Monday, March 06, 2006

Horror Sori
By Ben Valentine

The term “selfish” athlete gets used too frequently in today’s world. We see it handed out anytime an athlete complains, has squabbles with coaches and/ or ownership or whenever someone in the national media sees Barry Bonds. Usually there are two sides to the story and while the player probably could have chosen their words better, the term is a little undeserving.

However in a just few months Alfonso Soriano has managed to become the epitome of the phrase “selfish athlete.”

The former Yankee and Ranger, acquired by the Washington Nationals in the off season for outfielders Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and a minor league pitcher, won that title with a demand last week just before heading off to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. In short, the Nationals want Soriano to play the outfield because they already have a second baseman in Jose Vidro. Soriano disagrees and has said “They have three weeks to fix it,” or in other words, guarantee the position is his.

Wow. The guy hasn’t even played a game with his new team and he’s making demands. Just one problem. The Nationals would be absolute morons to listen to him.

Let me start with a telling statistic: 44 errors.

In the last two seasons that’s the number of recorded botched plays Soriano has had. He’s to second base what BJ Upton is to shortstop, a complete and utter defensive liability. Now for a second number: 32.

That’s the number of errors Jose Vidro has made at second base for the Nationals/ Montreal Expos in the last FOUR years.

It is widely accepted among baseball circles Soriano is one of the worst, if not the absolute worst, second baseman defensively in the game. It’s one of the few things stat freaks and traditionalists can agree on about the guy. So how on earth can he walk into a meeting with G.M. Jim Bowden or manager Frank Robinson, and say with a straight face, he will not change positions?

Simple, Soriano is thinking with his wallet.

While he lost his arbitration case, Soriano stills stands to make 10 million dollars next year as one of the most productive offensive second basemen in the game. If he moves to the outfield, his numbers, while still good, become a bit more pedestrian. And at the age of 30 (31 when he hits free agency in the off season) that makes him a lot less appealing to prospective teams. We’re talking millions of dollars in difference here.

Normally it’s understandable for a player to be hesitant to do anything that’s going to cost him in the wallet. But in Soriano’s case, there is just no defending this action. His defense is such a liability, he has no business playing second base anyway. That would be on a team that didn’t have an adequate player on the position. In the Nationals’ case, it’s just ludicrous Soriano has the gall to believe he has the right to play over Vidro. There absolutely nothing Soriano can say to justify it.

Were the Nationals stupid for trading for a guy who didn’t want to move positions? Sure they were. But last time I checked, Soriano is making 10 million dollars to play baseball; not exclusively second base. Maybe he thinks superstars don’t have to make accommodations. Of course he must have missed the fact the greatest shortstop in baseball history is currently playing third base because the Yankees love Derek Jeter so much.

It’s almost funny in a way to see Soriano make a statement like that for one simple reason; if the Nats don’t budge, what is he going to do? Sit out? That’s going to make him look much worse and will cost him more money than if he switches positions. Contrary to what CBS Sportsline’s Ray Ratto believes, Soriano has no leverage.

Ironically however, this might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Nationals. Soriano is vastly overrated and will no doubt see his statline absolutely collapse at RFK. His road splits last year were a miserable .224/.265/.374/.639! Superstars don’t hit .224 on the road. As a reference note, the immortal Cristian Guzman posted a .260 on base last year. This brings me to one final thought on Soriano.

Maybe, just maybe, he realizes that even more than a move to the outfield, the move to Washington itself will end up costing him this off season. Perhaps Soriano is hoping that if he stirs up enough trouble, he can find his way out of there and to a place where his numbers, though declining, will look a lot more appealing. A .265, 30 home run/ 30 steal second baseman looks a lot more appealing than one who bats .240 with 20 homers and is a butcher in the field. Still though we may not understand his reasoning at least we know who Alfonso Soriano is thinking about as he boots balls for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball classic.

Alfonso Soriano.


Blogger David Arnott said...

The obvious move, that no one has mentioned yet, is to offer Soriano the SS job. He played there in the lower minors. Could Soriano's defense at SS make him somehow less valuable than either Guzman or Clayton? I don't think so. At this point, it's worth the gamble. The other point that this would address is that I honestly don't think it's as much about money as it is about pride. This is essentially telling Soriano he's not as good as Vidro, so they're casting him out to the outfield. Having him play SS could conceivably be spun as an upgrade. Only Jim Bowden probably wants to save face on the Guzman signing and give him another chance... *sigh*

1:23 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

David, while Soriano's depleted offensive numbers would still be very good at shortstop, you're moving a guy who can't cut it at second to a defensively tougher position. If Soriano makes an average of 22 errors per season at second, he might just be BJ Upton at short and approach totals in the 40s and 50s.

It's not essentially telling Soriano he's not as good at Vidro at second, it's flat out doing it. But again, there's really no argument for having Soriano play the position at all. All athletes have pride but there comes a point when you just have to suck it up for the good of the team. This is one of those times.

And btw, Cristian Guzman might hit for a higher average than Soriano this season.

4:44 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

They'll likely put up the same OBP, but Soriano will hit 20HR, 18 on the road, while Guzman will be lucky to get 25 doubles on the season. My points are that Soriano is a far superior offensive player... I question if shortstop would be much more difficult than 2B for a guy as big and strong as Soriano, since his fielding problems seem to be primarily catching the ball. It won't be much different. Do we have numbers on throwing vs. fielding errors?... Put it all together and, even with the fielding adventures, it's likely he'd still be more valuable at SS than either Guzman or Clayton. I think we all agree that at CF he'd have the most value, but as long as he views a move to the OF as a slap in the face, why not take the gamble on moving him next to Zimmerman in the infield? Look at what putting ARod next to Jeter did for the Cap'n's fielding numbers: dramatically up across the board. They won't win the division without him, so why not at least give it a shot? It might be crazy enough to work.

6:23 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Soriano's defense is not as bad as everyone like to say it is.

He boots a ball, and lets a few go through his legs.

Even with that he averages about 8-10 more errors a season more than "good" second baseman.

In addition - Soriano has an above average arm, and has pretty good range.

With the Yankees, I only need one hand, MAYBE two to count the number of games his defense cost the team.

8:48 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Oh yes - and while you are looking at road splits - take a look at Soriano's numbers in Yankees stadium - an impossible place to hit HR's as a righty.

Pretty good.

SO don't take an abberation in one season as proof he cant hit outside of hitter friendly Arlington.

12:05 AM  

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