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Springtime Storylines: is Alfonso Soriano toast?

Apr 1, 2010, 2:14 PM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Cubbies

big question: Is Alfonso Soriano toast?

Kind of seems like it, doesn’t it? 109 games in 2008. 117 games last year, in which he hit a measly .241/.303/.423 and stunk up the joint in left field. The contract makes this bad enough — he’s still owed $18 million a year for the next five (!) seasons — but his production isn’t sufficient to carry left field at almost any price. His original promise of power + speed is all gone.  There’s hope in some quarters that pairing Soriano up with Rudy Jaramillo will lead to a resurgence, but Soriano had the two worst years of his prime while under Jaramillo’s care in Texas.

A great bounceback season for him would probably look like fairly
standard left field production: 30 homers a.280 average or something
close to it. Maybe 15 steals.  Nice enough if your leftfielder is a role player, but not the sort of guy on whom you build a
team. Unfortunately, Soriano is who the Cubs are built on, for better or worse, for the
next few years.

So what
else is
going on?

  • More likely candidates for a return to form than Soriano: Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto, each of whom reported to camp — altogether now — in the best shape of their lives. Read what you will into spring training stats, but Soto has hit for zero power in Mesa. Zambrano has been more or less himself once you account for the dry air and all of that. Clearly the Cubs need these two fellas to bounce back if they have any hope of competing.
  • So much of the blame for last season’s terribleness was placed on Milton Bradley’s shoulders. He’s gone now, of course, so who will the notoriously sour Chicago media kick around this year?

  • Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells form what, on paper, is a decent rotation. Lilly is out to begin the season, however. Assuming no setbacks for him this is clearly the team’s strength.
  • The lineup is obviously the make or break of this team. Last year far too many at bats were given to the likes of Joey Gathright, Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales, Koyie Hill and Ryan Freel. To avoid that, Soriano and Aramis Ramirez will have to be healthy. To build up from .500 Derrek Lee is going to have to maintain his resurgence. Marlon Byrd will have to show that he can handle centerfield and that he isn’t a product of the Ballpark at Arlington, neither of which I’d bet a ton of dough on. Fontenot and Theriot will have to improve. Just a lot of things need to happen.

are they gonna do?

I’m really pessimistic about this team for some reason. I don’t think Derrek Lee has another .972 OPS season in him. I think Soriano is toast. I think Aramis Ramirez’s health is going to continue to be a source of concern. Ted Lilly’s injury scares me. It just seems like way too much to overcome, especially considering that their $140 million payroll doesn’t give them much leeway with which to overcome things. 

Prediction: Fourth place, NL Central, with Piniella calling it a career after this.

here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Joey B - Apr 1, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Too harsh on Soriano. Before last year, he had 7 seasons in a row with an OPS of .807 or better, with 5 of those seasons at .867 or better. His 13/0 K/W ratio in ST is worrisome, but I think he should be able to go back to mediocre. It’s amazing that the Cubs thought a 35-HR, .285 hitter, at LF should be worth $136M. He’ll be 39 when he enters his final season. It’s like these GMs feel that, if given enough money, these players will will themselves no to get old.

  2. Old Gator - Apr 1, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    But that’s not the worst of it. Troubling new research, reported in The Journal of Irreproducible Results this week, confirm that the prion-vectored neurological disease die vloek van der geitbock can be carried by stuffed pizzas, that the disease is cyclical with outbreaks reported every seven years, the last one occurring in 2003. Yes, it will be a bad year on the north side. But at least they can’t hear Ozzie from there.

  3. Real Vikings fans wouldn't cheer for Favre - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    I’m a big Cubs fan and I’d say I’m pessimistic as well. Not 4th place pessimistic but I do feel like we’re at best finishing behind St Louis.
    Then again I’m optimistic most years and come out disappointed so how i feel before the season doesn’t really matter lol

  4. Southside - Apr 4, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    Do they still sing the blues in Chicago, when baseball season rolls around, in their ivy covered burial ground?

  5. Der Klempner - Apr 5, 2010 at 5:15 AM

    Fourth place? Obviously, many sports writers have forgotten the fact that injuries play a role on EVERY team, not just the Cubs. Here’s a few facts/predictions:
    1) Gorzelanny and Silva are stop-gap number 4 and 5 starters; Ted Lilly will return, and neither of the aforementioned pitchers can do much worse than in their previous years, else they’ll be gone by July 1st. In the event that both of them have such awful years that it’s necessary for the Cubs to find another regular starter, they have Sean Marshall ready to step in at a moment’s notice. His numbers, as a starter, have been less-than-spectacular, yet they would still have to be better than whatever production Gorzelanny and Silva would put up if they are released.
    2) Marlon Byrd is not Milton Bradley, by any stretch of the imagination. He may not be as talented as Bradley and contribute as much as Bradley can to a team, but considering that Bradley never even came close to living up to his potential as a Cub then they will already be better off if Byrd has a mediocre season at half the monetary – and emotional and chemistry-poisoning – cost to the team. The “notoriousy sour” Chicago media has never been unfair to players that didn’t deserve their given rap.
    3) There is no evidence that Zambrano will not bounce back from an injury-riddled 2009. When he puts up mediocre or poor stats for two or three season in a row, then perhaps we can start to pronounce an end to his talent. Until that time, I see no reason to continue to doubt his ability and production.
    4) Soto may not be the same catcher he was in 2008, but there’s little doubt he’ll be better than he was in 2009 when he missed significant playing time and still improved his plate discipline. It shouldn’t matter if he hits for as much power as he did in 2008, as long as he continues to get on base, hit for a .280 or better average, and plays solid defense; the run production will be better than 2009, and his ability to handle the staff will show a marked improvement in some pitchers. I can think of 20 other big league teams who would trade for a catcher with those attributes.
    5) The lineup of every team is the make-or-break point. Look at St. Louis: if Pujols and Holliday are the only players that produce, does anyone really think they have any chance of winning more than 70 games? Of course not. Just like any other team, the Cubs will depend on the health of their offense to maintain their season. When Ramirez was out for 50 games last year, the Cubs were 24-26. Project 30-20, a modest six-game differential for that same period (including a couple of projected wins against St. Louis), and instead of being an 83-win team and losing the division to the 91-win Cardinals, it might have come down to the Cubs celebrating their third straight divisional title or even a one-game play-in for the crown. This is only an example of how things could’ve been different, and how injuries affect every team and the outcomes of their seasons..
    Instead of giving some well-thought points on the actual deficiencies (i.e., their young bullpen, or the lack of depth from the bench in case of another injury-riddled year) or the strengths (i.e., two all-star-caliber infield corners, or the up-and-coming youngsters Wells and Colvin) of the Cubs, this “article” focuses on the points that most journalists wouldn’t bother to worry about if they’d simply take more than 10 minutes to think before writing their thoughts down.
    A fading superstar? Oh no! The return to form of players who played below their abilities? Gasp! The necessity of players not getting hurt to help ensure a successful season? Perish the thought!
    The Cubs will be much better than any “expert” has picked them to be this season. They may not win the NL Central or even win the Wild Card, but they’re far from a fourth-place finish in 2010.

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