Few players have combined the speed, power and positional scarcity that the young Alfonso Soriano did; if nothing else, you'll remember him forever for that league you won (or lost) because of how incredible his fantasy production was. Soriano announced Tuesday that he will retire, so to honor the career of the only man ever traded for Brad Wilkerson, here are 15 years of Soriano's comments in the Baseball Prospectus Annual.
|When the Yankees traded for Soriano, they hadn’t hit a homer from the right side in over a month. Soriano had hit 10 in that time. The acquisition addressed their primary weakness not only on paper, but in practice: Soriano kept slugging after the swap, going deep as many times in 58 games with the Yankees as he had in 93 with the Cubs. Not only is there still some thump in his bat, but he’s made himself into an adequate defensive outfielder and earned acclaim for mentoring youngers (not that he’ll meet many in his current clubhouse). Give the 38-year-old credit for changing the negative narrative after acquiring an albatross rep—he’s amassed more WARP in each of the past two seasons than he did in the three before that combined.
|Soriano has had two really bad years in Chicago, three pretty good years and exactly one year when it might have seemed like he was actually worth the ridiculous amount of money the Cubs are paying him. Given the amount he still has coming—$18 million this year and the same in 2014—and his disappointing production, it's surprising that the real impediment to trading him so far hasn't been a lack of interested teams but Soriano's refusal to waive his no-trade clause. Odds are he'll be good enough not to be a boat anchor for a Cubs team that isn't going anywhere anyway, but it's hard to see that through the haze of dollar signs.
|Most everyone who's seen Soriano play thinks he's a terrible fielder. And FRAA is starting to agree with this view now that he's no longer throwing out 19 baserunners in a year, as he did in 2007. But another advanced fielding metric, ultimate zone rating, says he's been 55 runs better than the average left fielder during his time with the Cubs. Considering that Soriano has amassed less than 10 WARP in his time in Chicago, 55 runs (approximately 5.5 WARP) would dramatically impact his value, percentage-wise. Of course, the elephant in the room is that he's been paid $82 million for this, so it's not as if he's been worth his salary either way. And the really painful part of the contract is still to come, as he's due $54 million more through 2014.
|In his fourth season on the team, Soriano set his single-season high for games played as a Cub. He has managed, in that time, to become perhaps the ultimate example of Cubbiedom. When initially introduced, he was reputed to be able to do all sorts of things, like run or play center and be a superstar. Now he's reduced to scaring people when he tries anything on the bases or afield, and his brand of walkless power boils down to very pedestrian production for a left fielder. His OBP against right-handers has slipped every year in his Cubs stint, dipping below .300 last season. His fielding sums him up: He's not awful as much as frustrating, making mistakes and scrambling to repair the damage. With four years to go, you might wonder if the voters shouldn't have asked for an initiative to recall left fielders as well as governors last November.
|Accurate predictions are better than inaccurate ones, but bring little joy when they involve droughts, earthquakes, or self-inflicted injuries. Jim Hendry's signing of Soriano to an eight-year mega-contract brought on a rousing chorus of "you'll shoot your eye out" from most analysts, and we’ve just witnessed the first painful ricochet. A sore knee that required late-season surgery may account for some portion of Soriano’s decline below his 10th percentile PECOTA forecast for 2009, but a steady diet of breaking balls was at least as much to blame—only Ryan Howard saw fewer heaters among NL regulars. When Fonsie can’t turn on fastballs and make hard contact, he’s a player with no on-base skill, average speed and power, and an indifferent defensive approach highlighted by an apparent belief that Wrigley’s outfield wall is covered with poison ivy. In return for that package, the Cubs get to write checks worth $90 million through 2014. Unless batting guru Rudy Jaramillo, the club's new hitting coach, can somehow game the “new trick/old dog” paradigm, the ending is going to be even worse than anyone thought.
|The race to call Soriano a great defender flies in the face of what's actually involved—he's as aggressive a left fielder as you'll find when it comes to throwing, but his combination of bad routes, poor instincts, and sloppy play adds up to something well short of an obvious asset on defense. As with his defense, on the bases and at the plate Soriano is a spectacle, but not exactly spectacular, useful but hard to fit easily into any archetypal role, and his wheels seem to be aging faster than his other working parts. He gets a bad rap for hitting with men on (slugging .503, and .595 with RISP), in part as a reaction formation against his not being anyone's classic idea of a leadoff hitter.
|Virtually all of Soriano's PECOTA comparables have some or another kind of Cubs connection: Joe Carter (1), Andre Dawson (2), Dusty Baker (3), Don Baylor (5), Glenallen Hill (8), and Ernie Banks (9). Perhaps Soriano was predestined to be a Cub his entire life; there's nothing more Cubby than being a very good player who sometimes gets mistaken for a great one. The only thing that can honestly be considered disappointing about Soriano's 2007 season is that he didn't retain the walk-rate spike that he experienced with the Nationals in 2006, which makes it all the more important that he be removed from the leadoff spot. No, he didn't stick in center field, but he was by no means terrible for someone who hadn't played the position before; as with Pie, the whole incident reflected the Cubs' lack of patience more than any fault of the player's.
