Matthew Pouliot

Alfonso Soriano

Report: Yankees to reunite with Alfonso Soriano

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The New York Post reports that the Yankees are close to bringing Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx, with the Cubs getting a mid-level prospect in return.

Cash would facilitate the deal. Soriano is owed about $7 million for the rest of this year and then $18 million in the final year of his eight-year, $136 millon contract next year. The Yankees will again take advantage of the luxury-tax loophole that allowed them to add Vernon Wells from the Angels and still aid their chances of coming in under the tax threshold next year.

Soriano can’t help but improve the Yankees; their right-handed batters have hit a pathetic .221/.284/.309 with 24 homers in 1,438 at-bats this season. Soriano has 17 homers to go along with a .256/.286/.471 line in 359 at-bats. The plan could be for Soriano to play left field now and then take over as the primary DH once Curtis Granderson comes off the disabled list. Travis Hafner, who is hitting .183 in 197 at-bats since April 28, could be released when that happens.

At 37, Soriano isn’t nearly the same player he was in his first go with the Yankees. In 2002, his second full season, he hit .300 with 39 homers and 41 steals, leading the AL with 128 runs scored. In 2003, he hit .290 with 38 homers and 35 steals. That winter, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal. Soriano went to the All-Star Game five more times afterwards, but that streak concluded in 2008 and he hasn’t been back since. Now in his 15th season, Soriano is a lifetime .273/.321/.504 hitter with 389 homers and 1,086 RBI.

What if the Brewers had kept Prince Fielder over Ryan Braun?

Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder
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The truth is that the Brewers made their choice well before Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers two winters age. As a small-market team already pushing the payroll to the limit in 2010, the Brewers knew they’d have to decide whether to build around Ryan Braun or Fielder.

What made it an easy choice was that Braun was already under control through 2015 under the terms of an eight-year, $45 million contract he signed at age 24.

Fielder, represented by Scott Boras, was never amenable to such a contract. He did sign a two-year, $18 million pact when he was first eligible for arbitration, but the Brewers weren’t able to convince him to give up any free agency seasons. The Brewers weighed trading him after the 2010 season, when he had one year left before free agency (one rumored deal would have sent him to the Dodgers for James Loney and Jonathan Broxton), but they instead chose to make a run with him and let him go in free agency. In April 2011, they doubled down on their commitment to Braun, giving him a five-year, $105 million extension through 2020.

We know what happened next. Despite a seemingly bare market in the aftermath of the Albert Pujols contract, Fielder got a nine-year, $214 million contract from the Tigers that took him through 2020. Though he was the inferior player, Fielder would make $72.5 million more than Braun under the terms of their deals.

If the Brewers had it to do over again now, I imagine they would have declined to give Braun the big extension. However, giving a $200 million to Fielder seems like no better of an idea now than it did then, even if Brewers first basemen have been terribly unproductive in the two years since Fielder departed (Corey Hart did well after moving in from right field last year, but he’s missed all of 2013. Mat Gamel has missed the last two years).

Fielder did have a great first season after leaving for Detroit, hitting .313/.412/.528 with 30 homers while supporting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup, but Braun was even better, hitting .319/.391/.595 with 41 homers. This year, Fielder’s numbers have fallen well off; he’s sitting at .269/.362/.453 with 16 homers, though he has driven in 70 runs. Fielder’s body type has always made him a poor bet to age well. Expectations were that he’d be a $20 million-per-year player in the first half of a new contract, but that the back half could get ugly fast. His 2013 line is probably more the result of an off three months than the beginning of the end, but it still can’t be taken as a good sign at all.

Even with the steroid cloud forever hanging over Braun’s head, I’m pretty sure I’d rather have him at $127 million for the next seven years than Fielder at $168 million. Fielder probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the Brewers’ chances this year, and he’s not getting any better with time.

Cubs make out well in trading Matt Garza to Rangers

Matt Garza
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The new rules that took effect last year made trading quality free-agents-to-be to be trickier than ever. That’s because the deal itself makes a supplemental first-round pick just disappear into the ether. The acquiring team is forced to offer extra compensation for something it’s not going to get back in return, while the seller knows it will get something in return if things fall through.

The Cubs, though, had too much to gain to let Matt Garza walk away for only a draft pick this winter. Since there’s been little hint of Cliff Lee or Chris Sale being available, Garza was clearly the top pitcher up for grabs in trade talks at the moment. The Rangers had to stay ahead of the A’s, Dodgers and others in trade talks.

In the end, the Rangers pulled off the deal without having to part with Jurickson Profar. Surrendered instead were three prospects ranked second (Mike Olt), fifth (Justin Grimm) and 14th (C.J. Edwards) in their system by Baseball America at the beginning of the season, plus two players to be named.

Olt, 24, was always the obvious piece to be included in a Rangers-Cubs trade. Texas, of course, has Adrian Beltre at third base, while the Cubs never have anyone there. Luis Valbuena is their current stopgap. Olt could have been a long-term answer at first or in an outfield spot for Texas, but he projects best at the hot corner. A disappointment earlier this year after battling vision problems, he was hitting .213/.317/.422 with 11 homers in 230 at-bats for Triple-A Round Rock. Throw out his April and that improves to .253/.352/.524 in 170 at-bats. Last year, he came in at .288/.398/.579 with 28 homers in Double-A. If he remains hot in Triple-A, the Cubs will likely give him a shot to replace Valbuena next month.

Grimm, a 24-year-old right-hander, had spent most of the season in the Texas rotation, going 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA. That he’s allowed 15 homers in 89 innings has taken quite a toll, but his 68/31 K/BB ratio is pretty good and the jump to the NL should help. He has the solid three-pitch arsenal to be a No. 3 starter going forward. He should step right into the Cubs’ rotation in Garza’s place.

Edwards, a 48th-round find for the Rangers in 2011, had seen his stock jump this year after an 8-2 start with low Single-A Hickory. The 21-year-old has a 1.83 ERA and a 122/34 K/BB ratio in 93 1/3 innings. In a Cubs system much stronger offensively than from the mound, he may well rate as the team’s top pitching prospect.

Even without factoring in the PTBNs, that’s an ample return for a guy who was going to make about 12 more starts as a Cub. They don’t get a sure star in the bunch, but Olt and Grimm are both nice assets and Edwards brings a lot of upside to the table. The Rangers can get away with it since they have a star locked up at Olt’s position, but it still hurts a bit to bleed that much talent for a guy who could depart this winter.