David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Earlier this month, a starting pitcher from the American League East was doing his own scouting reports of the division's powerful lineups. When the conversation turned to the Yankees, he rattled off the more troublesome names: Ellsbury, Gardner, Jeter, Beltran, McCann, Teixeira. Even Brian Roberts, if healthy.
Then he stopped.
"I feel like I'm forgetting somebody," the pitcher said.
When told that he had left out Alfonso Soriano, the guy who hit 34 home runs between the Cubs and Yankees last season, he laughed. "Oh, wow," the pitcher said. "Soriano . . . you got to be kidding me."
Yes, Soriano, the sometimes overlooked piece in the Yankees' $200-million puzzle. It's not very often an $18-million slugger gets lost in the couch cushions, especially when he has 406 home runs, one fewer than Hall of Famer Duke Snider and is No. 51 on the all-time list.
But after the Yankees' spending frenzy this winter, and all the shiny new toys to ogle in the Bronx, who bothers to remember the biggest acquisition at last year's trading deadline? Soriano's Bronx homecoming came just in time for a team desperately in need of outfield help and he turned out to be a perfect fit, swatting 17 homers in 58 games.
This year, however, the circumstances have changed. The Yankees made two expensive upgrades to their outfield and now Soriano is looking at full-time DH duty -- with spot starts in rightfield when Carlos Beltran requires a breather.
At age 38, with diminished range, that sounds about right for a player entering his 16th major-league season. But it does create some lineup snafus for Joe Girardi, who has other regulars that presumably will need turns at DH.
Back in 2012, Jeter started 25 of his 150 games at DH as Girardi made a concerted effort to keep him rested. It's fair to assume that would be the minimum number of DH starts for Jeter this season. If and when Jeter does DH, that would remove Soriano from the lineup -- or another outfielder from a productive group that is not accustomed to taking days off. Beltran, despite a history of bad knees, played no fewer than 145 games the past two seasons for St. Louis, which didn't have the luxury of the DH.
Brett Gardner has averaged 140 games over four of the last five years and the Yankees are expecting close to 150 from Ellsbury, even if he hasn't made it that far since 2011 (158).
Let's say Ellsbury remains upright for most of this season. That leaves Soriano to take a weekly bite or two out of Beltran's time in rightfield -- where he's never played in 1,908 games. He has spent more time at shortstop (10 games) and Wednesday was just his second start in right of spring training.
He had only one chance, and on a very sunny afternoon, Soriano got a bad read on Andrelton Simmons' pop-up. He charged in, but then let it drop about a foot in front of him. "It was tough to see," he said.
The ball does come off the bat differently from that vantage point and it takes some getting used to. Mercifully, rightfield is the easier of the two corners at Yankee Stadium. But he could experience a few awkward moments in unfamiliar territory. "We'll try to get him as many reps as we can," Girardi said after the game. "He'll make the adjustment."
And not just in the outfield. Soriano's 13 starts at DH split between the Cubs and Yankees were his single-season high. He could have close to 10 times that this year, but doesn't think it will be a problem. "I'll figure out what to do," he said. "As long as I'm staying in the lineup."
Where Soriano is bound to get plenty of attention once the season starts.