COMMENTARY | New York Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano will be 38 years old at the start of the 2014 season. He has compiled a fine career, but he has not been a dominant player during that time and still remains far short of the Hall of Fame.
Yes, he is one of only four members of the 40-40 club from his 2006 season with the Washington Nationals. He just missed his first shot at 40-40 in 2002 with the Yankees, as he swiped 41 bases and swatted 39 homers. But even though Soriano is also a seven-time All-Star, he has not made the squad since 2008.
He enjoyed a torrid stretch in August and September after the Chicago Cubs traded him back to New York, but how much longer can he keep it up? He totaled 34 home runs in 2013, and three more seasons like that could vault him to the Hall of Fame, but sustaining that production and health past age 40 is expecting far too much.
Ultimately, Soriano's lack of plate discipline and failure to sustain his dominance will keep him out of Cooperstown.
You Lack Discipline
In 1,908 games, Soriano has struck out a prodigious 1,732 times over a 15-year career with four teams, averaging 147 strikeouts per 162 games. He also has a paltry 490 walks in that time. Soriano is a slasher who never saw a pitch he did not like. He can look completely lost at the plate for three at-bats and then run into one for a long ball in his other plate appearance. With his diminished speed and limited defensive capabilities, he's become little more than a long-ball specialist, though he does have the knack for hitting in the clutch.
Comparison to Contemporaries
With his speed, you would assume Soriano would have more than 31 triples, which perhaps speaks to his hustle or lack thereof. For perspective, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart has 33 career triples in 945 games. With 1,136 RBIs, Soriano is considerably behind former teammate Aramis Ramirez, who has driven in 140 more runs in just 16 more games. Soriano's 1,130 runs scored put him just one ahead of Shawn Green. His 466 doubles have him three behind Carlos Lee. He also has fewer hits (2,045) than Juan Pierre (2,217). None of those players will be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Lack of Sustained Dominance
Soriano has finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting only twice. He had only one season with more than 40 home runs and only one season with more than 200 hits. In four seasons, he scored at least 100 runs, and, in four seasons, he topped 100 RBIs. He also has not eclipsed 20 stolen bases since 2006 because he basically stopped running when he became a Cub.His move to the outfield in 2006 significantly impacted the value of his bat. As a second baseman, Soriano's offensive production was the best in baseball for several years. By contrast, his production as a corner outfielder can be replicated by at least a dozen other players in the league.
On September 5, I was watching the Yankees trail the Boston Red Sox 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth. When Soriano reached second base, I turned to my father and said, "He's either gonna steal third or get picked off." Ten seconds later, Soriano got picked off and the Yanks lost the game. Granted, he single-handedly delivered numerous victories in 2013 for the Bronx Bombers, but you never know when he will have a "Soriano moment."
Chasing 500 (and 300)
Soriano is sitting on 406 home runs and 288 steals. Twelve more steals would make him just the fifth member of the 400-300 club, joining Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez. Of course, he would love to hang on long enough to join the 500 HR club, but that would require playing until he was 41 or 42. While that remains possible because of his knack for staying healthy, it is a long shot.If he reaches 500 home runs, his HOF chances will increase drastically. Soriano's body type has not changed during his career in an era dominated by steroids, and his perceived purity as a power hitter could sneak him into the Hall of Fame as voters continue to grapple with the impact of PEDs. Still, 94 more homers from a 37-year-old is a tall order.
Soriano journeyed from the Dominican Republic to Japan to launch his baseball career with the Hiroshima Carp. He has enjoyed a remarkable run since the Yankees purchased his contract in 1998. But barring three more sensational seasons, his resume falls just short of being Cooperstown-worthy.
Sean Hojnacki writes about baseball and football for Time Warner and basketball for Bleacher Report. His writing has also appeared on The Classical, Salon.com and briefly on Twitter. He lives in Jersey City, NJ with his wife and a cat named after Melky Cabrera.
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