Assessing Alfonso Soriano’s Value

In this, their long-overdue rebuilding year, the Chicago Cubs have redefined terrible on the North Side. They currently sport an Major League Baseball-low 24 wins and have a dreadful duo of punchless offense and impotent pitching.

But they are not without trade chips as they approach a dark second half. Bryan LaHair and Jeff Samardzija — who possess an attractive blend of affordability and upside — and Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto and David DeJesus will all get a number of inquiries as the deadline approaches. But the team is particularly eager to sell one asset more quickly than the others. His name is Alfonso Soriano.

Signed to a double-albatross contract — awarding the 36-year-old an $18 million salary through 2012, 2013 and 2014 — Soriano has no hopes of playing at a value commensurate with his income. However, he’s not without his strengths, and for certain teams looking for a power-hitting righty, Soriano might be the right fit.

He’s a swing-happy righty who feasts on fastballs and melts against a right-handed pitchers’ breaking balls. In his prime, Soriano was roughly a 5-win player — with one 7-win season coming in his first year with the Cubs. But now he’s teetering around the 2-win level that typically marks an average starting player.

His left-field defense continues to get mixed reviews — it’s good by UZR; bad by FSR — and his offense has been up and down: In 2008, 2010 and 2012, he has been above 100 wRC+. In 2009 and 2011, he fell below that number.

But during these fluctuations, Soriano did display a certain consistency:

He had a rough 113 PA against lefties in 2009 (with a .239 BABIP) and has underwhelming production from his 63 plate appearances this season. But his work against righties could be nary more consistent. His 117 wRC+ — as of Tuesday morning — against right-handers this year is his highest number since 2007’s 127 wRC+.

During the past three seasons, Soriano has a 123 wRC+ against lefties, which is good for 18th-best among outfielders. And against righties, he has stalled around 97 wRC+.

So there are two matters here: Given the last five seasons, we can only suggest with any certainty that Soriano hits lefties well and is undesirable against right-handers. And, given Soriano’s current offensive success — though not unreasonable on the whole (a fingernail clipping above 100 wRC+) — is not the makeup of his expected success and will presumably fade away in the near future.

Looking at Soriano’s wRC+ by game, we can see his success has come recently, which is always preferable on the trade market:

Does this recent success pump Soriano’s trade value over his real value? No. At most, it ensures prospective buyers that he’s not broken, so to speak, giving the Cubs a better chance of getting a fair return. More than likely, the Cubs will still need to pay 80% to 100% of Soriano’s contract. But for $3 million, there could be more than a few lineups in need of Soriano’s hack-tastic homer skills.

Ben Nicholson-Smith identified the Indians, Pirates, Tigers and Nationals as possible fits for Soriano. And if we look at the teams that are struggling against lefties, we could possibly add the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants to that list:

If the White Sox are willing to sit Alejandro De Aza and play Dayan Viciedo or Alex Rios at center field against left-handers, they could also consider Soriano. The price for Soriano — not counting the luxurious discount the Cubs will absorb — should be a modest, mid-level prospect — perhaps a Single-A starter with slim rotation hopes.

If the Cubs trade Soriano, the doors will presumably be greased and ready for a Tony Campana, David DeJesus and Bryan LaHair outfield to go with an Anthony Rizzo callup. And unlike the uninspiring Marlon Byrd trade earlier in 2012, a Soriano deal should not be trouble-for-trouble type trade.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


39 Responses to “Assessing Alfonso Soriano’s Value”

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  1. jpg says:

    Assuming the Cubs are picking up most of the tab, the Mets seem like a decent fit. Between guys Duda, Davis, Nieuwenhuis, and Thole the lineup is very lefty heavy with Scott Hairston being the only lefty masher on the bench.

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    • Dylan says:

      In a baseball sense, the Mets are a great fit. They need a right handed bat on the bench. Unfortunately there are too many PR implications to having Soriano and Bay make over $30 million this year and next year, even if the Cubs are paying Soriano’s salary. When Bay comes back from his concussion, he’d need to play first (which would be a completely new position for him) against lefties; the idea of Bay playing over Davis AND Duda would not sit well with fans.

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  2. Greg says:

    If he was a FA, would he be any more desirable than Abreu, Vlady, Damon, Ibanez, etc, etc. – old DH’s who are basically platoon guys. Makes him a $1.5M one year guy. So if CHI was willing to eat about $50M of the $54M owed, then he’s probably worth an A league lottery ticket.

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    • Keith says:

      Yes, because for all of the crap he gets for his defense, UZR shows him as pretty good. That says that even if other metrics disagree, he is at least a serviceable OF. Vlad and Abreu haven’t been capable fielders in probably 5 years, and Damon’s abotu average (by UZR, where Soriano’s rated well).

