2008 Cubs Recap: Alfonso Soriano
Gettin' to it early today, in hopes of being able to devote the afternoon with glad Ronnie the Pizza Boy tidings...ALSO, READ THIS! In its entirety. Just DO it! I command you!
Much was said earlier this year, by me, as well as others, about the Highest Paid Cub in History, Alfonso Soriano. I don't begrudge him a cent of his money, no no no. I also don't hold it against Hendry and the Cubs for signing him as they did, not a bit. I will always maintain, even if he enrolls in the Andruw Jones School of Conditioning this off-season, and never contributes a thing ever again, that the Soriano Signing was a significant milepost in Cubs History. In the winter of 2006-7, only three years removed from what should have been the 2003 National League Pennant, the Cubs were in an all-too-familiar postion, that of league doormat.
Credibility had to be regained (or simply "gained", depending on your point of view) and it was going to cost money. For money was the resource the Cubs had, and time was the resource they lacked, with the 100-year-curse anniversary looming. Soriano was THE top free agent that winter; we got him, and along with Uncle Lou and, to a lesser extent, the rotation depth provided by Lilly and Marquis, brought our favorite ballclub to a contending level, amongst our rightful place as a "Have" rather than a "Have-Not".
The Cubs draw far too many people, and sell far too much merchandise, and draw far too high of ratings to ever be considered a Have-Not. Regardless of whether or not the Tribune considers declaring bankruptcy - the Chuck-o-sans and Byrons of the world can further comment on the business wisdom of Sam Zell's latest manuever, but suffice to say that this is the most comprehensive proof yet that the Cubs need to be sold as soon as humanly possible, because Zell don't give a turd about media, news, people, jobs, and he sure doesn't care about the Cubs. Making money and not having to spend money is where it's at with this clown, and even though the Cubs make more money that probably any other franchise in all of professional sport, even it isn't the kind of return Sam Zell is interested in. THIS is the type of greed that is ruining our country, a man worth billions willing to run a 150-year-old media empire into the ground for the return he would reap on its spare parts.
Why have I wasted three paragraphs on the oldest story in the world? Because the story of Alfonso Soriano is always going to be about money. Right now, at this moment, his legs are healthier than they've been since he's come to town. He missed most of June and July due to his wrist injury, but he was available when needed the rest of the way in. I will elaborate why this particular injury was critical to him, but a winter's rest and recouperation should be beneficial. Healthwise, there is reason to believe he will have a big year next year, both in terms of games played and offensive punch, which once again, is what is expected from an $16MM asset in 2009.
I didn't mention defense, did I? No, I didn't. He didn't come up as an outfielder, and much has been made of the moves made by various organizations to shift him from 2B to CF to LF, where he now toils. It is true that he initially balked when Frank Robinson suggested his first move to the outfield with the Nationals, but in hindsight, he really hasn't complained about it since. When he started with us, Pinella placed him in CF, and he started real slow. Not exactly earth-shattering, a new Cubs player starting out slow...happens nearly EVERY time, right? But when you're the $126 Million Dollar Man, this shouldn't happen, says the crowd! He is moved to LF, and his bat heats up, and the crowd deduces that he didn't like playing CF, and that he is a moody, petulant player.
My current theory is that, based on his 2008 performance in LF, that moodiness had nothing to do with his woes while playing center for us. The fact is, Soriano might be the worst fielder we have had since Dave Kingman, and when you consider Matt Murton, Keith Moreland, Candy Maldonado, and Tuffy Rhodes, that is saying a lot. I heard a lot last year about "center field being an easy position to play in Wrigley", to which I say Bunk. There ARE no easy positions in Wrigley, but left might be the easiest. Al has a strong arm, and he showed some quick reflexes a couple of times last year, cleaning up his own drops to throw guys out. But to suggest that he could play anywhere else on the field but left is utterly out of the question, and it isn't a psychological matter, but simply a lack of fielding ability.
Soriano isn't a very coordinated man. This is why he has been such a bust as a leadoff guy. A leadoff hitter needs to be in control of his abilities. He needs to be able to lay off pitches, and handle the bat, as well as run the bases when he gets on. Soriano can't do ANY of those things. He is fast when his legs are healthy, and he can throw the ball well. He has only one other talent, and fortunately it is a big one.
He has world-class wrists. Without them, he has no chance of swinging his choice of lumber, perhaps the biggest bat currently in use today. Without them, he has no chance of reaching the pitches he sometimes hits into the seats. Soriano IS the Wild Thing. At the plate, he is balls out all the time, and thanks to his unbelievable wrist speed, he overcomes his complete lack of control and technique with coiled superhuman strength.
Problem is, in 2008 he was hit by a pitch, breaking bones in his hands close to his wrists. His biggest weapon was taken away from him, which explains his reduced power rates (SLG down .030) after the injury. One small positive was improved plate discipline, as his OBP went up the same .030 after the injury, which left his OPS static throughout the year.
All in all, not a bad year, 29 taters and a .280 batting average, while missing over a month with a broken hand. Not bad for a human, but not quite enough for the $126 Million Dollar Man. His .344 OBP wasn't too bad, either, but once again, it ain't quite enough for your leadoff man.
I have lived in fear the last two years because of my perception of Soriano's sensitive nature. "Leave him be," I reasoned, "because he will get pissed off if we move him down in the order, and he won't produce as well. He can't function in the middle of an integrated batting order." Well, too bad. It's time to move his funky ass down to the fifth spot, where all that power will be better utilized to drive in more runs, runs that will be on the bases, because we will (by default?) employ a man with a higher OBP in his old spot. He will be "protected" by the sixth hitter, whether it be Lee (my choice) or Soto. I am excited about his chances in 2009, and cannot wait for them to hit the field again.
Now, Zell, sell the effin' team already.