Yesterday, Chicago Cubs’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano expressed his inclination to join the Yankees. Tomorrow, if not today, the Yankees need to put the reunion in ink.
As trade rumors surrounding Soriano seesaw from serious to premature, the former Yankee has not kept mum. His 10-5 veto rights empower him to force the Cubs’ hand, and though the two sides are searching for a mutually beneficial deal, it is ultimately Soriano who will decide his destination. The Yankees, he’s said, satisfy his desire to play in a familiar market on a contending team.
That should be GM Brian Cashman’s cue to get a deal done.
Reports say the Cubs are asking for a mid-level pitching prospect in return for the outfielder, which leaves the settlement of Soriano’s contract as the only real hurdle standing between the completion of this deal.
If bringing Soriano back to New York means picking up an extra million dollars or two on his 2015 salary ($18 million), then so be it. Sure, when dealing with a franchise as wealthy as the Cubs it can be unpalatable to lend a financial hand, but money – not to mention pride – cannot be the gulf in which this deal drowns.
The Cubs, after all, don’t need to unload Soriano. He has been their best hitter this season, and would be a welcome mentor on a young team next year. But the Yankees need to acquire him. There are other right-handed bats on the market, but none fetch as healthy a return as Soriano. The seven-time All-Star has clocked 17 homeruns for the Cubs in 2013 to go along with 51 RBI.
10 of those long balls have come in the past 25 games. In that same time frame, the Yankees’ entire cast of right-handed hitters has gone deep…three times. If these guys had shown up for the Homerun Derby, the kids shagging fly balls would have been playing the infield by the third out.
With Jeter unlikely to change this trend and with A-Rod deserted down in Tampa, the Yankees need Soriano the way the Los Angeles Dodgers needed Yasiel Puig. For more offense, first of all, but for a shot in the arm too.
When Puig came up to the Dodgers, he instantly revitalized a comatose Los Angeles team. His infectious energy, his contagious craving to win – and, by god, his sheer power! – gave a dead team life, and all they’ve ever done since is win.
Soriano is no longer the electric talent that Puig is, but his arrival in a clubhouse that has seen as much good fortune as Greg Oden could be exactly the kind of morale-booster the team needs. Remember, Granderson was first supposed to provide this psychological boost upon returning in May, followed by Teixeira in June and then Jeter in July. By the time A-Rod was back in pinstripes, the Yankees figured to show the stimulation of a thousand Starbucks factory workers.
But before you could finish saying “Hey, look who’s back”, the former three players ended up back on the D.L. The latter player hasn’t returned yet, and if the MLB has its way, he won’t return for a long while. Each time the Yankees thought they were getting reinforcements, the reinforcements disappeared, the way an oasis turns out be a mirage in an endless desert.
To be tricked like that, to be teased and strung along time and again, is a wearisome course. If Soriano walks into the Yankees clubhouse sometime this weekend, his 389 career homeruns on his sleeve, Lyle Overbay might even walk right up and poke him in the chest just to make sure he’s real.
When they realize he is, a ripple will go through that clubhouse. A feeling of legitimacy will arise once again, as it did briefly when Granderson, Teixeira and Jeter each came back, and the Yankees may actually believe in what little might they have.
Playing for the Yankees doesn’t mean simply wearing the pinstripes. It means playing alongside talent, one great player giving way to the next, the lineup turning over before a weakness is revealed. When the orchestra comes together, the power-hitters playing off the slap-hitters playing off the patient hitters, the lineup produces mind-bending music.
Right now, the Yankees are far from that ensemble. But if they bring Soriano aboard, they’re one piece closer. And they’re more aptly-arranged, as Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay will no longer be asked to play cleanup hitter, an instrument neither plays well anymore.
With Jeter returning Saturday, Joe Girardi may even have a logjam of hitters at the top of the batting order. A dilemma would never be such a luxury.
In Chicago, more than half of Soriano’s RBI came via homeruns. As most Cubs contract diseases past first base, he rarely found himself at the plate with men in scoring position. But in Gardner and Ichiro – and soon Jeter – he would have two terrific table-setters in front of him. In fact, the Yankees rank in the league’s top 10 in OBP at both the leadoff position and the two-hole. Cano, who bats third, racks up hits like the Beatles, which all translates into Soriano frequently at the plate in run-producing situations.
If Soriano can continue to hit the way he has of late, the top half of the Yankees’ batting order might actually do the team’s reputation justice. And the bottom half, though still undermanned, might find some stardust drift down from above and make their bats a little lighter.
For a team that needs a boost, on the field as much as in their psyche, the acquisition of Soriano should be made swiftly.