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Will Alfonso Soriano Top 40 Home Runs?

By bullpenbrian - March 21, 2013 - 12:05 pm Leave a comment.

Alfonso Soriano

It took Alfonso Soriano 119 at-bats to hit his first home run last season.
You may even remember the dramatic solo blast.

Soriano tagged St. Louis flame-thrower Jason Motte in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game 6-6. More specifically, his smash was just one of two home runs Soriano hit to the opposite field in 2012 (video here).

Alfonso Soriano home run

Unfortunately, the Cubs would go on to lose this particular game on a walkoff hit by Yadier Molina (Grr!). But Soriano, as we came to see, was ready to embark on a home run tear.

Despite the fact Bryan LaHair already had 10 HRs, including one during this game, Soriano not only caught LaHair, but went on to stroke a team-leading 32 HRs by season’s end. It marked his second-highest home run total (33) since joining Chicago in 2007.

According to hittrackeronline.com, Soriano finished second in the National League in ‘No Doubt’ home runs (11), defined by the site as “the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.” Giancarlo Stanton led the NL with 12 no-doubters and Josh Hamilton took top honors in the American League with 15 deep blasts.

Soriano went yard 15 times at Wrigley Field. But his longest home run at the Friendly Confines, a 429 ft shot off San Diego’s Eric Stults, was only his fourth longest of the season.

SORIANO’S LONGEST HRs 2012

  • 452 ft off Zack Stewart, US Cellular Field (video here)
    443 ft off P.J. Walters, Target Field
    435 ft off J.A. Happ, Minute Maid Park

Much of the credit for Soriano’s eventual power surge is credited to manager Dale Sveum gently nudging Soriano to switch to a lighter bat. This appeared to allow Soriano to regain some bat speed that’s naturally lost in a 36-year-old body with tattered legs.

Meanwhile, with the Cubs relying heavily on Soriano to carry the offense this season, the hope is he can come out of the gate much quicker than he did in 2012.

Coupled with a healthy body (Soriano also battled a nagging knee injury for six weeks last year) and Anthony Rizzo protecting him in the order, there’s reason to believe Soriano could take a crack at hitting 40 HRs, which he’s done on one other occasion, hitting 46 with Washington in 2006.

Not only would this be a huge lift for a Cubs offense, which is likely to struggle scoring runs, but the trade possibilities for a healthy, homer-happy Soriano could net Chicago a pretty return at the trade deadline.

However, the truth of the matter is Soriano could also get off to another slow start, suffer an injury or simply show signs that his tired legs are finally out of gas. That’s part of the risk the Cubs have taken by holding onto Soriano this winter and throughout the beginning of the season.

But we also know Soriano brings more to the table than just home runs. His leadership and work ethic are praised by the organization and teammates alike.

That doesn’t erase the albatross of a contract hanging around his neck and squeezing the Cubs’ budget, but another solid year would be a fresh reminder not all of Soriano’s remaining 2 year, $18 million contract is dead money that’s gone to waste—even if it takes him another 120 at-bats to find his groove.

Alfonso Soriano home runs 2012

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Cubs have 5th youngest roster in Major League Baseball

By bullpenbrian - February 25, 2013 - 1:00 am Leave a comment.

The Sandlot

Paul Schneider of Suicidesqueeze.com posted a list of the average ages of each major league team. The Cubs have the fifth youngest roster in the majors with an average age of 26.6.

Jorge Soler, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Sunday (Feb. 25), is the youngest cub on the 40-man roster. Starlin Castro, 22, whose birthday is March 24th, will likely remain the youngest player on the opening day roster.

As for the oldest player in the Cubs’ organization? It’s the soon-to-be, 38-year-old Hisanori Takahashi (April 2, 1975). The left-handed reliever was signed this winter to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

As for the current 40-man roster, however, it’s 37-year-old Shawn Camp (Nov. 18, 1975) who takes the Grey Beard Award. He’s roughly two months older than Alfonso Soriano, who was born on Jan. 7, 1976.

Seattle is tied with the Cubs for the fifth youngest roster, preceded by the Mets (26.4), Indians (26.3), Marlins (26.2) and Astros (25.7).

Interestingly, the oldest team in the league is the one with the highest payroll, the Dodgers, at 28.6. Former Cub, Ted Lilly, is the oldest player on their roster at 37-years-old.

Of course it’s possible the Cubs can make a push for the youngest team in the league by season’s end, if we see the departures of ageing veterans via trade such as Camp, Soriano, David DeJesus, Scott Hairston and Carlos Marmol.

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Will Cubs Ever Trade Alfonso Soriano?

By bullpenbrian - February 5, 2013 - 10:30 am Leave a comment.


In this week’s Yahoo! Sports article I take a closer look at the Cubs’ attempts to trade Alfonso Soriano.

What’s holding up a trade? What teams are interested?

Texas, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cleveland could all be a good fit for Sori.

