Could M’s be a fit for Soriano?

 The New York Yankees dipped into the trade market on Sunday and acquired veteran starter Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for 26-year old starter Vidal Nuno. To make room on both the 40-man and active roster, the Yankees designated outfielder Alfonso Soriano for assignment. The 38-year old has struggled this season, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests that the Seattle Mariners would be a logical landing spot for the former All-Star due to his ability to still hit lefties. The M’s struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented this season and they’re reportedly looking to acquire a bat to bolster an offense that managed just four hits against Hector Noesi and the Chicago White Sox on Sunday — so why not?

To start, Soriano is in the final year of the 8-year, $136 million mega-deal he signed with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2007 season and is owed $18 million for the 2014 campaign. However the Cubs are covering $13 million of the cost and the Yankees are responsible for the remaining $5 million. If the M’s — or any club — were to claim Soriano, they’d be responsible for the remainder of his 2014 salary, but if they wait until he is hypothetically released, they can pick him up for a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum, which would amount to about $200 thousand.

So should Soriano be released, which seems the most likely scenario to occur in the next ten days, the cost of acquiring him shouldn’t be prohibitive for the Mariners. That can be considered good news since other trade options such as Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd still have several million dollars left on their respective contracts. Now, adding some payroll shouldn’t be a problem and Howard Lincoln has gone on record saying that the M’s have room to make an acquisition, but considering the limited financial flexibility that has come into play in recent months it’s likely a very complex situation. Attendance has been up at Safeco Field compared to last year, but we shouldn’t necessarily assume that that equals more cash being made available for payroll purposes.

Although Soriano has a measly .221/.244/.367 line and 61 wRC+ in 238 plate appearances this season, he has hit better against left-handed pitching posting an 81  wRC+. For his career, the former Texas Ranger is a .270/.319/.500 hitter and has hammered lefties to the tune of a 124 wRC+. Of his 391 career home runs, 101 of them have come against southpaws in half the number of plate appearances he’s had against right-handed pitching. There isn’t much to suggest he’s a better second half hitter than first half, although he did go on a bit of a tear for the last two months of the 2013 season after being acquired by the Yankees. It’s worth noting that considering his age and injury history he may require extra rest here and there throughout the remainder of the season to keep him fresh.

Back to the point of the 38-year old’s age potentially being a factor in his decline. He’s essentially split his time this season between designated hitter and left or right field for the Yankees so he wouldn’t necessarily require daily use of the DH spot. Considering UZR hasn’t hated his outfield performance — especially over the last several seasons — and he posted a 11.9 rating in 2012, there shouldn’t be too much concern over what he can still do in the field. He finished 2013 with a 7.0 rating and so far this season has received a -4.1 rating. He certainly would be a defensive downgrade from Dustin Ackley in left, but he wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad as Dayan Viciedo — another name being tossed around in trade rumors — would be.

Of course Corey Hart has been activated off of the disabled list and is back in his regular role as the Mariners’ designated hitter, but given his injury history it’s no guarantee that he’ll last through the rest of the season anyways. Given Ackley’s struggles and Hart likely needed regular rest, there’s probably a scenario where Soriano would fit. At the very least the M’s could have a solid right-handed bat available on the bench depending on what lineup starts that day.

Is Soriano the perfect option? No, but he does offer some upside at a potentially very small cost. Sherman also mentions in his post that his former teammate Robinson Cano could vouch for how great of a teammate he is, and the Dominican native would likely be welcome in the clubhouse that has several Dominican natives present.

There’s definitely some intrigue with the two-time Yankee, especially considering the fact he helped propel the Yankees to an 85-win 2013 campaign, but that club was still 6.5 games shy of a playoff berth. Obviously the best part about picking up Soriano is that it can be done for just money so the risk is very minimal, but it’s very possible the club could wind up losing Endy Chavez who would likely become the odd man out.

That’s not to say Chavez is irreplaceable and should be the deciding factor, but he does have the ability to hit leadoff,run the bases well, and play the outfield more regularly than Soriano would likely be able to. A tradeoff of the two outfielders is an interesting preposition, but that’s simply my own speculation that Chavez would have to be cut if Soriano comes in. It’s equally likely that the club sends down a reliever in such a scenario.

So, Soriano can hit left-handers, can somewhat play the outfield, comes cheap, and could fit the roster without too much re-shuffling. I can see why Sherman would make the connection between Seattle and Soriano, but it’s very possible the M’s would prefer to target a younger player to upgrade their lineup not just in 2014, but 2015 as well. That can lead to the question of who’d be the better fit between Soriano and Viciedo, especially since acquiring Viciedo could cost Seattle a reliever and a prospect. Again, that’s simply more speculation.

Overall the fit appears to be there for the veteran outfielder, but it remains to be seen if the Mariners’ management team feels the same way. It’s possible a club could work out a deal for Soriano, but considering his salary, it’s unlikely a team would be willing to give up something of value in return. Even if the Yankees were to eat the remaining salary — his salary minus the portion of the major league minimum would be covered by the Yankees and Cubs in the event he’s released — it’s unlikely they’d be able to get even a marginally interesting prospect back.

Should Soriano reach free agency and is interested in continuing his career, the M’s should definitely take a look. He’s no Alex Rios, but he definitely could provide a needed right-handed boost to a struggling Seattle offense..

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Tyler Carmont

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