2009 Recap: Geovany Soto
In January, 2008, I along with 200 other slopeheads sat rapturously in the cavernous U. S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL as each of the participants in the Cubs Caravan reluctantly stood up and blathered for 3 minutes or so about how they were going to finally end the Cubs drought.
The most interesting guest that day was one Geovany Soto, the newly installed starting catcher, a man who toiled for years rather anonymously in the Cubs system, until seemingly flipping a switch the previous year, where he became the PCL's Player of the Year, capped off by his inclusion to the 2007 Playoff Roster, where he hit our lone 2007 Postseason home run. When he was asked for a reason behind his turnaround, he noted that he was always "out of shape", and once he lost some weight, he just found catching to be easier.
Fair enough. The young, lean Soto then went out and won the NL Rookie of the Year, by virtue of turning in the best overall catching performance in the entire league. In a world where quality catching is scarce, when most teams have to choose between an offensive or defensive backstop, Soto became a strategic weapon for the Chicago Cubs, was probably the biggest reason why we won 97 games, and set himself up to be the game's next superstar.
Whereupon he went home to Puerto Rico, smoked grass, ate a buttload of beans, rice, and everything else he could grab, and showed up for spring training 2009 fat, slow, and susceptible to injury.
The first month or two of the season he hit well below .200, let opposing runners steal bases at will, and instead of continuing as the Cubs' best strategic weapon, Soto killed rally after rally with harmless pop flies. He was trying to play as hard as he could, his attitude was acceptable. But he obviously took the game and his talent for granted last off-season, and I came out here and called him out on it.
Most of you decided that I knew nothing about sports, physical fitness, or frankly, anything, claimed I was 'giving up' on the reigning ROY, and otherwise lit my ass on fire. Almost immediately afterwards, his positive marijuana test was publicly disclosed, which was then followed by his abdominal injury, where we were treated to six weeks straight of Koyie Hill. When Soto finally did return, he was in somewhat better shape, with marginally increased power and mobility behind the plate, but he never did get his average up, and in the end, Geo Soto took more off the table in 2009 than he brought.
Perhaps you are under 30; perhaps you are young and in peak physical condition. Perhaps you work a physical job, or are able to put in a hour a day to work out, and that is sufficient to keep you in shape. Perhaps you are one of those scumbags who "has trouble gaining weight". Well, then, you have absolutely NO perspective when it comes to people who DO have weight problems, like myself, like Geo Soto. He knows that the less he weighs, the better he plays. He's not yet a millionaire, but he makes enough to ensure he can enjoy a healthy diet and has access to workout facilities in the off-season.
Yet he chose to let it all go, and this is what I have to tell you young and skinnies - when he was blundering around in April and May, 20 to 30 pounds overweight, I knew that it would take several MONTHS for him to get back to his 2008 form. Some of you figured he could just turn it on and off instantly. But that is just humanly impossible. When the first two months passed, and he was lethargic at the plate as well as behind it, you must realize there is only four more months of season left, and it would take at least that long for Soto to get back to peak condition.
His last month of 2009, he was close to the player that won the ROY. But by then, his team was more than 10 games out of the division lead, and the rest of his teammates were breaking down. Soto chose his fate in 2009, and it was selfish, and it pissed me off, and it should have pissed you off, too. He never recovered, and it hurt the team, and it was totally expected once his initial fitness level was evident.
He should have been fined, and people within the organization who "monitor the fitness levels of players in the off-season" should have been fired, as well. However, nobody on this website has ever advocated the man be traded. Hell, none of us have ever even THOUGHT it. Catching in MLB is at its all-time premium, and even though Geo Soto screwed the pooch in 2009, he must be kept, he must be trusted, and he must be sent out there to play, because he is a special talent, there might, maybe, be only a couple of catchers with his all-around game. And, offhand, I can't think of any.
Soto was the biggest reason we won 97 in 2008, and one of the biggest reasons we only won 83 in 2009. Along with Soriano, as Soto goes, so will the Cubs next year.