The U Files # 63: The Soriano Situation

The world of Major League baseball received quite a shock when the Texas Rangers, unable to breathe under the weight of his contract, dealt All-World shortstop Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees for a package centered around hyped second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Since the trade there have been reports Texas would be inclined to trade Soriano, and that the New York Mets have considered entering the fray. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

The Rangers, under owner Tom Hicks, caused millions of fans to simultaneously adopt a picture-worthy expression when it was announced that they had signed Rodriguez to a contract that is incomprehensible in scale. Though Rodriguez has done as much as any man could toward living up to a 10 year, $252 million contract, the Rangers have not been able to assemble a pitching staff capable of as much as keeping the Detroit Tigers off the scoreboard. Though the Rodriguez-for-Soriano swap provides immediate payroll relief, Soriano will soon be due for considerable pay raises through arbitration. It has been reported that the Rangers are keen to the idea of translating Soriano into younger players farther from their payday.

Soriano has naturally received massive exposure due to playing for the New York Empire, and his traditional numbers are impressive. As a result he is perceived to be a top-tier run producer, and thus to put it bluntly, is highly overrated. While he is quite proficient at the things he does well, his game is flawed, and there is a caveat to consider regarding his counting statistics. On a rate basis he does not hold up as well as his reputation would demand.

The upgrade in making the switch for the (potential) New York Steamrolling Company is approximately three wins according to the most advanced statistics. The deal does raise their payroll within $50 million of Rodriguez' total contract value, though the NY Money Works will be paying Rodriguez only 62 percent of the remaining guaranteed money on the contract - with the Rangers picking up the remaining $67 million. The Empire's contribution to Rodriguez' salary comes out to about $16 million per year – and Soriano, based on his counting stats, could be getting $10 million in arbitration soon anyway. If there's such a thing as a $177 million bargain, the Yankees are getting it.

Though many fans would find it hard to find fault with a hitter who has averaged 203.5 hits, 38.5 home runs, 96.5 RBI and 121 runs scored over the past two seasons, these numbers were not achieved in a typical situation. For one thing, Soriano had years of 696 and 682 at bats. His statistics prorate to 162 hits and 31 home runs in 550 AB. Runs batted in and runs scored for hitters are not true individual statistics; it is hard to isolate the contribution of the individual from the contribution of the rest of the lineup around one. Finally, Soriano has averaged one walk per 22.6 at bats. His walk total did improve from 23 to 38 in the last two years, but six of those extra walks were intentional.

Soriano has hit .295 over the past two seasons, and slugged .536 (outstanding for a second baseman but not in line with what one expects from "38 HR, 96 RBI" power). His OBP was .335. Adding the two, his OPS comes to .871 (for comparison, Rodriguez has a career OPS of .963). This figure is roughly 30 percent better than the league average OPS adjusted to Yankee Stadium – very good but far from elite. For a comparison on the Mets, Cliff Floyd has been about 40 percent better than average over the last four years. While it may be fine to have Soriano with his rates hitting for you in close to 700 AB per season – he generate an impressive amount of total offense, his production is not what you would get from having a player produce his actual counting stats in a normal number of at bats plus whatever is produced by the players accounting for the difference in at bats.

Another point on Soriano is the recent revelation about his age. Soriano confessed to the Yankees last year that he is two years older than his listed age of 25. He will be 28 in baseball years in 2004, meaning he has probably already reached his peak. Were Soriano to be a Met, he would be an aging player in the years the Mets hope to be annual contenders (what's the point of being a perennial contender – it's better to contend every year than once every two.).

In a potential trade for Soriano, these players should absolutely NOT be considered as compensation: Jose Reyes, Scott Kazmir, David Wright, Justin Huber. The Rangers have a strong need for pitching and may desire Kazmir – one of the top five pitching prospects in baseball. Alternately, the Rangers could seek to replace Soriano cheaply with Reyes.

As much as a Yankee fan could scoff at the idea, there is a possibility that Jose Reyes could develop into a better all-around player than Soriano. Reyes will likely never develop the home run power Soriano has displayed, but his game will be much more complete. Reyes is likely to become a consistent .300+ hitter for two reasons: extra base hits and speed. A player who hits as many extra base hits as Reyes might generally adds points to his batting average in doing so. Due to his speed Reyes will be able to post high batting average in much the way Roberto Alomar has: by padding his average with infield hits.

Reyes, in a year split between two levels in 2002 (class A St. Lucie and class AA Binghamton) while the youngest player at each level hit a combined 26 doubles, 19 triples (that is not a typo – Reyes actually hit nineteen triples) and eight home runs (keep in mind his body was not fully developed) – or 53 extra base hits. Reyes is listed at 6'0, 160 lbs but that weight listing is obviously out of date. He has added significant muscle mass (particularly in the upper body) and now likely weighs close to 185 lbs. So, Reyes is close in height and weight to Roberto Alomar and could show similar power in his prime: 20 home run/40 double power. In Reyes case it may work out to 20 home runs, 35 doubles, and 9 triples (though this will not be what Reyes would average over his career).

Reyes is by all accounts a significantly better fielder than Soriano, and will draw more walks. Due to the higher on base percentage Reyes may hit for, his OPS+ in his prime could match what Soriano has produced the last two years (In a career year it could be higher). Considering the better defense, Reyes would then be a better player than Soriano.

Reyes could certainly be a more valuable player than Soriano since there is scuttlebutt Soriano may be compelled to move to a corner outfield position – where his offense compared to the position average would not come close to the value of Reyes offense as a second baseman or shortstop.

Finally, Reyes is only 20 years old. He will not be eligible for free agency for six years or for arbitration for three. He will have more years of prime production than Soriano in the years the Mets hope to be a contender.

Thankfully, Mets owner Fred Wilpon has announced that the Mets will not consider giving up Reyes in a trade. While Soriano could be an asset to the Mets lineup (as long as the Mets don't give up too much to get him), he will not be a player that will have the impact on the Mets that many fans may believe.

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