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Soriano playing like an MVP down the stretch

Acquisition of outfielder has been a game-changer for surging Yankees
09/11/2013 4:30 PM ET
By Jack Curry

Alfonso Soriano's second half with the Yankees has been good enough to warrant a spot on some MVP ballots.(AP)
A few minutes after our post-game ended on Tuesday night, David Cone was still talking baseball and still raving about Alfonso Soriano. So he asked a question: If Soriano continues to produce offense at this remarkable rate and helps guide the Yankees to the Wild Card, will he get any MVP votes?

It's a superb question because it makes you think about what Soriano has achieved in seven weeks as a Yankee and what other mid-season acquisitions have done to earn MVP votes in the past. I am not saying that Soriano should win the MVP That would be a ridiculous argument. But I am talking about whether or not Soriano has had enough of an impact to get some votes at the bottom of the 10-player ballot. I think he has.

For Soriano to even snag one tenth-place vote, the Yankees would probably have to win the Wild Card. If the Yankees don't reach the post-season, it's difficult to envision voters rewarding Soriano. Yes, Soriano would have still have boosted the Yankees, regardless of where they finish. But voters will see a difference between lifting a team into the post-season and carrying a team through an interesting yet ultimately unsuccessful September.  

Since Soriano was acquired from the Cubs in late July, he has been an offensive force with a major league-best 15 homers, 47 runs batted in and a .253 average in 43 games. He has strengthened and lengthened the Yankees' lineup and helped hitters like Robinson Cano. Teams that once thought about pitching around Cano now have to deal with the lethal Soriano hitting behind him.

"He's played like an MVP," said Manager Joe Girardi, about Soriano in August.

If Soriano plays in every game for the rest of the season, he will have logged 60 games with the Yankees. If he maintains his current pace, he will finish with 21 homers and 66 runs batted in. Will some voters dismiss a player who only played in 60 games as a potential MVP candidate? Absolutely, some will do that. It's a reasonable reaction. If Soriano only played in 37 percent of the Yankees' 162 games, how much of an impact could he have had?

But Soriano's impact has been gigantic. Just review Tuesday night's 7-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees were 11 outs away from a potentially devastating loss when Soriano hammered a homer off Miguel Gonzalez to help them crawl within two runs of the Orioles. In Soriano's next at bat, he blasted another homer. Soriano has had that kind of impact in several games with the Yankees and has been the main reason they are still in strong contention for the Wild Card.

Regarding comparisons to Soriano and the possibility of getting MVP votes, I first thought of Doyle Alexander. Alexander was dealt from the Braves to the Tigers for John Smoltz in August of 1987 and was almost flawless in going 9-0 with a 1.53 earned run average in 11 starts. He finished tied for 13th for the MVP. Alexander tossed 88 1/3 innings for the Tigers that season. Soriano will end up with about 230 at bats for the Yankees. If Alexander could get MVP votes, I think Soriano can get them, too.

Two other comparables are David Justice, who was traded from the Indians to the Yankees in 2000, and Fred McGriff, who was shipped from the Padres to the Braves in 1993. Since both of those players were traded within the same league, I think that made it easier for voters to consider them as candidates. Justice hit .305 with 20 homers and 60 RBIs in 60 games for the Yankees. He finished 13th in the MVP balloting. McGriff produced 19 homers, 55 RBIs and a .310 average for the Braves and was fourth for the MVP.

In recent seasons, there have been other examples of players playing only a part of a season with a new club and still getting MVP votes. CC Sabathia was traded from the Indians to the Brewers five seasons ago and finished sixth in the MVP race. He was 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA. In 2004, Carlos Beltran was sent from the Royals to the Astros, belted 23 homers in 90 games and finished 12th for the MVP. In 1998, the Astros acquired Randy Johnson from the Mariners and he was dominant. He went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and finished 21st in the NL MVP. Of course, Rick Sutcliffe probably was the best in-season acquisition ever when the Cubs obtained him from the Indians in 1984. Sutcliffe was 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA as he won the Cy Young and came in fourth for the MVP.

When you factor in Wins Above Replacement, a sabermetric statistic that measures a player's overall value, Soriano has a solid case. According to BaseballReference.com, Trout leads the AL with a WAR of 8.4. Soriano has a 1.2, which is 91st in the league. But, again, Soriano has only played 43 games in the AL. If Soriano's production was pro-rated over an entire season, his 5.2 WAR would tie him with Evan Longoria for the 10th-highest total in the league. Yes, I realize that pro-rating Soriano's numbers means he would have to continue this torrid pace for six months, not just seven weeks.

When voters review the AL landscape, I expect that Miguel Cabrera will garner most of the first-place votes and win the MVP over Trout and Chris Davis. After those three players, Cano, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre will appear on many ballots. MVP voters have told me that selecting the final three players on the ballot can be tougher than picking the first three.   

So the question is: will Soriano squeeze in at the bottom of some ballots? If Soriano continues powering the Yankees and they win a Wild Card, I think he will get a few votes. Voters need to focus on the word valuable. Soriano has been as valuable as anyone in the league since rejoining the Yankees. A few votes would be appropriate for the valuable player who has kept the Yankees' season alive.

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