Springtime Storylines: is Alfonso Soriano toast?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Cubbies


The
big question: Is Alfonso Soriano toast?

Kind of seems like it, doesn’t it? 109 games in 2008. 117 games last year, in which he hit a measly .241/.303/.423 and stunk up the joint in left field. The contract makes this bad enough — he’s still owed $18 million a year for the next five (!) seasons — but his production isn’t sufficient to carry left field at almost any price. His original promise of power + speed is all gone.  There’s hope in some quarters that pairing Soriano up with Rudy Jaramillo will lead to a resurgence, but Soriano had the two worst years of his prime while under Jaramillo’s care in Texas.

A great bounceback season for him would probably look like fairly
standard left field production: 30 homers a.280 average or something
close to it. Maybe 15 steals.  Nice enough if your leftfielder is a role player, but not the sort of guy on whom you build a
team. Unfortunately, Soriano is who the Cubs are built on, for better or worse, for the
next few years.

So what
else is
going on?

  • More likely candidates for a return to form than Soriano: Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto, each of whom reported to camp — altogether now — in the best shape of their lives. Read what you will into spring training stats, but Soto has hit for zero power in Mesa. Zambrano has been more or less himself once you account for the dry air and all of that. Clearly the Cubs need these two fellas to bounce back if they have any hope of competing.
  • So much of the blame for last season’s terribleness was placed on Milton Bradley’s shoulders. He’s gone now, of course, so who will the notoriously sour Chicago media kick around this year?
  • Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells form what, on paper, is a decent rotation. Lilly is out to begin the season, however. Assuming no setbacks for him this is clearly the team’s strength.
  • The lineup is obviously the make or break of this team. Last year far too many at bats were given to the likes of Joey Gathright, Aaron Miles, Bobby Scales, Koyie Hill and Ryan Freel. To avoid that, Soriano and Aramis Ramirez will have to be healthy. To build up from .500 Derrek Lee is going to have to maintain his resurgence. Marlon Byrd will have to show that he can handle centerfield and that he isn’t a product of the Ballpark at Arlington, neither of which I’d bet a ton of dough on. Fontenot and Theriot will have to improve. Just a lot of things need to happen.

So
how
are they gonna do?

I’m really pessimistic about this team for some reason. I don’t think Derrek Lee has another .972 OPS season in him. I think Soriano is toast. I think Aramis Ramirez’s health is going to continue to be a source of concern. Ted Lilly’s injury scares me. It just seems like way too much to overcome, especially considering that their $140 million payroll doesn’t give them much leeway with which to overcome things. 

Prediction: Fourth place, NL Central, with Piniella calling it a career after this.

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21-year-old Gleyber Torres homers twice off of 44-year-old Bartolo Colon

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Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres was born on December 13, 1996. That year, Bartolo Colon (who turns 45 years old on Thursday) was wrapping up a season he spent with Double-A Canton-Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. He would debut in the majors the following April.

In a clash of generations, the 21-year-old Torres and Colon squared off on Monday as the Yankees visited the Rangers. Torres won the battle twice, drilling a two-run home run off of Colon in the second inning and a solo shot off of Colon in the fourth. Colon wound up giving up six runs in total on eight hits (including four homers) and a walk with four strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

Here is video of the first homer Torres hit:

Torres is the second-youngest Yankee in club history with a multi-homer game. Mickey Mantle was 20 years and 296 days old when he went yard twice on August 11, 1952. Torres is 21 years, 159 days old. Joe DiMaggio was 21-212 when he hit two on June 24, 1936.

So much for respecting one’s elders. We’re currently seeing a youth movement in baseball. 19-year-old Juan Soto hit his first major league homer on Monday against the Padres. 20-year-olds Ronald Acuña and Mike Soroka debuted for the Braves earlier this year. Could 19-year-old Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. join them soon?