There’s something stuck in my craw, lately.
Apparently Alfonso Soriano can be had for 2 years and $10M, plus a talented (though not necessarily productive) young player, and certainly not a top prospect. There are plenty of teams out there who seek a RH bat with power: the Braves, Phillies, Yankees, Mariners, Orioles, Athletics, Rangers and Indians could all use a player like Soriano.
Yet, he remains a tough sell. Why?
Last trade deadline, one source Tom talked to scoffed at the idea of trading for Soriano. I had a similar experience. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Sentinel recently said the Braves had no interest in Soriano. Even the Phillies had to be talked into considering it.
The Yankees have said outwardly that they want a RH hitter. We know they also don’t want to spend long term. Yet, who do we hear them linked with recently? Vernon Wells!!!
I know the Angels would pick up the salary and ask for little in return, but Wells has been a replacement level player in 3 of the past 4 years. He’s not just overpaid. He’s a bad player at any salary.
And it’s not just the Yankees. The Mariners, who’d like to contend in an increasingly tough AL West, have so far added Jason Bay to boost their offense. Bay was below replacement level last season and just barely above it the year before. The Indians have so far opted for Mark Reynolds, who is poor on defense and is barely above league average on offense (108 RC+ last season), yet they are going to use him at 1B, where he is neither an asset at the plate nor in the field. I understand these kind of bargain bin buys for a rebuilding team, but these are all teams that would like to compete this season.
We hear the Phillies have intensified their pursuit of Cody Ross, who is said to be seeking a 3 year deal at around $9M per year. The Phillies are said to have around $7M between them and the luxury tax threshold. Unless they get Ross to come down on his price (good luck in this market), he will be more than twice as expensive annually as Soriano when you factor in the tax hike. Ross is coming off a career year, yet he was still just a 2.4 WAR player — in other words, roughly an average starter. He’s really worth spending that kind of money rather than give up a player they have been reluctant to use in Domonic Brown?
We know one big reason for the resistance on Soriano has been his poor defense, but he went a long way toward shoring up that weakness, to the point where some thought he was a Gold Glove candidate. I wouldn’t go that far, but anyone who saw Soriano out there last year would be hard-pressed to say he was a negative in the field last season. He played the position well, showed improved range and his strong, accurate arm continues to be a plus tool.
I sometimes wonder if some of Soriano’s past transgressions have come back to haunt him. Teams may still remember his initial reluctance to move to the OF and some of the misconception about his work ethic and makeup. There was a nagging concern that he was a me-first guy, a myth perpetuated by our own media here in Chicago. Perhaps Soriano’s own reservations about being traded have caused some of those concerns about not being a “team player” to resurface.
But even in that case I still don’t get it. Ryan Dempster and Derrek Lee were equally finicky, yet their character was never questioned. Lance Berkman vetoed a deal or two as an Astro, yet remained highly coveted until his latest injury last season. The Blue Jays gave Melky Cabrera a 2 year/$16M despite his using a banned substance and then concocting an elaborate scheme to cover it up. Not to disparage Cabrera, who has done his best to atone for his mistake, but has Soriano done anything at that level to warrant such concerns about his character?
It seems that old perceptions won’t go away with Soriano. Theo Epstein, himself, has admitted he had an entirely different image of who Soriano was until he got a chance to see him everyday in Chicago. He has seen what some of us here have known all along — that Soriano is a hard-working, well-liked player whom teammates consider a leader.
Perhaps chronic knee injuries and age have something to do with it and their is some fear of regression. That’s valid, but the Yankees didn’t have any problem giving more money to Kevin Youkilis (who has chronic back issues) and Ichiro Suzuki, two players with an obvious decline in performance recently. Soriano was far more productive than either player last year and has been roughly on par with Youkilis over the past 3. He has outproduced Suzuki in that same time frame.
It’s hard for me to believe that it has a whole lot to do with any one of these things. Perhaps it’s the sum of all these fears.
Or perhaps Soriano is just getting bum rap here.
Whatever the case, if other teams can’t see value in Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs know he still has value to them. Yes the Cubs are rebuilding and they’re trying to get younger. They’re playing for the long term. If they can trade him to help in that pursuit, they will certainly do that. But they’re also not in the business of giving value away. Soriano has proven to be an asset for the Cubs both on and off the field, so unless some team is willing to exchange value for value, there’s no point in moving him.
His value, as seemingly perceived by other teams, can hardly get any lower. If they don’t trade for him now, it can only go up. And come midseason, when teams find that Jason Bay and Vernon Wells didn’t give them the boost in production they’d hoped for (picture my mock surprise expression here), then maybe, just maybe, teams will change their mind about Soriano. But by that time, it may cost them more than a talented, but struggling young player.
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