Friday, November 17, 2006
Let’s be blunt and utterly honest: Soriano is basically the only free agent the Phillies are pursuing, aside from a few middle relievers the team has some sort of fetish for and the already signed Wes Helms. If the Phillies don’t land Soriano I believe that Pat Gillick will probably pull the plug on the ’07 Phillies the first second they struggle. With Soriano in the lineup, I think the Phillies will believe they have a shot and ride this season out. Soriano’s signing is the tipping point.
Why do the Phillies think they need Soriano? Simply put, the Phillies have no confidence in Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand to protect Ryan Howard in the Phillies lineup for 2007. Ryan led the major leagues in intentional walks in 2006 with 37, nine more than Albert Pujols. (Impressive as Ryan’s 37 IBB’s are, and they are the best since ’04, Barry Bonds got 120 IBB’s in 2004. Jim Thome was second that season with 28.) Charlie Manuel even resorted to batting Jeff Conine, the forty-year old right fielder the team got from the Orioles, behind Ryan. It was a miserable failure: Conine had just one home run and 17 RBIs as a Phillie. That lack of protection helps explain why Ryan went from having 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in August, when the Phillies were making their run on the pack for the wildcard, to having just nine home runs and twenty RBIs in September. Ryan drew 35 walks in September, compared to 22 in August. Without someone protecting Ryan, the Phillies might see their vaunted offense grind to a halt.
What would Soriano provide to the Phillies? Since he broke in with the Yankees as a full-timer in 2001, Soriano has been a big bat for the teams he’s played with. Over the last five seasons he’s hit 39, 38, 28, 36 and 46 home runs (210 in his career thus far). Soriano has also had 100+ Runs Created in three of the last five seasons. In addition to his remarkable power, Soriano shows a lot of speed on the base-paths. Soriano has 210 career stolen bases. Last season he swiped 41 in 58 attempts. His 41 steals was the best performance he turned in since he swiped 41 with the Yankees in 2002, which led the American League.
Having Ryan Howard and Soriano in the lineup would give the Phillies two players who hit a combined 173 extra-base hits (XBH), of which 104 were home runs, scored 223 runs and hit 244 RBIs. With Ryan Howard protected, the Phillies might do better than their N.L.-best 865 runs scored, perhaps edging close to the 1,000 runs mark.
Would Soriano be a big improvement over the incumbent left fielder, Pat Burrell, a player who I have defended and remain high on, but whom the Phillies management plainly doesn’t trust or believe in? Candidly, I am not so sure based on past performance: Burrell posted much better stats in 2005 (110 Runs Created to Soriano’s 89), and while inconsistent at times, has played well. Soriano has some holes in his game: namely, he doesn’t hit well with runners in scoring position:
BA/ RISP : Soriano / Burrell
2004: .253 / .263
2005: .235 / .313
2006: .231 / .222
Remember, Burrell was second in the N.L. in RBI in 2005 with 117. He’s a good player, but obviously the Phillies have major concerns that his heel will hold up into the future and he tried to shop him to the San Francisco Giants, a deal that is held up by Burrell’s no-trade clause and his massive eight figure salary. Assuming that Burrell is on his … well, last legs, then signing Soriano makes a great deal of sense. Soriano had something of a career season this past year – having the good fortune to also have that in his walk year – but will continue to post stats like those well and into the future.
Another bonus for the Phillies: they are getting a defensive upgrade in left with Soriano. Prior to 2006 Soriano had played second base for the Yankees and Rangers and many had felt that Soriano, who was reluctant to move to left field, wouldn’t make a good LF. They were wrong. Soriano ranked third of eleven left fielders in the N.L. in terms of Zone Rating with an .876 ZR. Burrell? Ranked eighth at .857. Soriano also had 22 assists in 2006. Burrell? Eight. Perhaps that is due to teams wanting to test Soriano’s arm and instincts, but it is a testament to Soriano’s skill that he had more than twice as many assists as any other N.L. left fielder. (Soriano’s assists also helped him rank first in range factor for left fielders.)
Finally a word about salary. With the Boston Red Sox paying millions just to have the right to negotiate with the Japanese about a pitcher, the market is throwing lots of dollars around at players. Aramis Ramirez’ decision to forego the free agent market and resign with the Cubs removed the other big bat from the market, which means that teams like the Dodgers, the Red Sox and the Mets will be ready to offer $12-$15 million dollars a year for Soriano. The Phillies will have to offer something like $90- $100 million over six or seven seasons to get Soriano on the team. Can the Phillies make that kind of a financial commitment? I would be uncomfortable to do so in Pat Gillick’s place, but the Phillies might not have a choice if they want to rally the Phillies fan base and give the fans a reason to cheer in 2007.
I expect to see a decision on Soriano sooner rather than later for the Phillies. By Thanksgiving Soriano will be a Phillie or a Dodger. We’ll see which.
Second, I wouldn't worry about the money. $100 million ain't what it used to be. New CBA, new $3 billion TV contract, new money recently from satellite radio, combined with the Phils' new ballpark... They have plenty of cash. Let's all not forget the millions of dollars they've cleared off the books by moving or letting walk THome, Abreu, Bell, Lieberthal ect...
Frankly, they could keep Burrell and play Soriano in right...