Phillies should steer clear of Soriano

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Now that the dust has settled on the 2006 Major League Baseball season, the free agent frenzy is about to begin. There figures to be plenty of money thrown around this offseason, more so than in recent years anyway, despite the fact that the free agent class is marginal at best.

However, there is one big ticket item available and that player is Alfonso Soriano, who is coming off a sensational season with the Washington Nationals. A five-time All-Star, Soriano last season joined Jose Canseco (Oakland 1988), Barry Bonds (San Francisco 1996) and Alex Rodriguez (Seattle 1998) as the only players with 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season. He finished his first campaign with the Nationals hitting .277 with 46 homers, 95 RBI and 41 stolen bases.

Soriano, though, has stated that he wants Carlos Beltran-type money, meaning any team that wants him better be ready to shell out well over $100 million.

Supposedly the Philadelphia Phillies are interested in him and have said that they will start at five years and $75 million for his services. That is a nice starting point, but they will undoubtedly have to go higher if they really want him and I'm not quite sure that they do anyway.

I don't even know why they are interested. Soriano still views himself as a second baseman and the last time I checked the Phillies already have one of the best young players in the game occupying that position in Chase Utley.

Soriano is probably going to hit well over 400 home runs in his career. And let's be honest doing it as a second baseman makes him a first ballot Hall of Famer. With the money being equal he is going to go to the team that allows him to play the infield.

So to get Soriano to even consider staying in the outfield the Phillies are going to have to back up the Brinks truck to get him, even more so than they already would have had to.

The whole point of getting a big bat is to provide protection for Howard. Is a guy that struck out 160 times last season the answer? Sure he can mash, but you can also get him out. Plus Soriano has said that he is more comfortable hitting up in the order, which again does not make him a good fit.

I also don't like the message it sends to the rest of the Phillies. Right now they have one of the best young nucleuses in the game in soon-to-be NL MVP Ryan Howard, Utley, left-hander Cole Hamels and righty Brett Myers. By bringing in Soriano, whether you like it or not, he automatically becomes the face of the franchise. That is what happens when you make that kind of money.

"I don't think he's the main guy you want but he can be the missing piece," said Philly's new first-base coach Davey Lopes, who spent last season as a coach with the Nationals.

Oh really. He is not the main-guy? Then why give him main-guy money? How much are the Phils going to pay Howard when it is his time? And speaking of that how can they justify paying Howard next to nothing right now, while Soriano is paid as one of the best players in the game. I don't care how they spin it, that would have to leave a bad taste in Howard's mouth.

And let's be honest Soriano is not the best guy in the clubhouse either. If he is so talented why is he about to play for his fourth team in five years? Buck Showalter had a problem with him. I know that is not a big deal a lot of people have problems with Showalter, but Joe Torre also had issues with Soriano. Let's not forget the shenanigans he pulled in spring training last season with Frank Robinson.

If I was making the decisions for the Phillies the guy I'd be targeting is Gary Sheffield, who can easily be had in a deal with the New York Yankees. Of course you would have to give him an extension, but it would be for a fraction of the cost to land Soriano. And he only makes $9 million this coming season.

Who would you rather have up in a big spot Sheffield or Soriano? They are both big-time home run hitters, but Sheffield is the guy I want at bat in the clutch. Sheffield, for his career, is a .316 hitter with runners in scoring position, while Soriano has produced just a .252 average in similar spots.

If the Phils want Howard to get pitches Sheffield is the guy to hit behind him not Soriano.

General manager Pat Gillick has said that he wants to keep the payroll around $90 million. With Utley and Myers due for huge raises in arbitration, adding Soriano will hinder Gillick from addressing other needs such as bullpen help, a third baseman and a catcher. Gillick has also said that he is comfortable with Abraham Nunez at third with a catching tandem of Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

Do you believe him? Me neither. So don't blow your cash on Soriano.

The Phillies could use the extra money they were planning on spending for Soriano and spread it around a little. But then again things would be made much easier in the City of Brotherly if Gillick could relieve himself of the albatross that is known as Pat Burrell. Unfortunately for the Phillies there is not much of a market for a .250 hitter that is due $27 million over the next few seasons.

Point is Philadelphia is not one player away. Getting Soriano does not put them in the World Series. But getting Sheffield and adding some more quality pieces gets them a lot closer.

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