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updated: 3/8/2011 10:13 PM

Healthy Soriano should be serviceable in LF

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  • Alfonso Soriano has hit 106 home runs in four years to lead the Cubs.

      Alfonso Soriano has hit 106 home runs in four years to lead the Cubs.
    Associated Press/2010 file

  • Outfielder Alfonso Soriano, here warming up at spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., is halfway through his eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs.

      Outfielder Alfonso Soriano, here warming up at spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., is halfway through his eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs.
    Associated Press

  • Left fielder Alfonso Soriano, left, leaps in front of center fielder Marlon Byrd to catch a long fly ball last May at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

      Left fielder Alfonso Soriano, left, leaps in front of center fielder Marlon Byrd to catch a long fly ball last May at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
    Associated Press/2010 file

  • Cubs outfielders Alfonso Soriano, right, and Marlon Byrd wait for batting practice to begin at the Cubs' baseball spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.

      Cubs outfielders Alfonso Soriano, right, and Marlon Byrd wait for batting practice to begin at the Cubs' baseball spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.
    Associated Press

  • Alfonso Soriano played in 147 games last season for the Cubs, collecting a hitting line of .258/.321/.496 with 24 home runs and 79 RBI.

       Alfonso Soriano played in 147 games last season for the Cubs, collecting a hitting line of .258/.321/.496 with 24 home runs and 79 RBI.
    Bruce Miles | Staff Photographer

 
 

There's only one way to discuss Alfonso Soriano, and that's realistically.

No, he's not the player the Cubs thought he was when they signed him in the fall of 2006.

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Yes, his eight-year, $136 million contract is one of the most egregious of all time.

No, he's not going away any time soon.

Yes, he's going to play left field on most days for the Cubs this season.

The Cubs, their fans and the media will just have to deal with it.

You know the deal with Soriano. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and the Tribune Co. vastly overpaid Soriano. The drill was rebuild the team, shoot up the value of the Cubs so the Trib could sell them, win a World Series and let the suits go out in a blaze of glory.

You know how that worked out.

Back to today's reality.

What the Cubs have in Soriano is a player who can be at least serviceable for a couple more years -- and maybe even good. His OPS of .818 last year ranked him 28th in the National League and 11th among outfielders.

He played in 147 games, the most of his Cubs career. His hitting line was .258/.321/.496 with 24 home runs and 79 RBI.

Let's look at the Soriano factors.

Offense:

If Soriano stays healthy, and he reported to spring training in great shape, one can expect some improvement over last year's numbers. But let's also remember Soriano is 35 years old.

Soriano seems comfortable working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo (with whom he worked successfully in Texas), and if Jaramillo can get Soriano to use the opposite field a little more, the batting average and on-base percentage might improve.

Realistically, if the Cubs can get 30-35 home runs from Soriano, they'll be doing well enough.

Although Soriano says his legs are in great shape, don't expect a lot in the way of stolen bases.

The Cubs don't need that from Soriano anyway. Since he hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases for the Nationals in 2006, Soriano's stolen-base totals with the Cubs have been 19, 19, 9 and 5.

Defense:

Soriano is not suited for the defensive side of the ball, but the Cubs have to play him somewhere.

So left field it is.

Manager Mike Quade, who worked with the outfielders before taking over as manager last August, provided some observations about Soriano recently, given criticism that Soriano wants no part of Wrigley Field's brick wall in left.

"I never thought he was afraid of the wall," Quade said in Arizona. "It's just getting comfortable and understanding judgment of the warning track. This guy didn't grow up playing the outfield."

The rest of it:

In four years as a Cub, Soriano has a hitting line of .271/.327/.505 for an OPS of .832. His 106 home runs during that time are tops on the team, ahead of Aramis Ramirez (93) and now-ex-Cub Derrek Lee (93).

The other day in Arizona, Soriano declared: "This is my best spring training so far in my five years with the Cubs. This year, I don't have to worry about getting healthy."

The authors of Baseball Prospectus sum up Soriano's four years in Chicago in the 2011 edition of the book: "He has managed, in that time, to become perhaps the ultimate example of Cubbiedom. When initially introduced, he was reputed to be able to do all sorts of things, like run or play center and be a superstar. Now he's reduced to scaring people when he tries anything on the bases or afield, and his brand of walkless power boils down to very pedestrian production for a left fielder.

"His OBP against right-handers has slipped every year in his Cubs stint, dipping below .300 last season. Considering he has four years to go, you might wonder if the voters shouldn't have asked for an initiative to recall left fielders as well as governors last November."

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