Tagged: Dave McKay

Lake Half-Asses One, Costs Cubs The Winning Runs

That seems remarkably hard on Junior Lake.  It was meant to be.  Because sometimes, the truth is really, really harsh.

Today was a growing pain for the kid, who had three hits and drove in the lone run for the offensively challenged Cubs.  And while

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

maybe he didn’t deserve the benching that Starlin Castro got yesterday from Dale Sveum, he does deserve a meeting with both Sveum, and outfield instructor Dave McKay.

From where I sit, after watching the replay over and over (because I could not watch the play live), Junior Lake simply got complacent and dropped the ball.  He got to the spot in plenty of time.  He did not appear to be fighting the sun.  I could be wrong.  I really hope I am.  It just didn’t look that way.  And it led to the Cardinals’ second and third runs.

If my suspicion is correct, it shows that Lake is guilty of an effort mistake, which in my estimation is worse than any other kind, to include the one that Starlin Castro gets tagged with, the mental mistake.  Yesterday is a prime comparison.  Starlin went all out, made a tough play, and spaced on the runners, allowing a run to score.  Junior Lake, today, didn’t have to go all out, got to the routine fly ball, and let it fall harmlessly to the Wrigley turf because he didn’t use two hands when he looked to have ample opportunity to do so.  That is an effort mistake, from a player who has limited experience in the outfield.  There is no excuse for that.  Effort should be the last thing you’d have to worry about from Junior Lake right now as an outfielder.  To have the play he had today should raise the maturity concerns that have been raised about Starlin Castro.

Photo: PHIL VELASQUEZ

Photo: PHIL VELASQUEZ

Effort mistakes are inexcusable.  Junior Lake’s today is the first that I can recall from him in his time with the major league club.  David DeJesus had a similar one on June 13th, dropping a routine fly, allowing a run to score against the Reds, albeit in a game the Cubs eventually won in extras (where it was Starlin who got tagged for dogging it admiring his near walk-off in the ninth).  The Cubs are not good enough to not play hard all the time.  When they don’t, especially against the Cardinals or like two months ago against the Reds, they won’t win.  Young players like Junior Lake, who are in auditions with the team have no excuse for not busting it 100% of the time.  Veterans like DeJesus, who’s had his share of mental and effort blunders this season are also in auditions.  What makes it worse for a player like DeJesus is that players like Lake are watching him and what he does on and off the field every single day.

Maybe the veteran leadership is what the Cubs are missing.  Say what you want about Alfonso Soriano and, going back further, Marlon Byrd, effort was not an issue from those veteran players.  That might be where they’re missed the most.

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As Deadline Passes, Cubs’ Priority Should Be Extending Dale Sveum

In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go.  The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline.  That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more.  He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.

Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault.  He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players.  To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013.  The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.

Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent.  He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.

On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together.  While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful.  Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder.  After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season.  It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him.  Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011.  The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum.  And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too.  Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up.  In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25).  While the sample is small, the results matter.  Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively.  The steps in the right direction are adding up.

The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive.  As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al.  He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury.  He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready.  He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that.  And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp.  It was the front office’s.  Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message.  That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team.  The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit.  When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home.  And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse.  Think about it.  Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure?  For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something.  Especially in a media market like Chicago.  But it’s been remarkably quiet.  Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.

Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning.  The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.”  But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel.  That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.

Besides.  He got shot in the face and laughed it off.  How cool is it to have a manager like that?

Divisional Failure Skewing an Otherwise Decent Season

There have been times where this season’s Cubs have looked respectable.  There have been times, especially against the White Sox, where this team looked downright good.  None of those times have come against the division.  In a season where there was some optimism from the team about being a sleeper to compete, and the fans expected a step forward, the early results against the division have been anything but promising.