      That, and Soriano hits better than them. Ignoring Damon’s wRC+ os 60 this season, his previous 2 years resulted in identical 109s. Guerrero’s wRC+ in 2011 was 95, 119 before that, and 106 before that. You teeter around average with him. Abreu actually hits decently well and can run a bit, but he’s with the Dodgers. Soriano sits around the Vlad area of offense, but he fields better than he or Damon (by UZR).

      He’s already at 1.8 wins before the halfway point, so I think his current production is worth about that suggested $3 million, but I think the Cubs want to move him so badly that they don’t care the amount of money they have to eat.

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  3. smiley54663 says:

    In the wRC+ by game graph, you’ll notice that he’s done pretty well since the May 1 switch to a lighter bat. Buying team could definitely get a discount if the change in bat size adds another win to his WAR

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  4. Grand Admiral Braun says:

    No way Ventura would put Viciedo aka The Tank in CF.

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    • AJP says:

      In his example I think he means move Rios to center, Viciedo Right, and Soriano left.

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      • Kyle321n says:

        Did you see Rios in center last year? Laughable is putting it nicely.

        If the Cubs eat his salary, Soriano will not be in Chicago at the end of this season.

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  5. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I find it more than ironic that fangraphs authors are quick to point out that these big contracts are “front loaded” and that teams will get “value” out it over the long run. When in fact very, very few of these contracts prove to be a good deal and then we get articles about how on earth will the team dump this bum
    and his millions owed? I’m not critizing Mr. Woodrum directly, but this has been a very command theme. Maybe teams will figure out at some point that none of these guys are truly worth the 100’s of millions of dollars they lavish on them.
    In 2-3 years, or sooner, we will be talking about how the Angels can Dump Pujols.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      How have you determined that “very few of ‘these’ contracts prove to be a good deal”? Can you demonstrate a clear relationship between your criteria and the teams’ objective to maximize franchise value?

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    • JayT says:

      The thing is, I’m sure teams would love it if they didn’t have to give out super long contracts. They just do it because they know that if they want an impact player for the next few years they will have to overpay at the end of the contract. I don’t think that teams are always looking to get $5 million per win. They know that if they can get to the playoffs a few times, the added revenue will offset the overpay.

      Also, Soriano is probably not a great player to look at when examining contracts. Hendry was given a bunch of money and was told by the owners to go get a big free agent signing, so he took the best one available, and therefore was paid over what the market really warranted.

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        Even if Hendry was given a pile of money and told to go get a big FA, why did he have to pay Soriano more than $1 higher than the next highest bidder?

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Ivan, teams don’t know for certain what other teams are bidding. Sure, they can assume that nobody’s bidding over $X so they won’t go any higher, but then it might turn out that someone did bid higher and you lost out on the guy you wanted.

        When Texeira was a free agent the Sox thought they had him, and they stood firm and didn’t bid against themselves. As it turned out, Boras wasn’t bluffing and he actually did have a better offer on the table.

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    • jim says:

      when did anyone ever suggest that the soriano contract was good?

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      • Cidron says:

        There was a time, in a galaxy far far away, where the Dark BaseballSith Lord Darth Sori wielded a mighty lightsaber he named Louisville while tearing up the pitching Jedi knights who sought to throw baseballs past him in places called New York and Texas. Now, after a long time, those stories are mere myths and legends that few remember or believe…….*nod* true story.

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  6. Ivan Grushenko says:

    Is 2 Wins really average for a starting player? I took the average of all “Qualified” position players on Fangraphs between 2006 and 2011 and I got a number closer to 3 Wins. Are you defining “starting” in some other way?

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    • chuckb says:

      2 wins is average for any player. If you restrict the pool to those who are qualified you’ve left out a lot of bad-to-replacement level players.

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      • chuckb says:

        By “any player” I meant “all players”. 2 WAR is a league average player, not a league average starter.

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  7. John says:

    If he continues at his current pace, save for a modest decline in HRs (he’s not hitting 12 per month, more likely in the 6-8 range), he is worth a flier now. According to UZR he plays adequate defense, which would allow an NL team to at least inquire, while relieving AL teams of the burden of putting him at DH full time. Yes, the Cubs will have to eat between $40 and $50 million of his expected salary (which they’ve already acknowledged and accepted), putting his value to a new team at 2.5 years for between $4 and $14 total (or $1.6-$5.6 annually including 2012), not a steep payment for a top-50 outfielder. He could provide some power to teams in the NL West (SF and AZ come to mind) or serve as a regular DH in Toronto or Cleveland.

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  8. I wish I had a dime for every time I have seen UZR try to tell me that a bad outfielder is actually good. This is the biggest UZR-related eye-roll I have had since last year’s revelation that Carlos Lee was a Gold Glove candidate.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      I also enjoy Curtis Granderson being the worst defensive outfielder in the majors this year. Brennan Boesch and Raul Ibanez are better than him!

