There are times when his big swing creates a breeze that makes Chicago Cubs fans grimace. There have been times when his erratic play in left field make Alfonso Soriano seem like the second coming of Manny Ramirez. Wrigley Field fans have booed, somewhat loudly, with some vehemence, whenever the man with a $136 million contract makes his miscues.
Unlike Carlos Zambrano, however, Soriano doesn’t vent, doesn’t get in fights with teammates or fans, but just plays on. And this season, Year I in the reign of Theo Epstein, when one might think Soriano might have beeen the first player jettisoned from the holdover band, he actually has been one of the team’s best hitters.
Soriano will never be the player he was with the Yankees, but he has been much more consistent than in recent years and more helpful than most Cub fans might have imagined after he was barely more than average during the first years of his eight-year deal.
In the Cubs’ first 86 games this season, Soriano has 18 home runs, 54 RBIs, and a .274 batting average. Now he is being paid $18 million for that production this season, but it’s a marked improvement at a time when a 36-year-old guy could be expected to be on the downslide rather than any type of upswing.
Of course, Soriano did more than his share of sliding in recent seasons. Although he had 26 homers and 88 RBIs in 2011, Soriano batted .244. The year before his stats read 24, 79, .258. Not what you’d expect for a big-ticket expenditure. Soriano’s great years with the Yankees and even the Texas Rangers, are so long ago baseball followers can be forgiven for forgetting they ever occurred. Not to mention the one crazy 2006 season when he slugged 46 home runs. Soriano has four other 30-plus home-run seasons his resume, t0o, although only one was with the Cubs.
It may surprise people, but 14 years into his Major League career, Soriano is sitting on 358 home runs and he is likely to end up with more than 400 in his career. That’s a big number for a guy who started out as a shortstop. That also seems like a long time ago. Even weirder for those with short memories, three times early in his career Soriano topped 40 stolen bases in a season and even led the American League once.
Ancient history there. We are not going to see a stolen bases resurgence from Soriano. There are limits. Soriano is on his fourth straight season of single-digit stolen bases.
There have been times in the years since Soriano joined the Cubs in 2007 that fans despaired that he would ever be more than a basic cog in the batting lineup. They felt he was not tradeable because of his huge contract. Now that Soriano has been playing so well he is being mentioned as trade bait anew and yet there would be some angst if the team dumped him now.
Soriano sees his championship window closing so if he is traded he naturally wants a chance at the World Series.
“If they want to trade me, I hope it is a contender,” Soriano said, citing his age and the impending end of his career, “because it’s about trying to go for that ring.”
As some of the most devoted fans in baseball know, the Cubs are not the team to be with if you expect to enhance your jewelry collection.