They may like him as a person, but the owners of the Chicago Cubs wish that they never met Alfonso Soriano. They wish he would just go away and that they could make his expensive contract vanish.
But Soriano is still a presence on Chicago’s north side, an everyday player who comes to Wrigley Field every day and still turns in the best job he can do. Soriano may not even be the best Soriano in the majors these days (probable nod to Rafael out of the pen in Washington), but he is still a solid member of the batting order. Soriano may no longer be a star, but he is a starter.
Depending upon how good fans’ memories are, the righty swinging Soriano is a seven-time all-star. Though those days are receding in the rearview mirror like the passing of so many telephone poles for the one-time Dominican infielder, the 37-year-old nearing the end of his career still regularly shows he has pop in his bat.
It is so long ago that not everyone owned a cell phone, but Soriano was a star second baseman with the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers, and did fine work for the Nationals in a single season before joining the Cubs in 2007. He was an all-star for Chicago, too, lest that also be forgotten.
As they have been for 105 years, the Cubs were trying to build something and they signed Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract. It is a deal that in Chicago is known as the albatross contract and it not only made Soriano a very rich man it gave him tremendous job security.
Soriano was an all-star again in 2008, but not since. The Cubs seemed to be on the brink of National League contention for a few years around then, but not since. The team was sold from the Tribune Company to the Ricketts Family, new management wanted to start fresh, new team president Theo Epstein wanted to built from the bottom, and Soriano did not fit into those plans.
Making things worse, Soriano became a liability in left-field (his most recent position), where fly balls periodically did strange things as they approached him–like sail over his head or ricochet off his glove. The Cubs were ready to part ways. The Cubs really wanted to part ways. However, Soriano’s ironclad contract for huge dollars, linked to declining production, makes him untradeable. Of course, Soriano would have been, and would be better off, with an American League team where he could be a designated hitter.
In some respects Soriano is like the owner of a little old house that stands right in the middle of an area where the government wants to build a freeway, but is unwilling to sell. So construction goes on all around him.
From Soriano’s standpoint, he must realize that he is not as good as he was in his prime, but he does still produce on a reduced scale. He is not batting .133 like Adam Dunn. He gets his cuts in, can still make good contact, and is overall a plus in the batting order.
Soriano has only hit .300 once in his career, so the fact that he has hit more in the .250-.260 range the last couple of seasons isn’t a surprise (.279 at the moment in 2013). But in 2011 he smacked 26 home runs and collected 88 RBIs and last year he belted 32 homers with 108 RBIs. That will justify your place in the order. However, he does strike out too much–153 times last year–but he always did.
The fact is that Soriano is not worth a superstar’s wages, and he is not ever going to play like a superstar again, but he is still more valuable on the field than on the bench. It may be a strange marriage, and a strained marriage, but Soriano and the Cubs are still lawfully wed.