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.