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.
Not every interview is memorable. Sometimes, it's the questions that are uninspiring. Sometimes, it's the answers that are unfulfilling. But this 2004 interview with Alfonso Soriano resonated with me. I remember how focused he was about proving that he had moved on from his beloved Yankees. It didn't work.
Three months after Soriano was the other player in the epic trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees from the Rangers in 2004, we spoke in Arlington, Texas. Soriano explained how he would always cherish his memories with the Yankees, but that he was happy with the Rangers. Then Soriano said something revealing about his three years in New York.
"The only bad moment I had," he said, "was when I heard the trade."
Obviously, he didn't want to leave. Throughout that interview, I thought Soriano was trying too hard to be convincing that he was thrilled about being a Ranger. I think Soriano had adjusted and he was playing well, but some of his words, mannerisms and questions showed that a part of him still pined to be a Yankee. He once thought he'd be a Yankee for life, a la Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.
"When you have a great moment, you never forget those moments," Soriano said. "I had a great three years with the Yankees. I'll never forget that part of my life. I'm comfortable here, but, when you have something in the past, you'll never forget it."
As Soriano has flourished in his second stint with the Yankees, I've reflected on what he said nine years ago. The interview happened a few days before Soriano opposed the Yankees for the first time after the trade and, as the questions piled up, he grew more emotional. He noted that he still spoke with Jeter. He said he was at peace because Rodriguez was the only player who was talented enough to compel the Yankees to trade Soriano. That was Soriano's opinion.
In a surreal yet suddenly riveting 2013, Soriano, the player who never wanted to leave, is back and is trying to help the Yankees salvage their season. Soriano bashed R.A. Dickey's flat knuckleball for a two-run homer in the eighth inning to power the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. The Yankees have won 10 of their last 13 games and are only four games behind the Athletics for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
The offensive revival and the streak of successful play wouldn't be possible without the player who I wrote ambled out of New York with "all the anonymity of a substitute teacher" in The New York Times. That was true. At the time, the acquisition of A-Rod, the greatest player on the planet, was all about A-Rod. Now Soriano, who was acquired from the Cubs last month, has helped spearhead the Yankees' surge with nine homers and 28 runs batted in across 24 games. Five of his homers have been go-ahead shots.
For some reason, Soriano is a player whose weaknesses are sometimes highlighted more than his strengths. He is a free swinger who doesn't walk much so he's not a high on base percentage hitter and he isn't a great defensive player. But Soriano also has 2,015 hits, 397 homers and 283 stolen bases. He should eventually surpass 400 homers and 300 steals. Only four players have ever compiled at least 2000 hits, 400 homers and 300 steals: Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Andrew Dawson and A-Rod.
Back in 2004, it was evident that Soriano hated leaving New York. After the Yankees got him back last month, Soriano was viewed as a right-handed power hitter they desperately needed. He has been that. He has been more than that. The player who had one bad moment in his first stint with the Yankees is creating a lot of good moments in his second stint with them. Soriano might even help save their season.
Alex Rodriguez had multiple opportunities to insist that he didn't use performance enhancing drugs and to say that his 211-game suspension from Major League Baseball for that alleged behavior was an outrage.
But he didn't. Rodriguez deflected those questions three different times.
Essentially, Rodriguez said he wasn't there to talk about the past. Sound familiar?
On a surreal day in the world of A-Rod, Rodriguez was suspended on Monday afternoon and then started at third base for the Yankees about five hours later. Since Rodriguez's lawyer has said he will appeal the suspension, Rodriguez can continue to play until a verdict is reached on his appeal. He can keep playing, but it's difficult for some observers to keep listening to him
As talented as Rodriguez has been in his career, he has often been the player who struggled to do or say the right thing. That routine continued on Monday as Rodriguez, whose actions created the mess that he is immersed in right now, talked about "fighting for my life." Coming from someone baseball investigators have described as a repeat cheater, those words were awkward and hollow.
Anything Rodriguez said on Monday could be used against him in the arbitration case. But, still, his refusal to say he hadn't used performance enhancers during what MLB called a period of "multiple years," was revealing. If Rodriguez could have absolved himself, he would have. But, again, he hustled away from the topic. Like Mark McGwire before Congress in 2005, Rodriguez didn't want to talk about the past.
