Lawrence adequate to pitch behind Livan Hernandez. And it’s not like they’re going to get a quality arm for Soriano or even Vidro since pitchers are much more valuable in today’s market than a low OBP slugger.

Sori never won a championship with the Yanks, and he’s now over two years removed from wearing pinstripes, thus reducing my attachment to him. But he still contributed to the 2001 and 2003 World Series campaigns, and for that I will always be grateful. So for the sake of his future in the game, I deeply implore him to move to the outfield. He’s caught in a web, and the only realistic solution involves concession.