Against all teams not in the NL Central, the Cubs have been interesting.  Their 18-17 record against non-divisional opponents reeks of respectability.  The offense and pitching come together and play solid baseball.  The 7-21 mark against the division is where the disconnect lies.  They have only won one series in the division, the first series of the year at Pittsburgh.  They have not won a single series against the division at home.  And the only team they don’t have a losing record against in the division is St. Louis, who they’ve split two games with.  The Cubs haven’t won a home game against the Reds all season, and today stretched that mark to 12 straight losses, which is the most an opponent has won at Wrigley consecutively since the 1956-57 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Why the terrible performances against the division?  The bullpen is a culprit, because they have blown some leads against division teams in the same ways they’ve blown some against non-division teams.  The biggest contributor to the problems has been the offense, though.  The Cubs cannot find any way at all to push runs across the plate against the division.  Only three times have they managed five or more runs in a single game, where their record is 2-1.  The Cubs have been shutout four times this season, all coming against the division.  They have scored two of fewer runs against the division 12 times, with a record of  1-11, including the four shutout losses.

One of the most common ailments that gets talked about with the Cubs is the inability to beat left handed starters.  The Cubs have had 22 such games this season.  They are, again, respectable against lefties outside of the division, with a solid 7-7 mark for this team.  The 2-6 mark against the division is where the struggles have been concentrated.  And it is not a situation where they’re losing to pitchers they’ve never seen.  The Cubs have seen a lot of Wandy Rodriguez over the years with the Astros, and now the Pirates.  Francisco Liriano has looked like Sandy Koufax in his starts against the Cubs this year…and he’s a guy with a career ERA of over four.

To me, the answer is simple.  There is no organizational urgency to perform against the division.  When you see four teams 19 times each, those games matter more because those games comprise just about half of the schedule.  At the current rate, the Cubs are staring a 19-57 divisional record in the face.  A .250 winning percentage against the division is pathetic by any standard.  While the pace of this season is not quite at 100 losses, it’s damn close, and the division is the reason why. 

Many fans unfairly criticize the manager, Dale Sveum.  If there is one place where he deserves some criticism, it is in this case.  Yes, it is up to the players to perform, but the manager must prepare the team, and this team is obviously in way over their heads against division foes.  And it isn’t like Dale isn’t familiar with the other teams in the division.  He was with the Brewers before coming to Chicago.  And coaches Jamie Quirk, Chris Bosio, and Dave McKay have all been in the division, too.  There is familiarity with the opponents.  So even though the team may have a lot of young and new pieces without that experience against the common opponents, the coaches should all have full books on each and every one of the four division rivals.

I can’t believe, in spite of everything I’ve seen, that the Cubs will finish 19-57 against the division.  It can’t be that bad.  Even though all of the pronounced losing streaks through have been at the hands of the division, including a current 1-5 home stand against the Pirates and Reds, there has to be some positive regression.  There are 48 divisional match-ups remaining.  The hope should be a clean split, which would be consistent with the way they’ve played everyone else.  Unfortunately, with the loss of the Astros to the AL West and the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates all playing well, that could be just a touch optimistic. 

And in no way should hoping for a 31-45 record for any 76 game block be what we have to hope for.

Cubs Midseason Grades

For a team with less than stellar expectations, it is awfully difficult to grade the Cubs’ first half performance.  If I were to judge by record alone, it would almost certainly be a D, or lower.  However, since the Cubs weren’t expected to be very good this season as they rebuild and since the team hasn’t been as consistently bad as it appears, this grade is going to be issued on a curve.  The criteria are offensive output, defensive output, improvement, consistency, and overall performance.  Whether those criteria are fair or not is for you to decide…

Pitching: C

Starting Pitching: B-
The starting pitching has actually been better than expected, with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza having strong seasons.  Both pitchers have lived up to their billing as the top two starters in the rotation, and that has made them both viable candidates to be traded before the trade deadline three weeks from today.  Jeff Samardzija has been up and down, having both very good and very bad outings in his first seasons as a starter.  Paul Maholm has been in the same boat, being both good and bad in the first half of the season.  Chris Volstad and Randy Wells have been atrocious and have earned their demotions to Iowa.  Travis Wood, however, has been strong since his arrival, earning the fifth starting role.  This grade would be much higher if not for Wells and Volstad’s inability to throw good strikes, and the overall team record would be likely to have followed suit.

