Does Alfonso Soriano Make Sense in the Outfield?

The cool fit. But the right fit?

Today, a report from Jon Heyman indicated that the Cubs are willing to eat $26M of the $36M remaining on Alfonso Soriano’s contract in exchange for the “right” prospect. If this is true, it’s worth investigating.

Alfonso Soriano is no stranger to the Bronx. The best memory obviously would be his walk-off single in game five of the 2001 World Series, but it’s often forgotten that he hit what would have been the game winning home run of game 7 in the same series had Mariano Rivera shut the door. Sori also fell just short of reaching 40-40 twice with the Yanks, and of course was the centerpiece of a deal with Texas in exchange for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season. With the need for a right handed outfield bat, is a reunion with Soriano sensible? Let’s break it down in terms of the payroll and on field impact.

Financially, a potential kick in of $26M would fit well into the austerity budget. In the CBA, section (C)(2)(b)(ii) of the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) chapter explains how the Yankees can benefit from receiving cash considerations from Chicago:

“Any cash consideration that is included in the Actual Club Payroll of the payor Club shall be subtracted from the Actual Club Payroll of the payee Club in the same Contract Year in which it is added to the payor Club’s Actual Club Payroll.”

In English, all this means is that the Yankees can deduct the amount the Cubs pay them in the year which the payment is made from their payroll for CBT purposes. So, considering that Soriano’s contract runs through 2014, it makes sense to receive a $13M payment in both 2013 and 2014, thus reducing the CBT payroll each year by that amount. Soriano’s AAV is a $17M hit on payroll (initial contract was 8 years/$136M). With the deduction, however, the Yankees would effectively be paying Soriano $4M per season in luxury tax terms, $5M per year overall.
On the field, Soriano is still producing despite his age. He’ll be 37 in January, but he’s only been on the DL once in the last three seasons, playing at least 137 games each of the last three years.

Soriano’s best asset is his power. Take a look at his stats 2010-2012:

82 home runs and a .234 ISO is nothing to sneeze at. His slash line isn’t draw dropping, but solid. Soriano’s OBP has never been great, as he’s always been an aggressive hitter. He does strike out a good amount, which unfortunately brings back bad memories from the 2003 postseason.

A 111 wRC+ is certainly above average, but when broken down lefty-righty, Soriano has immense value against lefties: 127 wRC+, .368 wOBA, and .276/.346/.522 slash line. While not as good against righties (105 wRC+), there is plenty of good left hand hitting already in the Yankees lineup to make up for it.

As a plus, Soriano has apparently become an adequate outfielder since transitioning from second base. He was well below average at second, so the move was appropriate. Although he’s never played right field (mostly left, little center), he should be able to make the adjustment. In the last three seasons, a general benchmark to observe UZR numbers, Soriano is 17th in UZR and 20th in UZR/150 for all outfielders minimum 1,500 innings played. That initially led me to believe Soriano has become a good outfielder, but I realize that he’s probably closer to average considering DRS grades him poorly. Nick Swisher was the same way: UZR liked him, but DRS didn’t, so they’re probably comparable defensively.

In terms of production, Soriano won’t match what Swisher offered in the regular season. However, in terms of the value the Yankees would get, they’ll be able to fill other roster spots more efficiently than previously. Swisher should get somewhere between $14-16M this offseaso, while the Yankees would essentially owe $4M per year to Sori.

Now, the asking price. The Cubs want the “right” prospect, and may initially demand guys like Mason Williams or Gary Sanchez. That’s certainly too high of a price, even with the amount of money Chicago would kick in. I’d probably be willing to pay a little more of Soriano’s salary to give up a lesser and riskier prospect. Perhaps have the Cubs pay $22M in two $11M installments, making the Yankees outlay $6M per year for the CBT payroll calc.

Not the sexy pick, but a good fit.

All things considered, however, there are more efficient options still available. Namely, Scott Hairston. In the past two seasons, Hairston hasn’t played as much as Soriano due to injury and a non full-time starter role. His abdomen injuries in 2011 and 2012 are disconcerting, but at least Hairston is younger (32). Statistically, Hairston and Soriano are very comparable since 2011: .340 and .339 wOBA and 116 and 110 wRC+ respectively. Slash lines are practically the same as well (Hairston: .255/.300/.495, Soriano: .254/.307/.486). In the power department, Hairston gets a slight nod with a .240 ISO vs. .232. Defensively, both DRS and UZR peg Hairston as below average in the outfield.

Simply put: they’re extremely similar hitters, don’t walk, and are decent at best in the field. Hairston has a leg up in age, but Soriano has been more durable. In the past two seasons, Hairston has an edge vs. southpaws (121 vs. 114 wRC+ since 2011), but isn’t bad against righties (110 wRC+, better than Soriano’s 108).

In perspective, although similar players at this stage in their careers, Hairston makes infinitely more sense because all that is surrendered is money. Plus, Hairston’s value is probably around $4M AAV, no more than Soriano’s hit in a hypothetical trade. An offer of 2 years and $8M for Hairston should be reasonable. Why? Jonny Gomes, another right handed outfielder known for his ability to mash lefties got 2 years and $10M from Boston. Gomes walks much more and annihilates lefties (160 wRC+ since 2011). At his going rate, Hairston must be worth less. Lastly, with Ichiro on the verge of returning, a platoon with Hairston seems far more realistic.

So while it would be kind of neat for the Yankees and Soriano to reunite, its just not logical. Unless Hairston is off the market and the Yankees can swindle Chicago for a middling prospect and $26M (no chance of happening), Soriano will not be back in pinstripes. Hairston is the best fit.

Soriano photo by Fristle on Flickr (Original version) User UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hairston photo by slgckgc on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Statistics via fangraphs.com
Injury and contract data via baseballprospectus.com
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