Alfonso Soriano notched his 2000th career hit yesterday, and he did it in grand fashion: a home run. His first career hit, by the way, was also a home run. If he got hit by a bus tomorrow that’d be a pretty spiffy set of bookends. Of course it would pale to how horrified we’d all be if Soriano was hit by a bus so let’s just forget I said that.
My takeaway from Alfonso Soriano’s 2000th? He’s been a pretty good player over the course of his career. That’s likely to be taken as a loaded comment by many of you, but it underscores why I felt like I should make it.
So much of what we talk about with players is laden with baggage about contracts and history and relative comparisons. If a guy gets a big contract that he probably didn’t fully justify, we tend to talk about them as failures, even if they’re still fine and useful players. If someone is good but not great — especially if we thought early on that they might be great one day — we also tend to cast their accomplishments in a negative light. We also tend to compare one player to a better player from time to time and take the negative, albeit factual assessment (Player X is not as good as Player Y) as a criticism as Player X when it’s really not.
Soriano has probably had all three of these things working against him over the course of his career. He started out so amazingly, people had expectations of a Hall of Fame career that hasn’t occurred. He reminded many of astounding players like Clemente or Vlad Guerrero so those comps were made and, like almost every single ballplayer who has ever played, he wasn’t quite to that level. Finally he did get overpaid, even if it wasn’t his fault at all and even if his salary has no bearing on the actual quality of play he has provided to his employers, even if does have bearing on the bang-for-the-buck.
None of which is to say that Soriano is some fantastic, elite guy. But he’s been durable. He’s hit nearly 400 homers. He has over 1,000 RBI. He’s got 2,000 hits. He’s been a great teammate and is renowned as a hard worker who prepares himself like a true professional. At times he has been excellent, the rest of the time he’s been an above average major leaguer. And that stuff tends to get lost with him because so much more focus is placed on his contract or our expectations or his perceived potential at one time.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.