The Alfonso Soriano problem

Disappointing would be a fitting description of the Yankees’ offense thus far in 2014. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann haven’t met expectations, while Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have struggled to stay on the field. Ellsbury and McCann aren’t big concerns, and should ultimately perform as expected. Teixeira and Beltran are greater uncertainties given age and injury history. Another underwhelming hitter has been Alfonso Soriano, who has been a drain on the heart of the lineup. At the moment, Soriano looks least likely of the bunch to get things on track.

Without Teixeira or Beltran for good portions of this young season, Soriano has been thrust into a more prominent lineup position. Unfortunately for the Yankees, of qualified batters, Soriano is 12th worst in baseball per wRC+. Batting .226/.253/.392, there’s really nothing positive to glean from Alfonso’s stat line. His strikeout rate has jumped to 29.3% and walk rate is down to 3.0%. Simply put, he looks toast.

Soriano has shown a propensity to improve as the weather heats up, but this season might be different, mainly because he’s old. Players pushing 40 (Soriano is 38) get worse, and sometimes quickly. A bounce back can’t be ruled out completely, but the odds are heavily against Sori.

Could the Yankees cut him loose? It’s not impossible. It wouldn’t be overly expensive to release him, because the Yankees were only on the hook for $5 million of his 2014 salary. Plus, a freely available replacement in Kendrys Morales, who should sign shortly after the draft, would probably be an immediate upgrade at DH. Nonetheless, I still believe the Yankees will roll the dice with Soriano, instead focusing their resources on more pressing needs in the rotation and infield. One fear, perhaps slightly irrational, would be watching Soriano sign with a rival and subsequently tear the cover off the ball. The Red Sox need outfield help, don’t they?

If all else fails, Soriano can probably still be a decent platoon player. It’s a small sample, but he does have a 115 wRC+ against lefties this season, and was far better against southpaws last year as well. Zoilo Almonte was just demoted this week, but he’s shown a platoon split in favor of right-handed opponents. A Soriano/Almonte combination isn’t the sexiest idea, especially considering it would give the Yankees’ six outfielders with Beltran in the fold, but it would be a boost.

It’s hard be patient with this lineup anymore, and Soriano seems to be the most likely chip to fall. His performance has been abysmal, and he doesn’t offer anything defensively or on the basepaths when he’s not hitting. The Yankees will have to choose in the coming days whether they wish to stick it out or add Morales, two options that both have merits. Right now, I’m in the camp that Brian Cashman keeps Soriano around, but it’s evident that his place on the roster is tentative.

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