Outfielder returns for second stint to help bolster Bombers' offense
NEW YORK -- Alfonso Soriano played his 539th game as a member of the Yankees on Oct. 25, 2003, going 2-for-3 at the plate as New York lost the deciding Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to the Marlins. On Friday -- nine years, nine months and two days later -- he played his 540th.
The Yankees acquired the veteran outfielder from the Cubs on Friday for cash considerations and Minor League pitcher Corey Black, reuniting Soriano with the organization with which he began his Major League career.
Soriano hit .254 with 17 home runs, 51 RBIs and 10 stolen bases through 93 games with Chicago this year, and he batted fourth and played left field against the Rays in his Yankees season debut.
Soriano finished his first game back with the Yankees 0-for-5 with an RBI and a run, recording two flyouts, a groundout and two reached by fielder's choice, the second plating New York's final run of the night in a 10-6 loss.
"I'm very happy. This is my house, my home," Soriano said before the game. "So I'm happy that I'm back after 10 years. It's never too late, and I'm happy that I've come back."
The trade had been rumored to be close to done as early as Tuesday, but it took both sides a while to hammer things out. Soriano was scratched from the Cubs' lineup before Thursday's game because the deal was almost complete, but the trade didn't become official until after 4 p.m. ET on Friday.
In the deal, the Cubs agreed to pay $17.7 million of the $24.5 million Soriano is owed on his contract, which runs through the 2014 season. The Yankees will play $6.8 million, $5 million of which will be paid next season. Outfielder Thomas Neal was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room for Soriano.
"I've talked to [Cubs president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] on a number of occasions," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "By far, [Soriano] is the best available bat to date. ... This was one that was a match we could make with the Cubs, and a player who had been here before and loved being here, was very interested in returning, so we've got the bird in the hand, and I know we're going to be better for it."
Soriano's addition gives the Yankees a right-handed power bat they have sorely missed this season. The team hasn't hit a home run from the right side of the plate since infielder Jayson Nix hit one against the Rays on June 25, which is the only right-handed home run New York has hit since May 23.
The Bombers' current 28-game streak without a right-handed home run is the Yankees' longest since 1971, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"When you look at our club, it's been a struggle this year to score runs," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We're looking for run producers and people who can hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Girardi said he will use the veteran in left field and at designated hitter.
"He's going to a place that is obviously one of the better stadiums, and he's been there before and has performed in that atmosphere before," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Obviously, they've had a lot of injuries, and he's the guy who can fill that void."
Soriano began his career with the Yankees in 1999 and he played for them until 2003, when he was traded to the Rangers in the deal that brought Alex Rodriguez to New York.
The 37-year-old batted .284 over his career with the Yankees, hitting 98 home runs and driving in 270 runs over five years with the club. His best year came 2002, when he hit .300 with 39 home runs, 102 RBIs and 41 stolen bases, and finished third in the American League MVP Award race.
"I'm happy I have the opportunity to come back to New York, where I stated my career," Soriano said. "I'm happy I can try to help the team win and make the playoffs."
Friday was Soriano's first career appearance in the new Yankee Stadium, but he's already comfortable with his surroundings. He played with shortstop Derek Jeter and pitchers Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte during his first stint with the Yankees, and he spent two seasons playing alongside first baseman Mark Teixeira in Texas.
Before the game, he embraced many of his former teammates during batting practice and met some of his new teammates.
Soriano will wear his old number, too. Outfielder Vernon Wells had been wearing No. 12 this season, but he switched his jersey to No. 22 so Soriano can wear the number he's worn every season since 2002.
"I think it's a great addition. He's one of my favorite teammates of all time," Teixeira said. "We had a great time together. He's like Robinson Cano; he's one of those guys that's always happy, loves playing the game. He's an incredible talent. I love the move."
After two years with the Rangers, a year with the Nationals and seven years with the Cubs, Soriano is happy to be back in New York.
"This is my house. I played here to start my career, and I had great moments here with the Yankees," Soriano said. "I was happy when I played here, so I'm happy I came back here."