Let us praise Alfonso Soriano on the occasion of his 2000th career hit

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Alfonso Soriano notched his 2000th career hit yesterday, and he did it in grand fashion: a home run.  His first career hit, by the way, was also a home run. If he got hit by a bus tomorrow that’d be a pretty spiffy set of bookends. Of course it would pale to how horrified we’d all be if Soriano was hit by a bus so let’s just forget I said that.

My takeaway from Alfonso Soriano’s 2000th? He’s been a pretty good player over the course of his career. That’s likely to be taken as a loaded comment by many of you, but it underscores why I felt like I should make it.

So much of what we talk about with players is laden with baggage about contracts and history and relative comparisons. If a guy gets a big contract that he probably didn’t fully justify, we tend to talk about them as failures, even if they’re still fine and useful players. If someone is good but not great — especially if we thought early on that they might be great one day — we also tend to cast their accomplishments in a negative light. We also tend to compare one player to a better player from time to time and take the negative, albeit factual assessment (Player X is not as good as Player Y) as a criticism as Player X when it’s really not.

Soriano has probably had all three of these things working against him over the course of his career. He started out so amazingly, people had expectations of a Hall of Fame career that hasn’t occurred. He reminded many of astounding players like Clemente or Vlad Guerrero so those comps were made and, like almost every single ballplayer who has ever played, he wasn’t quite to that level. Finally he did get overpaid, even if it wasn’t his fault at all and even if his salary has no bearing on the actual quality of play he has provided to his employers, even if does have bearing on the bang-for-the-buck.

None of which is to say that Soriano is some fantastic, elite guy. But he’s been durable. He’s hit nearly 400 homers. He has over 1,000 RBI. He’s got 2,000 hits. He’s been a great teammate and is renowned as a hard worker who prepares himself like a true professional. At times he has been excellent, the rest of the time he’s been an above average major leaguer. And that stuff tends to get lost with him because so much more focus is placed on his contract or our expectations or his perceived potential at one time.

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.

I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.

Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.

Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.

To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.