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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Victor Martinez played his final major league game on Saturday

Victor Martinez
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After 16 years in the majors, longtime Tigers DH Victor Martinez capped his career with one final start at Comerica Park. Although there are seven games remaining in the club’s regular season schedule, Martinez said he felt he owed it to the fans to record his final at-bat at home. He’ll still cheer the rest of the team on from the dugout when they hit the road for their last six-game stretch on Monday, though he’s not expected to slot into the lineup at any point during their back-to-back away series against the Twins and Brewers.

In order to commemorate the occasion, the Tigers arranged a pregame ceremony to celebrate the veteran infielder’s seven years with the team, during which they presented him with Topps baseball cards, a recliner, a pair of boots, and a saddle, among other honors. Martinez also put in a special request to play first base, a position he hadn’t manned in over two years.

The 39-year-old didn’t waste a single minute of his final start in the majors. He deftly handled an inning-ending out in the top of the first, then laced a rare infield single to short in his first and final at-bat of the afternoon, beating the throw to first and advancing Nicholas Castellanos to second base in order to set up the Tigers’ first run: a two-out RBI single from Niko Goodrum that brought Castellanos home to score.

“I think that at-bat was the perfect at-bat to describe my career,” Martinez told reporters after the Tigers wrapped a 5-4 win over the Royals. “I had to sweat it out. I had to sweat it out the whole way. I had to grind it. That was my whole career.”

Following the hit — and the standing ovation that greeted it — the switch-hitter was promptly replaced by pinch-runner Ronny Rodriguez, who subbed in at second base in the top of the second while Goodrum shifted from second to first base. Taking Saturday’s performance into account, Martinez polished off his big league career with a lifetime .295/.359/.455 batting line, 423 doubles, 246 home runs, 1,178 RBI, and 28.4 fWAR across 1,973 games and three separate stints for the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers. His accomplishments at the plate have been decorated with five All-Star nominations, two Silver Slugger Awards, and the designated hitter-exclusive Edgar Martinez Award following a career-best campaign in 2014.