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      • todmod says:

        I’ll just say – comparing UZR of center fielders and corner outfielder doesn’t make sense. They’re being evaluated on different scales.

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        But Granderson is a lot worse than Ibanez even if you add Positional Adjustment

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    • chuckb says:

      I wish I had a dimefor every time I read some anonymous Internet poster tell me that his “eye-test” was more reliable than UZR and then quote some 2-month or 1-year UZR sample as “proof” that UZR is broken. I’d own fangraphs by now.

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  9. Jack Weiland says:

    “But now he’s teetering around the 2-win level that typically marks an average starting player.”

    He’s got 1.8 WAR and it isn’t yet July. How the hell is this statement accurate?

    Injury risk? YES. Two win player? Nope.

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    • Dustin says:

      His defense isn’t nearly as good as UZR indicates

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        I’m not sure that this is true. I’m not sure it’s not true, either. Defensive metrics are really unreliable. The point is I have a hard time assigning any value to a statement like that given that A) Defensive metrics are pretty questionable B) He’s hitting really pretty well right now and C) According to this site he’s nearly at 2 WAR before July.

        Is he worth 18MM a year? Definitely not, accounting for injury risk, but his reputation is worse than his actual production right now.

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      • The Mighty Tim says:

        It’s funny. When UZR says a saber darling like Zobrist, Victorino or Trout have their value inflated, it’s perfectly ok, but when it says Soriano is better than you think, it’s flawed …

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    • vivalajeter says:

      his WAR on BaseballReference is only 0.7, for what it’s worth.

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  10. jim says:

    de aza shouldn’t be sat for anybody, he’s got a minimal platoon splits and is grading out as an average fielder

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  11. De Selby says:

    your suggestion that perhaps the white sox could accommodate soriano by benching de aza against lefties is complete and utter pants.

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  12. Charles says:

    Two years ago, watched him walk after a fly ball he missed. Shameless.

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  13. ezb230 says:

    Things are pretty clear with respect to his bat. Between the low obp and decent power (he can still turn around a low heater), he’s something near league av for a corner OF. As such, he has some value if his d is something near league av. As the author mentions, some metrics put him at this level, which matches up with the general consensus of the chicago msm, fwiw (It’s possible that I just think this because Brenly and Kasper bring up his improved d every other game, but while they aren’t perfectly objective, they aren’t hawk harrelsons either).

    OF d is tough to evaluate on tv, and, painful as it is to admit, I’m no expert on the topic, so I’m a touch disappointed that the author spent so little time on what to make of the metrics. Still, I’m close to believing that his glove has improved enough that he actually has value for a gm who likes counting stats (hello neddy), which I did not expect coming into this year. I consider this a win for the Theos.

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    • The Mighty Tim says:

      It’s amazing that posters on a site that emphasizes stats, don’t know any.

      NL average OBA this year .317
      Soriano OBA .314

      Exactly how is that “low” and NOT average?

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  14. Jason B says:

    “During the past three seasons, Soriano has a 123 wRC+ against lefties”

    But look at the trend line – it was like 150 in 2010, around 110 in 2011, and around 90 thus far in 2012. Yuck. And his 5-year average line in the graph is heavily influenced by the outstanding 2008; if you started with 2009, which was as abysmal as 2008 was good, the 4-year average vs. LHP would be sub-100.

    Not saying that the graph *should* be changed to start with ’09 rather than ’08 of course, just that (a) older data is increasingly less useful in predicting performance going forward, so I would weight 2008 VERY lightly (and 2009 almost as lightly), and (b) given how wildly his wRC+ vs. LHP has swung from one year to the next, you can tinker with the data points to support just about any argument (he’s great against lefties! he’s mediocre-at-best against lefties!) depending on the start & end points you choose.

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  15. koopa says:

    Two things here that people are missing:

    1. Soriano has a full no-trade clause attached to his ludicrous contract. He will have to agree to the trade, so that limits the number of teams that would be good fits.

    2. Soriano has observationally been much improved in the field THIS YEAR. There are no fan scouting reports for 2012 on fangraphs, and if there were they would show this. He finally meshed with new Cubs outfield coach Dave McKay and looks completely different in the field this year as compared to years before. Had he met the right coach when he wasn’t playing on two hobbled knees, Soriano probably could have been a gold glove outfielder in his younger days.

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  16. Cidron says:

    is he a good outfielder? who knows. depends on the stat you use. is he a good hitter? same problem. but, the more telling one is, Does he WANT to improve his play? Be a good outfielder etc? Or is he content to collect his money. His glove is fine, his energy is …and always has been questionable.

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