2009 Recap: Alfonso Soriano
For his first two seasons with the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano had a nasty habit of starting slow, getting hurt, and eventually returning in a fiery burst of offensive ass-kickery. Then, in 2009, Soriano started the year in an unusual manner -- 7 homeruns, 14 RBI, a .284 AVG and a .955 OPS for the month of April. Suddenly it looked as though he just might justify that ridiculous contract of his.
Then, in May, he batted .216. He followed that with a .198 effort in June. By the time he managed a .345 July, the Cubs were pretty much a non-factor in the NL Central and Cub fans were justifiably booing him for his disappointing start and ridiculously indefensible defensive ridiculousness.
Cub fans here and elsewhere described him with many, many non-flattering words. Cub bloggers here and elsewhere pointed out that we all knew this day would come -- you don't sign a 32-year-old to a 7 year deal without expecting some years of suck to be injected here and there -- but none of us were expecting it to come so soon.
Eventually Soriano found himself dropped from his traditional spot at leadoff -- something that should have happened oh, I dunno, three years ago -- and he actually put up better numbers. In 41 games as the 6th hitter, he batted .268 with a .759 OPS and 6 homeruns. That's right, .268 and .759 were actually improvements on his previous production.
He'd eventually leave the team for the disabled list -- having been suffering from leg injuries during the whole period of his offensive mediocrity -- and had surgery for the first time in his career on September 5th.
So here's the contention: Cub fans frustrated with his output have said that Soriano is selfish because he wanted to bat lead-off, and because he never changes his hitting approach, and because of that ridiculous little hop of his in the outfield, all multiplied to the Nth degree because of his near $20 million per year contract.
But his teammates have never railed against him, his manager has never criticized him, and he has never spoken harsh words to the press even as Cub fans lit into him like he was a firecracker ready for their match. More importantly, as poorly as he played in '09, it is extremely evident that he did so with a damaged knee that absolutely would have been detrimental to his performance.
Therefore, is Soriano officially a bust? I'm not convinced. Is he the wrong kind of player for Chicago? I haven't seen any evidence of that. Is he an intelligent player capable of adjusting his performance based on in-game situations and other factors? Not that I've seen. In other words, maybe Alfonso Soriano is far from a poet laureate, but he is neither selfish nor vindictive -- nor entitled, for that matter, like certain trouble-making Cub outfielders who are now playing baseball in Seattle.
2009 was certainly a disappointment for Soriano and the Cubs, but 2010 is entirely a year in which he just might surprise us. Still, he's got four years remaining on his contract and, realistically, he's probably got two good years left in his already-collapsing body. If he's going to give the Cubs the championship they're paying him to win, it's going to have to be soon.
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