Alfonso Soriano’s retirement is a good reminder not to define players by their contracts

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The news that Alfonso Soriano is retiring is a good reminder that a lot of us — myself included — probably think about player contracts too much.

It’s understandable that we do. We all like to analyze baseball and a huge component of baseball analysis is about team building and roster construction. And if you have a guy who is overpaid or underpaid in an extreme way it definitely impacts his team’s ability to field a good team. Indeed, it’s analyst malpractice not to consider contracts when talking about a team’s chances and a particular player’s place on it.

But we often go too far with that. And again, I’m not excluding myself in this. We often, when assessing a player’s performance and, quite often, his inherent worth and sometimes even his character, pay too much attention to his salary. In doing so we think of fine players as bums if they don’t truly earn their paycheck. Or, sometimes, we think of cheap players as better than they really are, simply because they’re bargains. We assign traits like grit, moxy, laziness, complacency, loyalty, greed, virtue and all manner of other things to them based on the free agent deal they either took or forwent.

Soriano is one of the greatest examples of this in recent history. When he was with the Yankees, Rangers and Nationals he was talked about in a certain way. When the Cubs decided to give him a contract that was too long and too big, he was talked about in quite another way. He was more likely to be a punchline than anything. And even if it was never truly meant personally by anyone or if it was more of a dig at Jim Hendry and the Cubs than it was at Soriano, it certainly dominated the conversation about him for several years.

That dissipated a bit as other players became the so-called Most Overpaid Player in Baseball. But I don’t think most of us ever went back and thought about Soriano the baseball player as much as we ever thought of him as Soriano the payroll albatross.

So, on the day after we learned about his retirement, I feel like it’s worth thinking about a guy who slugged .500 for his 16-year career, not the guy who made all that money because his GM made a poor choice. A guy who made the 40/40 club once and came close a couple of other times, displaying a power-speed combo we don’t see all that often. A guy who played all over the field. A guy who, by all accounts, was super nice and a guy who worked very, very hard, was always prepared and was never accused of not being in shape and ready to play. A guy who, if it weren’t for Luis Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera and the crazy events of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, would be remembered as a postseason hero for that homer he hit in the 8th inning of that game. Off of Curt Schilling of all people.

I’m sure I’ll fall into the trap of thinking too hard about player contracts once again. It’s just something I’m hard-wired for, I suppose. But I’m going to try to keep that in the proper context and not allow it to interfere with what I think about players outside of how they fit on a team’s roster and in their payroll. Because doing that is pretty rewarding. It allows to do things like think of how fun it was to watch Alfonso Soriano play rather than always search for a punchline about how much money he makes.

The Nationals have inquired about Kris Bryant

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The Washington Nationals, fresh off signing Stephen Strasburg to a $245 million deal, are now turning their attention to their third base hole. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports that they have made inquiries to the Chicago Cubs about trading for Kris Bryant.

Emphasis on the word “inquiry” because it’d be premature for the Cubs to trade Bryant at the moment, even if they are reported to be considering the possibility.

Bryant and the Cubs are awaiting word from an arbitrator about Bryant’s years-old service time grievance. If Bryant wins, he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Cubs win they control him for two more years. The team may or may not choose to trade him in either case as they are reportedly trying to cut payroll, but the price for him will vary pretty significantly depending on whether or not the acquiring club will receive one or two years of control over the former MVP.

For Washington, this would be a means of replacing free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. Or, perhaps, the inquiries are a means of creating a tad more leverage for the Nats as they talk to Rendon’s agent about re-signing him.

Which, in the past, the Nats said they could not do if they also re-signed Strasburg, though I suspect that’s just posturing too. They may not want to spend big money to keep their World Series core together, but they can afford it. They’re going to see, I suspect, an eight-figure uptick in revenue by virtue of being the defending World Series champs. They are poised to receive a significant payout as a result of recent rulings in their own multi-year dispute with the Orioles and the MASN network. They are, of course, owned by billionaire real estate moguls. All of that taken together means that, if they choose to, they can bring back Rendon. Assuming he chooses to come back too.

But, if that doesn’t happen, they appear to be giving themselves options at the hot corner.