Soriano Should Stay

If you've been paying attention to all the rumors buzzing around the Yankees, you might come to the conclusion that Alfonso Soriano isn't worth keeping. Certainly, based on the Yankees' actions, it would seem that the young second baseman has whiffed his way out of pinstripes, but is trading Soriano a good idea? I don't think so.

When you think about it, Soriano and the Yankees have a lot in common. Where Soriano is a free-swinger, the Yankees are free-spenders; and while Soriano isn't too patient at the plate, the Yankees are even less patient with their players. So when Soriano spent his postseason swinging and missing at sliders in the dirt, the red phone lit up in the Yankees' front office and alarms starting buzzing everywhere.

The Yankee brass is notoriously impatient, giving up on their young talent all too frequently and opting to sign established players instead of helping their own players come along slowly.

Things looked like they were getting better around 1995 and 1996 when the Yankees called up and nurtured Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada into the All-Star caliber players that they are. But since the Yankees started becoming "less successful", that progress has reversed course.

The Yankees traded the up-and-coming Ted Lilly for the "established" Jeff Weaver. They traded Brandon Claussen for Aaron Boone. They traded Marcus Thames for Ruben Sierra, and now there are rumors that they want to trade Alfonso Soriano somewhere for a player like Carlos Beltran.

Now while I realize the kind of talent that Carlos Beltran is, I think people are forgetting the kind of player that Alfonso Soriano is.

Soriano has 98 homeruns in his career, and he's only played three full seasons. He's driven in an average of 96.5 runs over the last two seasons, out of the leadoff spot. He's stolen an average of 40 bases in those three seasons at a success rate of 77%.

Sure he's got problems, the biggest two being his patience and his defense. Defense isn't something that can be learned so quickly. People forget that Soriano didn't come up as a second baseman. He was a shortstop in the Yankee organization, and while the transition seems like it might be simple, it's not. Soriano has two options as far as his defense is concerned. He can stay at second base and do his best to learn the position and eventually become better, or he can move again – this time to the outfield – where nobody knows how he could fare.

But I'm quite sure the Yankees wouldn't mind if his defense was sub-par if his performance at the plate made up for it. And.. oh wait.. it does. For all of his shortcomings this season, Soriano still hit .290. He still jacked 38 homeruns (5th in the AL) and stole 35 bases (4th in the AL). He still scored 114 runs (6th in the AL) and had 358 total bases (3rd in the AL). Last time I checked, those are some good numbers, and they don't happen by accident. Last year, Soriano finished third in the MVP balloting – and he'll get a few votes this year too – and this season all of a sudden he's trade bait?

Yeah, Soriano doesn't walk much and yeah, he strikes out far too much. But he's showing progress. He doubled his BB:K ratio from .14 in 2002 to .29 in 2003. .29 is still pretty lousy, but that's some major progress. He even had a 10-walk month this April. For comparison, Soriano drew 10 walks in the second half of 2002. If that's not progress, then I don't know what is.

If Soriano manages to double his BB:K ratio again next season, something that is becoming a little less likely given all the negative press he's been receiving, then it would sit at .58. Ivan Rodriguez' BB:K ratio this year was .60, Jim Edmonds' and Shawn Green's were at .61. That's some decent company there.

Think of it another way, maybe Soriano isn't the problem. The Yankees have a case of the whiffs as a team this season, and Soriano is simply the most glaring offender. The Yanks struck out the fifth most times in the AL, and as a matter of fact, Soriano didn't even lead the team in the statistic. Jason Giambi struck out 140 times, a career-high by 28 and ten more than Sori.

The Yankees simply aren't a contact team these days. With three players over 100 strikeouts and two more over 80, it's a team problem, not just a Soriano problem.

The bottom line is this. Soriano is still just 25 years old and he has more potential than almost any other position player in baseball. The numbers that he has posted in his first three full seasons in the majors are almost unprecendented, and there hasn't been a power/speed threat like him since Barry Bonds was still swiping 40 a year in the mid 90s.

Soriano is a talent that shouldn't be traded. He just needs a little help finding the ball. But give him another year or two, and the Yankees will be ecstatic that they held on for the ride.

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