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.
In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.
Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.
Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”
Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.
Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.
Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.
Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.
Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.
Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.
The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.
The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.
Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.
Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.
Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.