Photo: Bleed Cubbies Blue blog

Bullpen: D
This was going to be an F, until the recent surge of Carlos Marmol, with Shawn Camp and James Russell falling into more comfortable roles.  The absolute incompetence of the bullpen to throw quality strikes and the number of walks has led to a huge number of blown saves, missed opportunities to win games, and crumbling in late situations has made this season one of the most dismal in the history of the organization.  While all of the blame cannot fall squarely on the shoulders of the bullpen, and the retirement of Kerry Wood was certainly unexpected, the bullpen has been a major contributor to the 33-52 record.

Position Play: C-

Catching: D+
Ultimately, this grade is based much on injuries to all three of the top three catchers in the organization.  It could have been far worse without the reacquisition of Koyie Hill, but the lack of offense out of the position is disappointing, since all three of the expected contributors at catcher for the major league team were injured and on the disabled list at one time.  Throwing out base-stealers has also not been a strength, which makes it much more difficult on the pitchers, although those same pitchers have been partly to blame.  Defensively, there have been some positives to keep an eye on as passed balls have been few and far between.  Overall, however, the catchers have to give more at the plate, and must continue to improve on their first half performance.

First Base: B
We learned something about Bryan LaHair this spring.  He can hit in the majors.  And he was better than serviceable at first base.  He went through a long drought, though, which prompted a long losing streak.  It It is not fair to place all of the blame of Bryan’s shoulders, and that is why the position garners a B, overall.  He was very good in his time there.  Anthony Rizzo has been excellent in his 12 games at first base, and he could be a catalyst to see the end of season mark improve.  He just has not been around long enough to cause great change in the grade.  Jeff Baker has started more games at first than Rizzo, which is another reason this is only a B.  Between LaHair and Baker, there has been absolutely no production against left handed pitching at this position, which doesn’t help the sorry record against left handed pitching, and that hurts the overall mark.

Second Base: B-
My man crush on Darwin Barney is based almost solely on his defense, which has been nothing short of outstanding.  He is having a Gold Glove worthy season at second, with only two errors on the season thus far.  Offensively, he has been Darwin Barney.  He is a slap hitter that can find a gap, get a solid single, and he will do the right things on the bases.  You know what to expect everyday from Darwin Barney, which is a good smart game that will not cost the team with mental errors and a full out physical effort.

Photo: Rob Letterly, “Goat Riders of the Apocalypse”

Third Base: C
The hot corner has lost its pop with the departure of Aramis Ramirez.  The addition of Ian Stewart was supposed to protect from a total collapse of that production, but a wrist injury which was operated on today ended his season without the production to ease the loss of Ramirez.  Luis Valbuena gives very good at bats and hits the ball hard, but is not the defender that Stewart is.  Both played very hard, but only Stewart excelled in any one area, and that was defensively.  There has been too much inconsistency offensively to mark this position any higher than a C.  At this point, there is uncertainty in that position because neither Stewart or Valbuena instill confidence at this point.  Maybe Stewart will be able to regain his hitting stroke when he returns, likely next season, if at all.  However, for the time being, the hot corner has been nothing more than luke warm.

Short Stop: B+
It probably isn’t fair to not give the only player to play in every game, starting all but one, less than an A when he was expected to carry this 2012 team and has done his best to do so.  However, a slow start on defense, and a slump at the plate to end the first half bring Starlin Castro into the B+ range of the spectrum.  2012 has shown us nothing but more positive in the still only 22 year old Castro, who, while making mental errors common from only young players, has shown an ability to work hard and improve each day, both at the dish and in the field.  His defense is much better under the guidance of Dale Sveum and since Rudy Jaramillo was replaced as the hitting coach, the walks have started to come a little less infrequently.  Castro stands to get a 4.o GPA as a baseball player as he matures and reaches his prime.  Now, however, he is “only” a B+…with a lot more improvement that can be made in his game.

