The trade deadline has now come and gone, and Alfonso Soriano is still a Ranger. And with that, it is time for the spinning from management to begin.
I expect to see the Usual Suspects from the Rangers' front office surface over the next 24-48 hours, reiterate that they were never shopping Soriano, that he is a key part of their team and that they were going to have to be blown away to trade him. I expect to hear about how they hope to have Soriano as part of the core of this team that they are going to build around.
I'm calling bullspit on that right now.
I do not believe that the Rangers weren't trying to move Soriano. I do not believe that they see him as part of the core that they are building around. And I do believe that John Hart, Buck Showalter, and the rest are as disappointed as I am right now that Alfonso Soriano is still a Ranger.
First of all, the results of this past offseason's attempts to deal Soriano, along with the attempts at the trade deadline, should serve as a wakeup call to those fans (and writers) who continue to trumpet Soriano as being one of the best second basemen in the game, and one of the best hitters in baseball. He is neither, and he's no longer being perceived as either. If he were, the Rangers would have been able to get a significant return for him, rather than being getting the offers of a beanpie and jalapeno cornnuts which have been coming across the board.
Soriano supporters talk about his incredible speed and power combo, talk up the fact that his home run and RBI numbers are amongst the leaders for major league second basemen. What that ignores, however, is that Soriano is an abysmal defensive player who has a bad OBP. His defense and on base skills essentially neutralize his great power and speed.
And that is reflected in the numbers. If you look at WARP2, a BP metric that measures wins above replacement based on offensive and defensive contributions, Soriano is 15th in the majors this season, well behind studs like Brian Roberts and Jeff Kent, and trailing even afterthoughts like Ryan Freel, Ron Belliard, and Adam Kennedy. He's barely ahead of Chicago's import, Tadahito Iguchi.
Why is he ranked so low? His .288 EQA, while being above average for a second baseman (13.7 runs above position, per BP), doesn't blow away the field. Guys like Robinson Cano, Marcus Giles, Kennedy, Ray Durham and Luis Castillo are all putting up EQAs similar to Soriano's. His OBP is bad enough that it drags down his superb power production to result in just an above-average offensive second baseman.
And Soriano's defense is checking in at historically low levels. Using BP's Davenport Translations, Soriano is 20 runs below average defensively...a pace that would put him at around 30 below average for the season, an almost unheard level of poor play, and a performance that drags him down below even those second basemen, like Freel and Giles, who have significantly fewer plate appearances than Soriano.
So the bottom line is, despite his reputation, Soriano isn't an elite player. He's not even a particularly good player. He's an average second baseman, when you factor in his offense and his defense.
And other teams know that. They know that he's terrible defensively. They know that he has a tendency to candyass on the field in a way that is going to infuritate his manager. They know that his incredible power numbers are overshadowed by his poor on base skills, and boosted by playing half his games at TBIA (his road numbers for the season, .236/.274/.404, are Neifian in their awfulness).
And thus, other teams aren't willing to pay a king's ransom. Other teams weren't willing to give up what John Hart was demanding. John Hart apparently chose to play chicken with the Mets and the Cubs and the Twins, but nobody blinked.
And so now, at a time when the Rangers are out of the playoff hunt, and should be looking at Ian Kinsler at 2B, they are still stuck with Alfonso Soriano.
And as a result, we are going into an offseason where, absent a significant increase in the player budget, Soriano's 2006 salary is going to cripple the Rangers' ability to make moves. Unless the Rangers either non-tender Soriano this offseason, or significant raise payroll, refusing to trade Soriano means, in essence, bring this team back without any significant offseason additions.
It is going to be suggested that Soriano can be dealt this offseason, but that seems, to me, to be unrealistic. If the Rangers couldn't get what they wanted last offseason, when Soriano was less expensive and two years away from free agency; if they couldn't get what they wanted at the trade deadline this year, when teams were jockeying for playoff positioning and had needs that Soriano could fill; why would anyone believe they are going to get anything of value this offseason for Soriano?
Just like this past offseason, the Highest Paid G.M. In Baseball has failed at the trade deadline. He didn't move Soriano, something that was critical for the team to improve long term, and he didn't add any starting pitching, something that was critical for the team to have any chance at the playoffs this year. As he has done for most of the last couple of years, Hart has been the Do-Nothing G.M., cashing his paychecks and assuring us fans that happy days are coming soon.
And again, it may not be John Hart's fault. Soriano isn't an elite player, and it may be that other team's are figuring it out, and aren't offering elite value for him. But what is the point of having the Highest Paid G.M. In Baseball, this brilliant baseball mind with all these connections throughout the game, if he can't pull off a Soriano trade, if he can't make any sort of moves in the offseason to improve the team.
Particularly now that we are saddled with this White Elephant, an average player who will get at least $10 million this offseason, who can't be traded, who can't be non-tendered because of the p.r. problems, who is blocking the Rangers' best positional prospect (who should be ready for the majors to start 2006) and who is tying up money that should be allocated in other areas this offseason.
The failure to move Alfonso Soriano is, ultimately, a disaster for the Rangers. I think this is the worst case scenario for Hart and Buck, being stuck with Soriano through next season with no reasonable way to get rid of him while saving face, both with the fans and in the clubhouse. I think the Rangers are going to have a hard time explaining how the guy who they try to spin as being the best second baseman in baseball couldn't command as much in trade as Randy Winn, LaTroy Hawkins, or Ron Villone.
And I think that their Soriano headaches have just begun, as they try to recover from this black eye by trying to find a taker for an overpriced, average second baseman.