Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune
Reports are that the Cubs finally traded the $136 million man, Alfonso Soriano. He flew to New York overnight to rejoin his old team, the Yankees—one of the few teams with the need and the money for their former star, and with a taste for such expensive veterans. Here's the gist:
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Cubs will send $17.7 million to the Yankees to help offset the $24.5 million owed Soriano. The deal is structured in such a way that the Cubs will be responsible for $13 million of Soriano’s $18 million salary in 2014, leaving the Yankees with only a $5 million hit against baseball’s soft salary cap.
So it finally happened. It's not a very interesting trade, but it makes some sense for both teams.
Yankees: One of the few likeable things about the Yankees in their Evil Empire incarnation has been Brian Cashman's Semi-Retirement Home for Old All-Stars. If you enjoy that sort of thing, and I do, the Yankees have been a last stage for old favorites to grasp a last bit of glory: Darryl Strawberry, Jose Canseco, David Justice, Ruben Sierra, John Olerud, Garry Sheffield, Andruw Jones, Ichiro Suzuki, Travis Hafner, all of whom have given some excellent Yankees teams experience and depth. On that basis alone, Soriano returning to the Yankees is unsurprising.
Soriano bats right-handed, and for a while, he’s produced. Right-handed batters for the Yankees, this season, have racked up more strikeouts than hits. Granted, it turns out that’s hardly unprecedented, so it’s not as impactful as it sounds. But Yankee righties have a .589 OPS. Next-worse is the Marlins, at .622. Yankee righties play in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are thirsty for a right-handed bat that doesn’t suck, and it just so happens that Soriano’s an outfielder, like Vernon Wells.
Soriano's AVG/OBP/SLG line this year: .254/.287/.467.
Vernon Wells's line: .240/.288/.366.
Soriano's put up an isolated-power number over .200 for four of the past five years; Wells has reached that figure one of the past five. The Yankees got Wells for $13.9 million of his remaining $28.1 million for a full two years, so it's a pretty similar deal for a better player.
The Yankees are also only 6.5 games back in a competitive American League East, and only 2.5 games back in the Wild Card, with Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and maybe Alex Rodriguez expected back. If you buy Fangraphs' numbers for Soriano (1.1 wins over replacement so far) and Wells (0.1 WAR), Soriano could mean about a win, or close to it, over Wells, not to mention depth for a playoff run.
Not bad for a team that's arguably The Worst Right-Handed-Hitting Team of All Time: "CBS ownership-era, Steinbrenner suspension-era bad."
Cubs: They get a young high-A pitcher named Corey Black. He's short and throws hard. Baseball Prospectus's Jason Parks calls him "a reliever all the way… could be a seventh-inning type, but it's a limited ceiling."
More importantly, they get $5 million next year to continue picking up cheap pieces, which they've had some success with this year: about what they paid for Scott Feldman (flipped for prospect Jake Arrieta), or two Nate Shierholtzs (13 home runs this year, one less than Anthony Rizzo).
So it's a much more intriguing deal for the Yankees: a big name swapped for someone whose ceiling is probably a small bullpen role, and the right to effective future platoon players or trade bait. It's not exactly a foundation, but it's at least rebar.