One glaring need remains on the Rays’ roster for 2013: a designated hitter. Nothing is more telling of that than the Rays’ depth chart on their official website, which lists Evan Longoria as both the Rays’ third baseman and DH. It’s same to assume that Longoria will not be starting at both positions on Opening Day for the Rays. Who will be the Rays’ DH in 2013? One option could be a 7-time All-Star, albeit one with just 16 career starts at DH in his 14-year MLB career, the Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano.
We’ve talked about Soriano for the Rays quite a bit over the past year, talking about the possibility of the Rays trading him in October and way back in January. But now, a deal could finally be on the verge of materializing. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted recently that the Cubs are willing to pay 26 million dollars of the 36 million dollars that Soriano is owed over the next two years, meaning that the team that acquires Soriano would be on the hook for 2 years and 10 million dollars. Especially after they cleared 13.05 million dollars for 2013 by trading James Shields and Wade Davis, that is right within the Rays’ price range. But money obviously isn’t everything here. Would Soriano be a good fit with the Rays over the next two years?
Soriano ranks third in baseball history with four 30-30 seasons, trailing just the father-son combo of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds. Soriano, who will turn 37 in January, is no longer that player- but he’s still productive. In 2012, Soriano posted a .262/.322/.499 line (121 OPS+) with 33 doubles, 32 homers, 108 RBI, and 6 of 8 stolen bases in 151 games and 615 plate appearances. It’s an established fact that Soriano doesn’t have very good plate discipline, managing just a 153-44 strikeout to walk ratio in 2012 and 1576-454 for his career, and his speed is gone as he hasn’t stolen even double-digit bases since 2008, but he’s still a productive player, managing a .255/.312/.489 line (113 OPS+) over the last three years with an average of 33 doubles, 27 homers, and 92 RBI per season. Soriano used to be a far better player than B.J. Upton was for the Rays, but even at this point in his career he can seamlessly replace at least the power portion of what Upton gave the Rays during his time in Tampa Bay. The Rays would love to acquire Soriano and place him in the middle of their lineup.
A potential major issue is that Soriano has said before that he does not want to be a regular DH. Should that dissuade the Rays from acquiring him? Probably not. At least until Wil Myers makes the major leagues, the Rays have playing time available in the outfield. The Rays have two guaranteed outfielders for 2013: Desmond Jennings and Matthew Joyce. After that, you have Ben Zobrist, Sam Fuld, and Brandon Guyer. Zobrist is the most interesting case because he can play all over the field. If Soriano was fine being DH, the Rays would just put him there on a regular basis, giving him an occasional start in left field and maybe first base if he was willing to learn to play the position. But if Soriano insists on playing the outfield on a semi-regular basis, the Rays could accommodate him as well. Against left-handed pitching, they could field an outfield of Soriano, Jennings, and Joyce from left to right, put Ryan Roberts at second base and Ben Zobrist at first base, and play either Brandon Guyer or Sean Rodriguez at DH. That actually makes some amount of sense considering that James Loney has been a disaster against left-handed pitching over the past two years. Essentially Soriano would be the Rays’ DH against right-handed pitching and take Loney out of the lineup versus lefties. The Rays are also likely to play Evan Longoria more at DH next season as they try to keep him healthy, and when that happens, Soriano can play left field, Roberts can play third base, and Zobrist can play second base. Thanks to the versatility of Zobrist and Roberts, the Rays could conceivably get Soriano at least 50 or 60 games in the field without any real problem.
But do the Rays really want Soriano playing the field? We all remember Soriano as a horrific second baseman for the Yankees back in the day- but him playing left field is not such a bad thing. Fangraphs has him as a noticeably above-average defender in left field, totaling a 72.2 UZR including an 11.8 mark in 2012, and Baseball Prospectus has him at 6.9 fielding runs above average since 2006 including a 7.9 mark in 2012 (meaning he was slightly below-average before 2012). At worst, Soriano is an average defender in left field and he may even be a bit above-average. There really is nothing stopping the Rays from giving Soriano a fair amount of time in the outfield.
The last reason the Rays would hesitate to acquire Soriano would be the return the Cubs are expecting for him. Heyman’s comment above that the Cubs would eat all but 10 million dollars of the remaining money on Soriano’s contract had the qualifier that they would have to get the “right prospect back.” Soriano is still a good player, and especially considering the money the Cubs would have to pay in the deal, the prospect they receive would have to pretty legitimate. Would the Rays be willing to trade say Alex Colome or Todd Glaesmann for Soriano? The Rays would rather not part with Colome after losing pitching depth in the Shields trade and their system isn’t exactly flush with power bats like Glaesmann, but both come with a good deal of risk and the Rays would be receiving a player who is a good bet to be a productive player for them over the next years. The deal could be a win for both sides as the Cubs save some money by dealing away a high-priced player on their non-contending team and receive a player with ability to make an impact for them in the future in return while the Rays would give up a good prospect but solidify their 2013 lineup and turn a position in DH that has been one of their major weaknesses for years into a potential strength.
Alfonso Soriano has been connected to the Rays for almost a year now and a deal has always seemed to make sense as the Rays need a DH and a middle-of-the-order bat and the Cubs have no need for Soriano as they continue their rebuilding process. Now we could finally see a trade happen, and the exchange could be mutually beneficial.