If Rodriguez doesn't fight for himself and his career, he said that no one would fight for him. So what is A-Rod fighting for? It seems evident that Rodriguez isn't necessarily fighting the charges that he used performance enhancers. What Rodriguez is fighting for is to get the 211-game suspension reduced. While 12 other players accepted 50-game suspensions without attempting to appeal on Monday, A-Rod is fighting his heftier suspension.
In MLB's press release about Rodriguez's punishment, the league said it was for "use and possession of numerous prohibited performance-enhancing substances" and for attempting to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation. The reason Rodriguez's penalty was much harsher than the other players is because MLB is confident it has stronger evidence against him, evidence that A-Rod and his lawyer have seen.
Before and after Rodriguez went 1-for-4 during an 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday, he mentioned how he is 38 years old. Time isn't on Rodriguez's side. With a suspension of some length looming, perhaps Rodriguez viewed the rest of 2013 as his last, best chance to produce. If Rodriguez is suspended for 211 games or something close to that amount, it's reasonable to wonder how effective a player he would be after the suspension. Right now could be his final chance to do something decent.
Members of the Yankees' hierarchy have said that the team sorely needs Rodriguez's right-handed power. Without A-Rod, Yankee third basemen were hitting .215 with four homers, 32 RBIs and a .272 on-base percentage. If A-Rod has anything left, he could be a much better option for manager Joe Girardi.
Michael Weiner of the Players' Association has said the verdict in Rodriguez's appeal might not come until November or December.
At the end of Rodriguez's bizarre Monday, he was asked if things had gone as well as he could have expected. Rodriguez said there was no "well" in any of what he was experiencing and that he just hoped "there's a happy ending there somewhere." There will be an ending for A-Rod. That part is true. But a happy one seems improbable.
In the latest episode of JCTV, television legend Regis Philbin joins host Jack Curry to discuss Philbin's start in the business, what to expect from his new sports show and his lifelong passion for the Yankees.
The memorable night was over, but Mariano Rivera wanted to revisit it. He was still wearing his Yankee uniform, still gushing about a night like no other. Rivera wanted to go back on the field, wanted to climb back on the mound and wanted to feel what it was like to be universally adored. Again.
There has never been another pitcher with the distinct talents of Rivera and there aren't enough people with the gentlemanly traits of Rivera. As the 43-year old Rivera leaned against a cinderblock wall near the visiting clubhouse at CitiField, he grew emotional while discussing how both teams delayed the All-Star Game to stand and cheer for him.
"They almost made me cry," Rivera said. "Almost. It was close. It has been tremendous. I was telling them I hope this night doesn't end."
If Rivera kept talking about the night, the night where he came in to pitch a scoreless eighth inning for the American League, maybe he thought it wouldn't end. So, following a press conference, Rivera kept talking. He recalled how he trotted in from the bullpen, got to his usual place of work on the mound and then realized he was alone on a baseball island.
In one of the coolest, classiest displays I've ever seen, the other All-Stars treated Rivera like the ultimate All-Star. As Rivera pitches in his final season, his peers reminded the cool, classy closer about how much he has meant to baseball. He removed his cap and waved it to both dugouts. His eyes were moist.
"I got ready to throw and I see, because my face was facing the National League team, and they're all in front of the dugout cheering and applauding me," Rivera said. "Then I looked to my right and I see my teammates and they are doing it also. I'm like, 'Oh, my God.' It's special."
When Rivera recounted that amazing display from the A.L.'s 3-0 victory, he almost began crying again. He shook his head. He collected himself. So I asked him how meaningful it was to have the best players in baseball treat him with such reverence in his final All-Star Game.
"The best players in baseball, all over the world," Rivera repeated. "The best players. I will never forget that moment because all I have done and all I want to do is represent the New York Yankees with dignity and pride and represent baseball and do it well. And to see that from both teams, the cream of the cream, that was priceless. There was no price for that. I was there alone, soaking it in. And I did."
Rivera had a baseball from the game stuffed in his back pocket. He said his family would decide who would get the first opportunity to drive the blue sports car he received for being named the Most Valuable Player. He took out the baseball and held it as if he was holding a cutter. He seemed ready to throw another pitch. He didn't want the memory of this night to end.
"I will keep it," Rivera said, "until the day I die."