I'm not asking who is the worst on the 25 man roster at the present moment - that would be
probably be a tossup between the Shark, Grabow, Wood and Russell, and the fact that all four of them are from our bullpen says a lot about 2011 on the North Side. Koyie "Three-Finger" Hill, what the hell was I thinking?
No, I am referring to the one man on the roster whose mere presence is retarding growth, preventing improvement, and is the biggest impediment on the Chicago Cubs turning the corner in the near future. This is related to the albatross salary question, and honestly, I would think this is a total no-brainer, except that if I have learned anything about Cubs fans, almost everything I have thought the past ten years were no-brainers, have been met with furious, righteous indignation.
Alfonso Soriano is absolutely KILLING the Chicago Cubs.
Soriano is the Human Hamstring Pull; he has always been streaky, and lately, his bad streaks are far longer than his good streaks; I have thought all along that he is perhaps the single most individualistic player in the game today. I don't mean he obsesses over his stats, but smart observers note that baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. Most effort in the game is individual in nature; however, there are things one can do, such as sacrificing and otherwise playing according to the present situation. Soriano has no ability, desire, or inclination to do anything of the sort, and because of that, his inconsistent nature has more impact because he doesn't do the "little things".
Zambrano makes (steals?) as much money as 12, but his presence does not preclude the Cubs from trying to improve the pitching staff. Z is just one of 5 so-called "starters". Last year, you recall, they tried to put him in the pen, which was several types of ungodly stupid, so there he remains in the rotation, sometimes chipping in with a "quality start", sometimes giving up 6 runs in 5 innings.
There is also Dempster, who makes a hump-ton of money too, although it is a bit less, and sometimes Dempster is good, and other times he too sucks. So there's two expensive, inconsistent performers. However, if the Cubs were able somehow to acquire a starting pitcher that could possibly help, having Z and Dempster around, in and of itself, won't stop them from doing so.
There are also position players in the 8-figure club, namely Fukudome, Ramirez, and Pena, all of which have huge holes in their game and by implication have contributed significantly to the 42-60 record the Cubs currently post. I mean, hell, if you could take the Fooker's April, Pena's June, and Ramirez' July, and roll them into one guy, well, THERE you'd have a dude worthy of 8 figures.
Here's the thing with these three: it is conceivable that someone might end up taking on Pena and/or Fukudome, because they only have two more months left on their contracts. Ramirez is a slightly different story, of course, because he has 10-and-5 rights, so he has more control of his immediate future, at least the next two months. But none of these guys will be around for 2012.
If an improvement at a corner infield position were to pop up, the Cubs could take advantage. Doesn't mean they will, but they could.
Which leaves us with the corner outfield spots. Keep in mind, and particularly in Wrigley Field, the right fielder MUST be a great fielder, the left fielder not particularly so. Which makes it harder to find a good right fielder than left fielder. Let's say we could find a new home for the Fooker. And, let's say, we had the ability to obtain a corner outfielder that could hit and run a little.
Is this new mystery outfielder going to be a strong enough fielder to play right? Chances are, probably not. Most guys could play left, though. But, problem...Soriano is stuck out there, and I mean really stuck! 3 1/2 more years of stuck, at his salary level.
Could you move Soriano to right? Puh-leeze? You know those dipwads who occasionally poke their heads out of their holes and suggest that maybe he could go back to second? That actually makes MORE sense than letting him play right field at Wrigley, with the afternoon sun and the notches in the walls and the accurate throws that need to be made that he can't seem to make anymore...at least he's played second before.
On the other hand, if Soriano was gone, then the Cubs have all sort of flexibility on moving guys around to accommodate new arrivals. Is the new guy a bad fielder? Put him in left. Could he play center? Great! Put Byrd in left, and the Cubs outfield transforms from one of the worst to one that is decent. Could he play right? Then they can keep looking for another hitter who might not be so good with the glove to play in left, thus improving the offense.
But, as if this was a bizarro version of "It's a Wonderful Life", none of these good things can possibly occur as long as Soriano is ensconced in left field, old Alfonso "I'm 35 in Dominican years" with his gimpy legs and his huge bat that he can't quite whip around as quickly as he once could, his scatter arm, his fear of running hard and crashing into the outfield vines. Not to mention his inability to adjust to change, his purported lack of off-field discipline (ask Felix Pie how Sori likes to get down) and of course, the 60 million dollars still left on his contract, which is central to anything and everything when it comes to discussing Soriano, the Cubs outfield, the Cubs fiscal health and the notion that we will see the Cubs somehow improve in the next three to five years.
If this isn't the single most fire-able offense ever committed by a General Manager of a ballclub, particularly one that is STILL EMPLOYED five years later?
I think Jim Hendry could get drunk, run over three honor students in his car, explode bombs in Norway, kill Amy Winehouse, lock out the NBA and get caught sticking Sammy Sosa in the butt with hypodermic syringes full of liquefied Flintstones vitamins, and he'd still retain his job.
As long as Soriano remains in Chicago, I hate Jim Hendry. As long as Jim Hendry remains in Chicago, I hate Tom Ricketts.