There are not many players that can hit 20 or more home runs in every season with a team and be called a bust. Yet, Alfonso Soriano is going through just that. Actually, in Wrigleyville, the only person that is hated more than Alfonso Soriano is the left fielder from about 90 minutes north of Chicago. The question is…why?
Expectations are a good start. When you sign an 8 year/ $136 million dollar contract, those expectations are high. Really high. It doesn’t help when you hit 46 home runs, 41 doubles, drive in 95 runs, and steal 41 bases in 159 games the season before you show up. It doesn’t help that his career low in games was 145 before he showed up in Chicago, but has only managed to play in that many games once (147 in 2010) in the five years he’s been a Cub.
His production, on the other hand has not been anything worth sneezing at. It bears being said that the Cubs do not sniff back to back Central Division Championships without Alfonso Soriano leading off. In 2007, he hit .299. In 2008, he hit .280. He clearly produced at the beginning of the contract with 33 and 29 home runs in 2007-2008. Since, he has seen a demotion in the line up, from lead off to sixth or seventh. He has still managed to hit over 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons. In 2012, he is going to be the biggest threat in the line up. The most established threat, anyway. His production is not what it once was…but he is also getting older. And like any aging athlete that did not miss many games in his youth, his body is starting to let him down some.
His work ethic, amongst fans, has always been a source of contention. This spring, Soriano was one of the last to show up to Spring Training, and the message boards let him have it. For a guy that gets killed for not hustling to first on lazy ground balls and pop flies, some of the work ethic talk is justified. He is a veteran. At this point in his career, he should know that fans and, more importantly, young teammates are going to look at him for how he is playing on a day to day basis.
“The guy works his butt off all the time. There’s no doubt the fans lost a little faith in him sometimes with the things he does, but I think the fans have to understand he’s probably the hardest-working guy in the clubhouse. That’s always refreshing, and players love him to death.”
Those are the kind words of Dale Sveum. When the clubhouse includes the likes of Marlon Byrd, Bryan LaHair, who is looking to capitalize on his first, best chance in the majors, and Darwin Barney, who stole a roster spot last season, that is saying something. Soriano has also become a veteran mentor for Shortstop Starlin Castro. It is that work ethic, though, combined with his talent and veteran savvy that will allow Soriano to remain effective in his advanced age.
The biggest complaint about Alfonso Soriano is probably his defense. I can’t say I understand that. Nobody is going to argue that ‘Fonsi deserves a Gold Glove, but he wasn’t signed for his defense. He may make some bad plays, take some bad angles, and have a bad habit of watching fly balls go over his head, but all of that was known when he signed his name on the dotted line. He’s never been a good defender…even as a second baseman in New York or Texas. With new First Base Coach and Outfield Coach Dave McKay defecting from St. Louis, there is at least some hope that some of the defensive struggles are tightened up.
Alfonso Soriano was the key piece of the trade that brought Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees from Texas. The man can play baseball. He’s older. Father time is undefeated. The game is not over for Soriano, though. And this season, more than any of the past five in his Cubs’ career, he’s needed to carry the load offensively. Regardless of where he hits.