|Soriano`s 2006 was a strange, fun, and interesting season from a strange, fun, and interesting player, but it`s hard to expect him to provide value on his eight-year, $136-million contract with the Cubs. Challenged to make a move to the outfield, Soriano adapted, if at first indifferently, eventually showing good range and an infielder`s instincts for staying in the action. Last year`s 22 assists were more a matter of runners learning what he could do than a testament to a shoulder-mounted howitzer–10 came on batters trying to take an extra base, 6 on fly-out doubleplays in which baserunners were caught taking big leads on balls Soriano caught, and 2 on lineout doubleplays in which, again, the runners were leaning; in other words, he played aggressively in response to some aggressive baserunning. Having made his bones with third base coaches around the league last year, deterrence should be in place from here on out. That he set a career high in walks last year was also impressive (his previous was 38), but keep in mind that he was issued 16 intentionals. His actual jump was from a pre-2006 career average of drawing an unintentional walk in 4 percent of his plate appearances to doing so in 7 percent of his PAs last year; positive, just not as positive. It remains to be seen how much of this spike was a product of poor lineup protection versus a newly-developed skill, though the fact that he was put on first intentionally to bring up Royce Clayton five times in little more than a month serves as some indication. With the Cubs, he`ll be better protected unless Lou Piniella bats Cesar Izturis second, but our uncertainty about whether that will be a positive (better pitches to hit), a negative (fewer walks), or ultimately irrelevant reflects how little we really know about the tactical impact of lineup protection.
|The park factor in Arlington has always been one of the highest in the AL. There`s no better example of that in 2005 than Soriano, who hit .315/.355/.656 at home and .224/.265/.374 on the road. As measured by MLVr, Soriano was the fourth-best hitter in baseball at home, and the third-worst on the road-essentially changing from Alex Rodriguez to Cesar Izturis. His 2004 was similar, though not as extreme. Now that Soriano has been dealt to the Nationals (for Brad Wilkerson and more), his offense will sink to the level of his defense-seeing Soriano move to his left is like watching a wagon train go west in real time-and if the Nats` plan to move him to the outfield sticks, they`ll discover what Derek Jeter pointed out years ago, that Soriano has the vertical leap of a sumo wrestler. He`s about to become a massive disappointment.
|Probably the single most overrated player in baseball. Yes, it's interesting and exciting that he can hit a pitch two feet down and in over the fence. But what the hell is he doing swinging at it in the first place? Most of the time, he flails at that pitch and misses it, in yet another mini three-act play that has Soriano slowly loping back to the bench. He hit .244/.291/.444 on the road. Defensively, no metric places him as a good defensive second baseman, and one advance scout describes him as "beyond redemption" with the glove. Why, exactly, do people think this guy is anything remotely resembling a star? Are we that starved for excitement?
|The bigger, better, supercharged Juan Samuel for a new generation, with the tradeoff being that Soriano has a much worse glove but significantly more power, a tradeoff I’d take. Some insiders wonder why anybody ever throws Soriano a fastball or a strike, but so far, so good. The question is whether the Yankees can continue to make do with him at second. As Jeter has jokingly pointed out, Soriano can’t jump, which makes a move to the outfield look unlikely, if not crabtastic. In general, the Yankees should only fret about moving Jeter or Soriano, not both.
|Well, he's exciting to watch, has some amazing physical gifts, and his walk rate is improving. Soriano is overrated by most baseball fans and underrated by most statheads. He's learning to play second base as he goes, and some plate discipline did peek through a couple of times during the season. There's no reason a healthy Soriano can't be the best second baseman in the league. There's also no reason he can't be Carlos Baerga. The projection above looks a little high, at least in terms of batting average, and he should do more work on the base paths than that.
|Alfonso Soriano has excellent power for a middle infielder and good physical skills. The erosion in his walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio is a concern, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Soriano has been jerked around by the Yankees, splitting time between shortstop and second base at Columbus, then moving to the majors for two weeks and doing on-the-job training at third base. It's not surprising that his offense regressed under those conditions.
Among Soriano, Jimenez, Sojo, and the three starters in New York, the Yankees have to sort out who is going to play where at what level and commit. Having Soriano and/or Jimenez split time at multiple positions and levels is going to hurt both of them in the long run. Soriano has the biggest gap between actual and perceived value, so trading him to help clear up the logjam is the best option.
|Soriano primed a hype machine that had already been set in motion by his two-homer performance in the Futures Game. While he’s a good athlete with power and speed, he’s not nearly the prospect Jimenez is. Soriano has some plate discipline issues, was a disaster at Triple-A and may end up somewhere other than shortstop, so you could say I’m not terribly excited about him.
|Shortstop who apparently plays defense like Ozzie Smith's big brother. As with any well-publicized foreign free agent, don't believe the hype. These guys have been a lot more Glenn Williams than Orlando Hernandez. He wasn't overmatched in the AFL; even if he's good, he's in the wrong organization.
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