MLB Offseason: Why Alfonso Soriano Makes Sense for Tampa Bay Rays

Jim WeihofenCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2011

Could Alfonso Soriano be Tampa Bay's answer at DH?
Could Alfonso Soriano be Tampa Bay's answer at DH?Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images

When Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox to become the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, he was given the permission by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to eat any salary on a bad contract from the previous regime to improve the team in the long term and eventually end the longest championship drought in North American professional sports.

To this point, however, the only trades made by the Cubs have been minor moves, the only players coming over with major league experience being third baseman Ian Stewart, starting pitcher Travis Wood and outfielder Dave Sappelt. None of those three players had much success at the major league level, but all were dealt for expendable pieces, and all filled a need.

The general feeling in Chicago is that it's just a matter of time before a major move comes to fruition. Sure, Travis Wood cost the Cubs one of their best relievers in Sean Marshall, but he was simply a relief pitcher with one year left on his contract on a team most likely headed to a sub-.500 finish.

Right now, the Cubs are currently (over)paying Alfonso Soriano to be their everyday left fielder, despite the fact that his skill set is that of a prototypical American League designated hitter. While he can play a serviceable outfield with a strong arm, injuries are beginning to take their toll on an aging Soriano, who desperately needs a move to the American League.

Enter the Tampa Bay Rays. The perennially small-budget team brimming with prospects could be a match for Soriano, given the Cubs ability to eat most of Soriano's remaining $54 million over the next three seasons. While this contract obviously cannot fit into Tampa Bay's shoestring budget, if the Cubs were to eat a vast majority of Soriano's contract, he could be a valuable player.

Assuming Chicago agrees to eat at least $40 million of Soriano's contract, he could fit into Tampa Bay's budget, and the more they eat the better. If Team Theo were willing to eat $45 to $48 million, Soriano would become a very intriguing player for Tampa Bay.

The Rays, seemingly always seeking offense, should gladly welcome Soriano as their everyday DH at $2 to $3 million a year. At that price, Soriano could even cost a somewhat high ceiling, albeit replaceable, prospect. Rays GM Andrew Friedman has done a top-notch job of acquiring starting pitching in abundance. While Soriano, regardless of the amount of contract eaten, would not cost a top arm like Alex Cobb, he could be a fair exchange for someone like a Wilking Rodriguez, who is stuffed far to deep into Tampa Bay's system to be anything more than trade bait.

Soriano has proven the ability to have success in the East, as he started off with the Yankees, and also saw time with Tampa Bay. Once considered one of the best talents in the game - he was the centerpiece of the A-Rod trade—Soriano's stock has fallen off significantly the last few years. Still, he has plenty of power and speed and has hit in every slot in the lineup, offering many combinations for the managerial mastermind that is Joe Maddon.

The Cubs already have in-house alternates in left field in Sappelt and speedster Tony Campana, who had a stand-up inside-the-park home run in 2011. They've also been in talks with outfielder Coco Crisp.

In Soriano, the Rays receive a power-speed threat who, without the wear and tear of left field, could be a player to hit 30 home runs and steal 15 bases. The Cubs need to move him, and the Rays always need cheap offense.