It’s been in the works for a few days, and now this morning, it is finally official: the Yankees have acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs in exchange for a class-A pitching prospect, widely rumored to be Corey Black. For the Cubs, though, this move is less about the prospect than it is about financial flexibility.
Soriano has about $25 million left on his contract between 2013 and 2014, and according to Buster Olney, the Yankees have agreed to absorb almost $7 million of that total, including $5 million next season. It’s not a massive pot of gold, but the Cubs are saving about the same amount of money that they used to sign Scott Feldman over the off-season, and that turned out okay. Odds are good that the Cubs are going to reinvest the savings into their 2014 club and come away with a better (and younger) player than Soriano in the process. That makes this an easy win for Chicago.
This deal does make some sense for New York as well, however. As Jeff wrote on Wednesday — and go read that whole piece if you’re interested in Soriano’s value — the new Yankee left fielder will likely displace Vernon Wells in the line-up, and Wells has been atrocious since his strong April. Replacing a total scrub with a moderately decent player is a real upgrade, and the Yankees are in need of real upgrades.
I wonder, though, whether this is throwing good money after bad. The Yankees are in fourth place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, and our rest-of-season forecast has them finishing with 85 wins, well behind the top five teams in the AL. Cool Standings places their playoff odds at just under 16%. Adding Soriano makes them better, but they’re still long shots to make the playoffs.
And now, after already agreeing to pay about $3 million of Vernon Wells’ 2014 salary, they’ve added $5 million for Soriano in 2014 as well. Individually, these are small additions, but they can start to add up, especially for a team that has made a significant effort to reduce their luxury tax bill. The Yankees have money, so it’s not like paying Soriano to sit on the bench is going to be a financial hardship on them, but having a multitude of modestly priced low value players on their books for next year might make staying under the $189 million luxury tax threshold difficult, at least while also improving their team in a meaningful way over the off-season.
If Soriano is the Yankees primary mid-summer acquisition, I’m not sure it’s going to be worth it, because this isn’t a great team even with another decent right-handed power hitter in the mix. Soriano is a useful role player, and because the Cubs are financing most of his salary, he’s only going to be paid like a useful role player. But the Yankees aren’t a useful role player away from being a playoff team.
Soriano will help them. I’m not sure he’ll help them enough, and so they might have just spent $5 million of their 2014 budget for a modest upgrade that won’t actually move the needle.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.