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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Diamondbacks, T.J. McFarland avoid arbitration

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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that the Diamondbacks and reliever T.J. McFarland have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $1.45 million salary for the 2019 season. McFarland, in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $1.675 million while the Diamondbacks countered at $1.275 million. McFarland ended up settling for just under the midpoint of those two figures.

McFarland, 29, was terrific out of the bullpen for the D-Backs last season, finishing with a 2.00 ERA and a 42/22 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. While the lefty may not miss a lot of bats, he does induce quite a few grounders. His 67.9 percent ground ball rate last season was the third highest among relievers with at least 50 innings, trailing only Brad Ziegler (71.1%) and Scott Alexander (70.6%).

McFarland was dominant against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .388 OPS last season, but the D-Backs deployed him nearly twice as often against right-handed hitters, who posted an aggregate .764 OPS against him. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to use him more as a platoon reliever in 2019.