Alfonso Soriano: Fixing a Hole in Left Field

Alex KanteckiContributor IApril 15, 2010

CHICAGO - AUGUST 28: Alfonso Soriano #12 of the Chicago Cubs hits the outfield wall after missing a catch against the New York Mets on August 28, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Mets 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This is how bad it’s gotten for Alfonso Soriano.

A day after Lou Piniella defended the left fielder, Soriano went out and had two more defensive gaffes prompting Piniella to make a defensive switch in the seventh inning against the Brewers on Wednesday.

Soriano lollygagged and bobbled a ball hit down the third base line in the fifth and misplayed a ball hit off the ivy-bare wall in the seventh.

Still, after the game, Lou Piniella continued to support Soriano, telling reporters he had confidence in the left fielder and that Soriano would “get better.”

Get better?

Sure—maybe because things cannot get much worse for Soriano. But to expect things to get noticeably better for Soriano is a pipe dream, and the Cubs don’t have the luxury of waiting for a miraculous turnaround in left field.  

I’ll give Piniella credit for taking Soriano out, but this was after he misjudged a ball that led to a run for the Brewers.  

Just like when Soriano was lifted an inning too late after committing an error that led to the game-winning run for Cincinnati over the past weekend.

Both plays were routine for an everyday outfielder, and both plays were butchered by Soriano. No one is expecting Soriano to make the spectacular plays. Fans just want to see him make the routine plays, but he’s not even doing that.

So, what should the Cubs do with Soriano?

When the Cubs signed the most-feared leadoff man in 2006, they fully expected Soriano’s offensive output to outweigh the negatives as a fielder.

But the $136 million-dollar man’s contract isn’t up until 2014, and the offensive toolset of Soriano is diminishing to the point where his bat doesn’t out-produce his glove anymore.

Already this year, Soriano has cost the Cubs two runs defensively (and that’s being generous), and has only driven in one run in the six hole, a spot in the lineup that was supposed to maximize his offensive potential.

Now, it will be nearly impossible for Soriano not too outhit his terrible defense,
but the point is clear: Soriano’s offense and defense is quickly reaching a break-even point.

Soriano reached career lows last year, batting .241 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIS and just nine stolen bases.

Not what Jim Hendry and the Cubs envisioned when they signed him after hitting .277 with 46 home runs, 95 RBIs and 41 stolen bases with the Washington Nationals in 2006.

No one should expect Soriano to reach those types of numbers, but if he was anywhere close to sniffing that stat line, fans wouldn’t be so quick to boo.

Defensively in 2009, Soriano led all everyday left fielders with 11 errors, and only the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton had more errors in the outfield with 12.

In seven games this year, Soriano already has a major league leading two errors in the outfield.  

Something’s got to change, and it starts with Piniella.

Piniella isn’t stupid. He knows Soriano’s defense is giving away games. He knows Soriano is regressing at the plate. So why doesn’t Piniella do something about it?

There is, of course, that enormous contract.

And there’s always that off chance of Soriano catching fire at the plate and carrying the team for a week or two.

Regardless of the contract and the streaky hitting, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence in favor of Soriano.

Take away the clubhouse cancer stain on Milton Bradley’s resume last season and you basically have Soriano. Both players are known for their past abilities to produce at the plate, not for a Gold Glove in the field.

And let’s be honest—they both make more money than their current baseball skills warrant.  

The Cubs certainly didn’t have a problem benching Bradley, and eventually getting rid of him in the offseason, and there isn’t a convincing reason not to do the same with Soriano.

No, I don’t think the Cubs will bench Soriano and relegate him to pinch-hitting duties, but I do think the Cubs stand to gain more if they implement a true platoon situation out in left.

It’s too early to know if Tyler Colvin will produce at the big league level, but the only way to find out is to play the kid every other day or so. The Cubs also have Xavier Nady to throw out in left.

Let’s not forget. The Cubs let slugger Jake Fox leave in the offseason, and even he had struggles in field last season. The difference, however, was Fox’s ability to make the routine plays and produce enough at the plate.

Let’s hope Piniella senses the urgency to fix the hole in left field. It may be the difference between a contending team and a late-season collapse.