Here’s why: READ MORE

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Jim Hendry Not As Bad As Advertised

By bullpenbrian - February 1, 2013 - 1:35 pm Leave a comment.

Jim Hendry

Linked at the bottom of this post is an interesting article by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports talking about former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry…which got me thinking…

Jim Hendry still takes a lot of slack from Cubs fans. Granted, much of it is deserved. But Hendry still wasn’t the garbage GM many fans believe him to be.

To be fair, Hendry brought the Cubs painfully close to a World Series appearance in 2003. And soon thereafter, while under pressure from the Tribune ownership to increase the team’s sale value, went all-in to sign free-agent Alfonso Soriano and lure big-name manager Lou Piniella to Chicago–all with the hopes of breaking the Cubs’ long championship drought in a hurry.

It’s hard to know if Hendry would’ve taken a different approach had the Tribune not been operating in the self interest of adopting a win-at-all-cost mentality, which directly came at the expense of the organization’s future success on the field.

The mindset of the Tribune Company is what led, and allowed Hendry to spend wildly on veteran players, and to dole out heavy, back-loaded contracts. All of which has hamstrung the team in recent seasons.

For certain, the meticulous and tedious transition the Cubs are currently going through under Theo Epstein wouldn’t have sufficed under Tribune ownership.

The results of Hendry’s play-now, pay-later moves were hard to argue with. The Cubs won back-to-back division titles (2007-08), something the club had not done in 100-years, and in 2008 tied a major league record with 8 All Star representatives while the team won 97-games during the regular season.

Had the Cubs won the Fall Classic in either one of those two seasons, all of Hendry’s sins and shortcoming as Chicago’s GM would’ve been absolved. Instead they were magnified, and soon the consequences of Hendry’s actions took its toll on the overall health of the franchise.

Panic stricken after being swept out of the playoffs in consecutive years, Hendry signed world renown malcontent Milton Bradley in 2009, which was arguably the biggest bone-headed move during his tenure, and what ultimately set in motion his undoing as general manager.

I always gave Hendry credit for owning up to that mistake. He never shied away from the fact it was a horrible decision to sign Bradley, and accepted full blame in being the one to do so.

But it should be recognize Hendry’s body of work with the Cubs wasn’t completely awful. He did makes smart moves and trades that paid off handsomely in the Cubs’ favor. One could argue he didn’t make enough of them, but this wasn’t just all dumb luck carrying the Cubs to the postseason under Hendry’s watch.

More specifically, given the circumstances surrounding the strange ownership of the Tribune Company, I thought Hendry did what almost any GM would’ve done in his shoes: followed the orders of the people paying his salary, and those orders instructed Hendry to win immediately, the future success of the organization be damned.

Here’s the catch, though, had Hendry won his World Series there would be no Theo Epstein, no Jed Hoyer, no ‘New Cubs Way’…nor any of the other positive changes that have put the Cubs on path to becoming a top-notch organization for years to come. 

To trade all this recent progress under the Ricketts’ regime for just one–one–world championship with Hendry would be a deal many Cubs fans would’ve gladly accepted just a few years ago.

But in doing so you better love’ya some Jim Hendry . For all the flack he took, and still takes, you can bet ol’ Jimbo would’ve been elevated to rock star status in Chicago, an untouchable cog of the Cubs’ organization, even with the new ownership, had his gambling ways paid off in the ultimate prize of winning a World Series championship.

And to think how ever close Hendry actually came to pulling it off.
***
The phone rang in the visiting clubhouse after Game 7 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Bartman series. The one in which Redmond’s Marlins defeated Hendry’s Cubs, winning Game 7, 9-6.

Hendry was on the line, calling to congratulate Redmond.

“I know he was devastated,” Redmond said. “But he was happy for me. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

via Mike Redmond has been paying dividends for Miami Marlins since Jim Hendry discovered him in 1992 – MLB News | FOX Sports on MSN.

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Time Is Now To Trade Soriano & Marmol

By bullpenbrian - January 31, 2013 - 10:00 am Leave a comment.


Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in less than two weeks and the Cubs have yet to deal Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Marmol.

I’m not surprised it’s taken so long, there are sticky circumstances with each player (partial and full no-trade clauses), but I do find myself concerned with the risk involved in waiting to play ‘let’s make a deal’ until mid-season.

It’s unlikely Soriano’s trade value will ever be higher coming off his terrific 2012 season. He proved there’s still enough pop in his bat to be a formidable middle of the order slugger; he greatly improved his defense and most importantly, he’s healthy.

Meanwhile, after a rough start for Marmol last season, in which he temporarily lost his closer’s role, Marmol bounced back with a very respectable second half. But the Cubs know Marmol’s greatest weakness is his inconsistency, which partly explains why they attempted to trade him for Dan Haren in November.

But ever since that deal fell through Marmol’s name has hardly registered on the trade radar. The Cubs clearly want to deal this guy, but nobody seems interested in giving up much, if anything, in return for him.

