<
>

Alfonso Soriano: Overrated, underrated

Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement Tuesday, although after hitting .221/.244/.367 and getting released by the Yankees in July, his career may have been over anyway.

How to view Soriano's legacy? It has been one of the more fascinating careers of the past 15 years as he has been a player with enormous strengths and obvious flaws.

After a solid rookie season with the Yankees in 2001 -- he hit the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the World Series before Mariano Rivera gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth -- he had a monster sophomore season, hitting 39 home runs and 51 doubles thanks to that lightning-quick bat, and knocking in 102 runs while leading the AL with 41 steals, 128 runs and 209 hits. He finished third in the MVP voting and that power-speed combo while playing second base made him one of the great fantasy players of all time.

It also made him somewhat overrated in those early years. He wasn't the third-best player in the AL in 2002. Because he drew so few walks his on-base percentages were more good than great. Defensively, he was never smooth at second base and led second basemen in errors his first five seasons, prompting a move to left field.

After three years in New York, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal. His two seasons in Texas weren't as good and the Rangers traded him to the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson. After a huge 46-homer, 41-steal season for Washington, he signed that monster eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs -- the contract that just expired.

The deal was criticized almost immediately given Soriano's mediocre on-base percentages, lack of polish in left field and age -- he'd be 31 for the 2007 season (he'd admitted in 2004 that he was two years older than his listed age). Throughout his tenure with the Cubs, Soriano would be evaluated under that contract and as the Cubs eventually floundered, Soriano became one of the primary scapegoats for the franchise's failures.

What seems forgotten is that the Cubs won division titles in 2007 and 2008 (although they were swept in the Division Series both years) and Soriano hit .291/.340/.547 those two seasons with 62 home runs. His defense in left field was also better than advertised; he had 22 assists with the Nationals in 2006, 19 with the Cubs in 2007 and 10 in 2008.

He wasn't as good after that, especially in 2009 and 2011. But he hit 32 home runs in 2012 and 34 in 2013, splitting the season between the Cubs and Yankees. In the end, maybe it wasn't a great contract for the Cubs, but it wasn't a disaster either.

Soriano hit 412 home runs and stole 289 bases. He made seven All-Star teams. He scored and drove in over 1,100 runs. His career WAR of 27.2 seems low, but that's dragged down by some bad defensive ratings. Still, it seems as though we spent half his career arguing that he wasn't that good, when it wasn't his fault the Cubs gave him $136 million.

The guy had a good career. He was that rare power-speed combo and, for a few years there, one of the most exciting players in the game. When's the next time we're going to see a 40/40 player?

Think how his career could be viewed differently: If Rivera hadn't blown that save, he'd be forever remembered as a Yankees hero; if the Cubs had reached the World Series one of those years, he'd be remembered as a great Cub.