Sometimes money can buy you happiness. For instance, I’m sure the Cubs would be happy to be rid of Alfonso Soriano and the remainder of the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed after the 2006 season. According to a recent report from Bruce Levine at ESPN Chicago, they might be aiming for just that. Levine’s source says that the Cubs “would be willing to absorb a high percentage” of the roughly $60 million remaining on his contract, which runs through 2014. That will certainly make him more palatable to other teams, but I still wonder if he’s worth a trade even at a steep discount.
Soriano has massively underproduced relative to his contract in the last three years. Injuries have limited him to 1,369 PA, and he has just 0.2 batting runs above average in that span. That ranks 107th out of 135 qualified hitters, just a tick behind Melky Cabrera. In total that performance, translated into WAR Dollars, was worth $14.7 million, or less than what Soriano will make in each of the next three seasons. There’s a good chance that his three-year total won’t even reach $18 million, making a trade for him a dicey proposition even without the contract.
One idea behind the trade is that Soriano might produce better numbers if he’s taken out of the field completely. That is, an American League team might find use for him a a DH, and maybe a part-time left fielder. While that might sound like an interesting notion, it’s not easy to prove. After all, about a half-win of his value from 2009 through the present has come from defense — UZR has rated him above average in the last two years. So that puts him further down the defensive spectrum, while taking away those supposed contributions. (If you can’t tell, I’m skeptical about UZR’s output on him.)
Essentially, for the DH theory to check out, we’d have to make the enormous assumption that playing the field has played a large part in Soriano’s injuries, and that the injuries are the primary cause of his offensive downswing. It’s plausible, I suppose, and it’s probably true to some degree. But is it true to the degree that would turn him back into a +20-run hitter for the next two to three years? Would it even turn him into a +15-run hitter? It would be great if it did, but again, those runs are less valuable coming from a DH. He’d be lucky to produce 3 WAR per year as a DH through the life of his contract, even with significant improvements at the plate.
Still, with the Cubs eating a big chunk of the contract, perhaps he’d be a worthy risk. All we have is an anonymous source, who might not even be within the Cubs organization, using the term “high percentage,” so it’s unclear what the Cubs are really thinking here. I doubt a team would want to pay Soriano more than $5 million per year, which would leave the Cubs eating $39 million of the $54 million he’s due from 2012-2014, with the question of his remaining $6 million from 2011 still on the table. I’m guessing the Cubs would eat at least $5 mil of that, meaning they’d be eating $45 million total, or 75 percent of the total contract. That’s a high percentage for sure, and it’s probably the minimum they could get away with.
Even if we arrive at a logical sum for the Cubs to absorb, we still have the matter of a team trading for Soriano. How badly do the Cubs wan to give him away? In other words, what kind of prospect would they require in exchange for eating 75% of Soriano’s salary? This is where things get really tricky. Soriano is a risk any way you slice it. He’d also come with a decent price tag. Why would a team give up a decent prospect for that? Why wouldn’t they save their decent prospects for, say, the aforementioned Cabrera? He’s not under team control for as long, but he’ll make far less than Soriano next year. Even if you trade him and sign him for an extension through 2014, I doubt he’d cost as much as the remainder of Soriano’s contract. There are other options out there, ones who can play defense, even, who would help more than Soriano.
Given the above breakdown, it’s pretty clear why the Cubs want to rid themselves of Soriano’s contract. It’s historically bad, and they’d do well to move on. But there are plenty of concerns, even if an acquiring teams removes injury risk by moving him to DH. He loses plenty of value in that case, so a team has to truly believe that he can recover some offensive value when completely healthy. That’s a big risk, even at $5 million per season. There might not be great options on the market, but there certainly are better alternatives. Try as the Cubs might, they might have to eat 100% of Soriano’s contract to get him out of town.
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