Outfield: C+
Even though Alfonso Soriano has been on a tear since May 15, the rest of the outfield has been pretty quiet.  It is very difficult to grade this group with the additions and subtractions of players all season.  Joe Mather, Tony Campana, Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, Bryan LaHair, and Jeff Baker have all been in and out of the line up with Soriano and David DeJesus, which has hurt the consistent play of the group, and brought the grade down.  The defense has been much less of an adventure out there, with Soriano showing major improvement at the behest of Dave McKay.  The defense has been nothing better than average, though, and the offense has not been anything to perk up over.  Soriano brings this group to above average with his offensive numbers over the last two months, but just barely.

Bench: C
Reed Johnson has been an excellent pinch hitter, leading the league in pinch hits over the first half of the season.  It is not, however, a cure all for what has been a hit and miss bench.  Tony Campana, Joe Mather, and Jeff Baker have all been up and down.  This group does not provide any punch off the bench, which makes it very difficult to come back or extend leads late in games.  What this group does bring, though, is defense.  They are all average, or above average, defenders at multiple positions.

Managing/ Coaching: B
It has been a rough season, and much of the coaching is done behind the scenes.  For a team that has been around 20 games under .500 since the end of May, though, to compete and hustle everyday is a sign of strong coaching and leadership from the guys that aren’t playing everyday.  Dale Sveum has assembled a good staff of teachers that are not resting on the laurels of a lost season.  That makes them a good staff.  There have been growing pains that come with any new manager and coaching staff, though, and that keeps them from being excellent.  The potential of this group is very high because they all appear to be good, knowledgeable baseball men.  If they stay together, there could be some grade A work in their future.

Team Grade: D+
You can’t go on a 9-4 run to end the first half of the season to get to only 19 games under .500 and expect to be better than a D+.  It just cannot happen.  If there were any expectations for this team at all, the first half would have been a clear failure, but in their absence, this team gets the benefit of the doubt.  There have been bright spots, without question, with two All-Stars, each elected by the players, for the first time since 2008.  As players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija continue to grow, there is some reason for optimism, but at the moment, this is a team that is tough to watch day in and day out.  The Cubs get a D+ so far in 2012, and if they finish with a mark that has fewer than three figures in the loss column, that grade probably rises to a C at season’s end.

Sveum Difference

For fans, it would be easy to say things could not get any worse than watching a team at or near the bottom of the majors, record wise.  The easy assertion, however, is typically wrong.

There is one thing I love about the 2012 Cubs.  There is one thing that stands out above everything else with this team, and it is a direct reflection on the character of the team and Manager, Dale Sveum.  They compete.  They compete for nine innings, until the final out is recorded every single day.

Some plays stick out in my mind to back my claim, like Ian Stewart running and sliding hard into second base and Reed Johnson hustling down the line to break up a potential game ending double play against the Twins on June 9, which was a game that had long been decided.  There are other anecdotes similar to that one sprinkled all over the disappointing 69 games so far.

Beyond the team, I give the credit to Dale Sveum.  He is showing that he is, without question, the right man for the job.  I take the time to listen to his post game comments nearly every day when they are posted on cubs.com, and he sounds the same whether the team wins or loses.  He doesn’t point the finger at players for losses.  He doesn’t sit in front of the media and give the “woe is me” speech.  He answers the questions and moves on.

Undoubtedly, this is a tough season for Sveum.  His only other managerial experience came as the Brewers’ skipper at the end of their 2008 run to the Wild Card and their first round series vs. Philadelphia.  His experience came with a winning team, and last season he was on their bench as they went to the NLCS.  Indeed, he has needed to change gears quickly from refining the hitting of an established team that could rake with the best of them, to teaching the fundamentals of baseball to one with holes and “a talent deficit” that his new bosses in the Cubs’ front office handed him.

Handling that deficit is the first way in which he is passing the test.  First, he surrounded himself with experience, youth, energy, and great teachers of the game.  His coaching staff includes the very experienced Dave McKay (who should get a medal for his work in the outfield with Alfonso Soriano), Chris Bosio, Jamie Quirk, James Rowson, and holdovers Pat Listach and Lester Strode.  All of them are somewhat young as far as coaches go, with the exception of McKay, who still seems to be young at heart.  All of them are former players.  All of them seem to have their players’ ears.  He surrounded a team that wasn’t as talented or experienced with some talented and experienced coaches, and the product on the field, while tough to watch at times, has not been as sloppy or lethargic as it has been in years past under Mike Quade and Lou Piniella.

