The New York Yankees are in the American League pennant race, but only because the race hasn't run away from them while they've been stuck in neutral for what feels like ages.
They've been needing a boost of some kind. For that, they have turned to an old friend.
A deal was being teased earlier this week, and now the deed is just about done. According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Bombers have acquired former pinstriped star Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a presently unknown prospect (Heyman says Corey Black is a possibility).
Soriano is owed $25 million between now and the end of the 2014 season, but the Yankees will only pay between $7 million and $8 million of that—assuming commissioner Bud Selig signs off on the deal, of course.
UPDATE: ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets that MLB has approved the deal. ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that the Yankees will pay just about $7 million of what's still owed to Soriano. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that Black is indeed the prospect going to Chicago. Bing, bang, boom.
The Cubs can finally breathe a sigh of relief. They've done it. They've gotten rid of Soriano. They can move on now.
So can the Yankees, albeit in a different direction. Now that Soriano is theirs, they can look forward to a nice and certainly much-needed boost in offensive production.
However, let's be clear on this: Soriano alone can't provide the kind of boost that's going to propel the Yankees up the AL East rankings. Such a maneuver is going to require the addition of more than just one bat.
But first, let's speak in positive tones for a few moments. That requires us talking about how Soriano is going to help a Yankees offense that has been the exact opposite of what a Yankees offense is supposed to be.
Presumably, Soriano is going to take over for Vernon Wells as the Yankees' everyday left fielder. It's a good swap even on a surface level, as the full-season numbers lean decidedly toward Soriano:
It's all about the same until you get to the power, where Soriano has an advantage the size of a Pacific Rim monster.
Which is good, because the Yankees need power more than anything. Per FanGraphs, their .372 slugging percentage is worst in the American League. That the Yankees haven't hit a home run in the second half yet sort of underscores just how dire their power outage really is.
And yes, the upgrade the Yankees are about to get looks even better if we consider the fact that Soriano and Wells are going in two different directions. One's hot, and the other is, well, not.
|Wells||Last 69 GP||.217||.256||.298||.554||4|
|Soriano||Last 24 GP||.278||.317||.691||1.008||10|
That's the bulk of Soriano's 2013 production right there in those 24 games. Even if he slows down—which he will—the Yankees still stand to gain more runs from him as an everyday player down the stretch than they would have from Wells as an everyday player.
To get a precise idea, let's ponder Runs Created, Bill James' old stat that measures precisely what it professes to measure. Using FanGraphs, I plucked the rest-of-season ZiPS projections for Soriano and for Wells and plugged them into the Runs Created calculator at Had2Know.com.
The results: 27 Runs Created the rest of the way for Soriano and 21 Runs Created the rest of the way for Wells. And let the record show that the ZiPS projections for Wells are probably too generous in light of his production (or lack thereof) since the end of April.
As for what will become of Wells now, one presumes that a platoon role is in his future. One thing he can still do pretty well is hit left-handers (.744 OPS), so he could be stashed in right field or in the DH spot on days when there's a southpaw on the mound.
On those days, the Yankees should be better than they've been so far this season against lefties. Heck, it would be hard to do worse than the .644 OPS Yankees batters have against southpaws.
Between Soriano playing every day and Wells sliding into a platoon role, the Yankees offense as a whole will be better. It's producing only 3.87 runs per game now, third-worst in the American League. Following this trade, the Bombers should be able to manage closer to four runs per game.
That's not much relative to the Yankees teams of old, but this is a ballclub that's been winning a lot of close games thanks to its pitching. That pitching will gladly take any extra runs it can get, so it's not hard to imagine Soriano's presence resulting in a couple extra wins down the stretch.
But now's where we acknowledge the reality of the Yankees' situation: It's going to take more than a couple extra wins for them to make a run at the AL East title.
They've only plugged one hole in a ship that has a lot of them. The consistency of Phil Hughes and CC Sabathia is still a concern. And as much as Soriano is going to help, the Yankees lineup isn't going to be complete until it has Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson back healthy and producing.
Does anybody really want to hang their hat on that idea?
Granderson is on the comeback trail, with the club's official site suggesting a return sometime in August. The Yankees could certainly use his power to go with Soriano's, but there's at least a shred of concern that the power won't be there. Granderson has, after all, missed all but eight games with separate injuries to both arms. Regaining his power stroke may prove to be difficult.
Jeter, meanwhile, should be back in a matter of days. He doesn't have to do much in order to be an offensive upgrade over the shortstops the Yankees have used. The "but" in his case is twofold: His body didn't prove to be so durable when his initial comeback lasted all of one game, and at his age, expecting anything more than league-average production is expecting too much.
As for A-Rod, well, he almost seems irrelevant at this point. The Yankees appear determined to keep him away from the big club, and there's probably a Biogenesis suspension headed his way, regardless.
The Yankees are a .500 team (38-38) since the start of May, a record that reflects the mediocrity of the roster they've been forced to field due to injuries and other circumstances. Soriano will indeed make that roster less mediocre. In turn, the team should be less mediocre.
But it's going to take a legit hot streak for the Bombers to challenge the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays for AL East supremacy. The only way that happens is if their injured players return and stay returned while the struggling arms simultaneously stop struggling.
To this end, the best bet for the Yankees hasn't changed. It's still the second wild card. They're only 2.5 games out of the running, and both of the teams ahead of them—the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles—look more ripe for the catching than the Red Sox or Rays.
Things don't need to go perfectly for things to stay that way. Even if Jeter, Rodriguez and Granderson are non-factors and Sabathia and Hughes continue to struggle, Soriano's presence alone will make things interesting.
And if the Yankees don't make it to the postseason, at least they won't have wasted a lot of money on Soriano for nothing.
The Cubs will have.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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