Alfonso Soriano’s huge contract and disappointing production already made him the target of Cubs fans’ scorn, so when he got off to a slow start this season that only increased along with the perception that his presence was playing a part in top prospect Anthony Rizzo remaining in the minors.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Soriano being washed up: He started hitting again.
Soriano had a .200 batting average, zero extra-base hits, and a measly .420 OPS on April 23, but in 29 games since then he’s hit .306 with seven homers, nine doubles, and a .923 OPS.
Soriano might have already been a goner if not for the fact that the Cubs are paying him $18 million this season and owe him the same salaries in 2013 and 2014, but whatever the reason for his remaining Chicago’s everyday left fielder the story surrounding his hitting ability at age 36 has changed dramatically.
There’s still no chance of the Cubs finding a taker for the rest of Soriano’s contract, but at least he’s not just “the guy holding back Rizzo” any longer. For now, anyway.
After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.
According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.
Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.
Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.