To this point, Dale Sveum has done nothing to cause me to lose my confidence in him.  From afar, he seems to be the right kind of manager to help develop a team with some short-comings, but talent coming up through the system.  In spite of the pace they’ve set and the potential for a fire sale as the summer continues, I still do not expect to see the team lose 100 games, because I expect them to keep getting better.  They’ve done that all season.  Their 21 games under .500 record will likely not change too much, because even though they had a long stretch of losses, they are a team with some good players that are capable of getting hot and going on a six or seven game surge.  And the law of averages says that some of these close losses will turn into some close wins late in the season.

It may be tough to look long term at this team.  It would also be foolish, since there will be inevitable changes.  The leadership of the on field product is very good, though.  There is a dynamic with this team that could make them fun to watch as a spoiler down the stretch.  Take them day to day.  And enjoy the product’s improvement looking back, as Dale Sveum has more and more time to put his stamp on the team and mold it for future, less difficult seasons.

2012 Coaching Staff

Of all of the interesting facts that I could find about the additions to the Cubs’ Coaching Staff under new Manager Dale Sveum, the one I found most interesting is that all of them have worked on staffs of division rivals in their past.

Their past is not the relevant part of the discussion.  The relevant discussion points  regarding new coaches, Chris Bosio (Pitching), Dave McKay (First Base), and Jamie Quirk (Bench) is what they can teach the plethora of youth on the roster.  All of the coaches, including the holdovers, have a great deal of experience as coaches at the major league level.  Clearly, Dale Sveum wanted to surround himself with knowledge to make his transition to managing happen more smoothly…and it was the first of hopefully many good decision.

New Coaches for 2012

Pitching Coach: Chris Bosio – Bosio’s Wisconsin roots run deep, having pitched for the Brewers, coached and scouted for the Brewers, and been a coach at UW-Oshkosh and Lawrence University in Appleton.  He moves south to take over pitchers for the Cubs, replacing Mark Riggins after one season.  He is in his third stint overall as a MLB Pitching Coach.  Bosio subscribes to the new regime’s methods of statistical analysis, and had charted each pitchers tendencies before Spring Training and left a copy in each pitcher’s locker before the first workout.  He is left with the unenviable task of turning around a group that ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every category last season and will need a much stronger showing to improve on the teams 71 win showing last season.

First Base Coach: Dave McKay– Cubs’ fans should know this name well.  He has  been one of Tony LaRussa’s right hands in St. Louis for years.  McKay is generally regarded as one of, if not the, best First Base Coaches in baseball.  The base running was awful last season, and it will be on McKay and new Third Base Coach Pat Listach (moved from Bench

Photo: Tim Sheridan

Coach after last season) to help the base runners make better decisions and exercise the aggressiveness that Sveum wants to see out of his runners.  In addition to base coaching, McKay serves as the primary Outfield Instructor, and according to Manager Dale Sveum, he has taken a keen interest in LF Alfonso Soriano.  With so many young players, however, he will have a vital role in his capacities on the bases and in helping the outfield defense.

Bench Coach: Jamie Quirk – Every new Manager needs an experienced Bench Coach, and Quirk is nothing if not experienced.  He has been in professional baseball for 37 seasons before 2012, and has been a Bench Coach for 12 years, in two different stints.  He was the Royals’ Bench Coach from 1996-2001 and the Rockies’ Bench Coach from 2003-2008 under Clint Hurdle.  Quirk spent time as a major league player with St. Louis and Milwaukee, amongst others, and he will bring experience to the bench to assist Dale Sveum in growing into his role as a Manager, and help the crop of young catchers learn to handle a young pitching staff.

Returning Coaches:

Hitting Coach: Rudy Jaramillo
Third Base Coach: Pat Listach (2011 Bench Coach under Mike Quade)
Bullpen Coach: Lester Strode

Sorry-ano?

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.

Photo Courtesy of AP

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.