The Chicago Cubs have spent their offseason getting younger and preparing for a brighter future. However, in the meantime, they need Alfonso Soriano to play well both to have a good season this year and to be able to unload him in July or next offseason.
Back in 2007, the Cubs signed Soriano to a monstrous eight-year, $135 million deal. He was expected to become their All-Star center fielder for years to come. The center fielder part of that signing was always unrealistic—Soriano is a terrible defender and was moved to left field quickly. However, he did display the power he was signed for and made All-Star teams in 2007 and 2008.
Why all the history? Soriano has become a hot rod for criticism and derision in recent years, primarily because of his injuries, poor defense and declining on-base skills. He still has power, though, and—if the Cubs can keep him healthy—could hit around .260 with 30-plus homers and 100 RBIs. Lest you decry that as wholly unrealistic, consider that he was injured in 2011 but hit close to .250 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs. A bit more health and he could hit those numbers.
More important, a bit of health and more care at the plate could get his on-base percentage back above .300 and into semi-respectable territory.
It’s hard to suggest Soriano is likely to hit those markers in 2012. He is a declining player with a daunting injury history, but he is healthier this spring training than in years past, and new management and on-field coaching could spark a small resurgence.
That resurgence is critically needed. The Cubs are rebuilding, but that does not mean they should try to field a horrible team in 2012. Chicago lost Aramis Ramirez, its best power hitter, in the offseason and also let Carlos Pena, a home-run machine, return to Tampa. Replacing them are two unknown quantities: Triple-A star Bryan LaHair and Colorado Rockies castoff Ian Stewart. So the Cubs desperately need power in the middle of their lineup until Anthony Rizzo (their prized first-base prospect) and Brett Jackson (their top center field prospect) are ready to hit behind Starlin Castro in the core of the Cubs lineup.
The prospects are coming. The Cubs will add Jackson and Rizzo late this season or in 2013. Top pitching prospects Trey McNutt and Gerardo Concepcion will follow soon after. It’s a new era for Chicago, but it’s still the dawn of that era and the players of the Cubs’ past still have a critical role to play in the franchise’s future.
So, it’s true Soriano is part of the Cubs’ past. Soon, he will be gone from the North Side. Most of the players he played with during his prime Chicago years, from Ryan Dempster to Carlos Zambrano, will all be gone, replaced by young prospects and new free-agent additions.
However, that does not mean Soriano needs to be useless to the team until he is inevitably sent away. Hopefully, new management and a bit of health will help create a brief resurgence and spark a young, transitioning Cubs lineup.