By Steve Silverman
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These are hard days for the New York Yankees. When the big move is the re-acquisition of Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs, you know the Yankees are in trouble.
The Yankees’ dearth of right-handed power is just frightening. Due to injuries, age and a lack of overall talent, they have not had a right-handed batter hit a home run in 27 consecutive games.
When a team can’t hit the ball out of the park, it means that they are not much of a threat. Fans might remember the Whitey Herzog-managed St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s that featured speed, speed and more speed as an exception, but these Yankees are not that team.
This team has featured power for years, including last year, when they hit an American League-high 245 home runs. This year, the Yankees have hit 88 home runs — a figure that is next-to-last in the AL. The only team that the Yankees have out-homered is Kansas City.
With those figures staring Brian Cashman in the face, going after Soriano makes sense. Soriano is not a miracle worker, but he does have power.
Soriano has 17 home runs this season and he has been hot lately, with eight home runs in July. The Yankees have hit seven home runs as a team this month. The Yankees believe that Soriano can hit the long ball for them the rest of the season, and that’s not a pipe dream. He has been the kind of power hitter who can go on a streak and carry his team for stretches.
But Soriano is not the star who hit 39 and 38 home runs for the Yankees in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
He’s certainly not close to the force he was when he blasted 46 home runs for the Washington Nationals in 2006. However, he hit 20 or more homers in all six of his full seasons with the Cubs and he is on track to hit 25-30 this year.
One aging right-handed power hitter may not seem like much, but putting a threat like that in the lineup could loosen things up for the rest of the team. If the acquisition of Soriano, who is one of the shakiest outfielders in the game, means that Yankee hitters will see more hittable pitches, than he will be a great addition to the batting order.
Cashman is gambling that right-handed pitching prospect Corey Black, who will be sent to the Cubs for Soriano, will not develop into a star. Black was selected in the fourth round in the 2012 MLB Draft, and he is a hard thrower who can reach 95 mph on the radar gun.
But Black is just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, and hard-throwing pitchers of that stature can have a difficult time avoiding arm injuries and having long and productive careers. If Black does work out, he would likely be a reliever.
The power outage among right-handed hitters forced Cashman into making a move. The last Yankees team to go this long without producing a right-handed home run was the 1971 edition of the team.
The Yankees’ best right-handed hitter that year was Thurman Munson, who hit .251 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs. It would obviously get a lot better from there for Munson, but he was not a dominant player that season.
The Yankees’ other right-handed bats were Felipe Alou, John Ellis and the immortal Danny Cater, who would be traded to the Red Sox for Sparky Lyle prior to the 1972 season.
The Yankees also had switch-hitters in Roy White and Gene Michael. White was the Yankees’ second-best player behind Bobby Murcer and he had good left-handed pop, but he was not the same kind of hitter from the right side. Michael was a good-fielding, no-hitting shortstop, but he did hit a right-handed, walk-off home run (before they were called “walk-offs”) against the Detroit Tigers that shocked the baseball world that season.
The Yankees appear to be fighting a very difficult battle, but bringing back Soriano is one that could help and won’t hurt.
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