Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Soriano dilemma

What's to be done with Alfonso Soriano?

Maybe that's not the top question on everyone's mind after the Cubs just lost two of three to Houston (3-2 today in 10 innings, with Carlos Marmol blowing his first save), but it certainly has been the pressing theme of this young season.

Soriano already has three errors in left field this season, even though he hasn't played in every game and has been pulled in the late innings in a couple others. When I was at Wrigley last Thursday, Soriano came in as a pinch hitter and was greeted with a chorus of boos even louder than those showered on Jeff Samarzdija an inning later when handed Milwaukee the lead.

Uncharacteristically, Soriano walked in that at-bat, and though he has been average at best at the plate this year (.263 after 0-3 today, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 1 SB), he has shown some positive signs--better plate patience, and a willingness to hit the ball to right field or give it a slap of solid contact rather than airing out a homerun swing on every pitch.

His fielding has been worse than ever though, and after an easy drop yesterday on a soft liner, he said he would eliminate his trademark hop. If that's all that was needed, why didn't he do it sooner, or why didn't coaches force him to do it? I think the answer is that the hop, though obviously not a sound fundamental way of fielding, isn't really the problem. Soriano has maintained a positive attitude, but it seems like the threat of being pulled from the field, perhaps combined with the pressure to produce batting in a different spot in the order, has played with his head enough that he's just too tentative.

There have been rumors, denied by GM Jim Hendry, that the Cubs could buy out Soriano's contract. That would be a mistake this early in the season. It doesn't seem like the Cubs can really trust him in the field, but if his hitting gradually improves and he starts on a power streak, they could realistically trade him for some decent value later in the season. If that happens, the Cubs probably will have to cover some of the tab, but if they can get a warm body or two and get Soriano to an American League city where he can DH, or to a National League team in dire need of bats, it would be worth it.

It seems in the last couple games like center fielder Marlon Byrd has expanded his range more into left field. That may further hurt Soriano's confidence, but it's probably the best thing to do until the Cubs have a chance to move him in a deal.

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