While I respect what appears to be the Cubs’ decision to hold out for the best offer on both Soriano and Marmol, I‘m also beginning to fear the Cubs are ready to assume the risks involved with starting the season with both players on the roster, despite the tremendous risk in rolling the dice on either Soriano or Marmol picking up where they left off last year.

More specifically, what happens if Soriano and Marmol get off to a slow start, or worse, suffers an injury? (Remember, all 32 of Soriano’s HRs came after May 14th last season) Then how much comes back for a 37-year-old outfielder with battered legs, and a wildly inconsistent closer who can’t find the strikezone? What team will want to spend the roughly $10 million it will cost to land one of these individuals? I don’t know, either?

IS THERE A BENEFIT TO KEEPING EITHER?

I can understand the Cubs’ intentions to field a more competitive team becomes increasingly more difficult without Soriano’s bat in the lineup and his leadership in the clubhouse. Both aspects of his game are practically irreplaceable on the current roster.

The bullpen is arguably the weakest link on the team aside from the uncertainties at third base. With ‘good’ Marmol the bullpen is of course a little stronger, but the ‘bad’ Marmol sucks the life out of an already thin relief corps.

The fact of the matter is if Team Theo doesn’t pull the trigger on these trades soon, I fear they may not have the chance later on, and that would be a huge swing-and-miss for the front office in Year 2 of the rebuild.

We’ve managed to wait this long, but I’ll be interested to see where we’re at in two weeks, with or without Soriano and Marmol.

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Cubs Outfield Depth, Alfonso Soriano and Phone Books

By bullpenbrian - January 30, 2013 - 9:15 am Leave a comment.


Yellow Pages dropped off a brick of 12 phone books at my condo complex this week, which I lugged inside the main doors while wondering when’s the last time I used an actual phone book to look up anything? Pre 2000 is my best guess.

I can’t help but think the printing of phone books is dead money to the company. But two days later the books had disappeared from inside the main walkway. I’m thinking another resident hauled them away…probably to the dumpster.
***
The addition of Scott Hairston last week gives the Cubs some quality outfield depth the roster lacked in 2012. It’s not a dynamic outfield by any means, but it should, in theory, help improve a weak offense and help bridge the gap to guys like Brett Jackson, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

Here’s a closer look at the Cubs outfield heading into spring camp and how it could play out if Alfonso Soriano is traded…CLICK HERE

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Grading The Cubs Offseason, Theo Speaks, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Grace & Sammy Sosa

By bullpenbrian - January 16, 2013 - 1:30 am Leave a comment.

Theo Epstein

Sports Illustrated’s evaluation of the Cubs’ offseason: Grade B.
Only 2 names under Key Departures: Bryan LaHair & Chris Volstad.
Volstad? Are you freaking serious? (3-12, 6.31) Chris Volstad?
What about Ryan Dempster?
What about Paul Maholm?
Heck, I’d put Geovany Soto, Manny Corpas or Jeff Beliveau before Volstad.

“The rotation additions are a mixed bag, and the outfield remains unsettled, but it’s hard not to like the addition of Fujikawa.”
–SI article

Terry Francona’s book “Francona: The Red Sox Years” comes out on Jan. 22.
Excerpts released by Sports Illustrated:
Theo Epstein traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford following pressure from Boston Red Sox owners to build a “sexy team.”

“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle, we need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.” -Epstein

Mark Grace is participating in a Diamondbacks fantasy camp underway in Scottsdale. He’s also on the record for blaming himself, not the team, for his dismissal from the broadcast booth last season following his second DUI in 15 months.

Sammy Sosa purchases distribution rights to a needle-free injection company, Injex21. The former Cub says he sees the potential to help people overcome their difficulties with taking injections.
Laughable, I know.

Three Cubs, including Sosa, are seen in SI.com’s Photo Blog.
Lou Piniella and Alfonso Soriano pose for SI’s baseball preview in 2007.
Sosa and Mark McGwire team up for a shoot during what I assume would be 1999 or 2000.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times spoke with Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

“The team is still looking for another bat, more likely through free agency than trade, either as a primary DH (which sounds like the preference) or with some positional flexibility allowing them to rotate the DH role.” -Friedman

Soriano, eh?

Juan Cruz broke in with the Cubs as a 22 year old in 2001. He went (8-19, 4.43) during his three seasons in Chicago. Cruz, 34, has signed a minor league deal with the Phillies.

Former Cub Michael Wuertz (2004-08) who was traded by Chicago to Oakland in Feb. 2009 for Richie Robnett & Justin Sellers, has signed a minor league deal with the Marlins.

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Cubs Suffering Power Outage

By bullpenbrian - December 14, 2012 - 4:00 am 4 comments.

Chicago Cubs HR

It’s clear the Cubs could use more pop in the lineup.

Since leading the National League in home runs in 2004 (the Cubs finished second in MLB to the Yankees & White Sox who tied with 242 HR) Chicago’s seen a steady decline in its overall power numbers.

The threesome of Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano accounted for the lion’s share of home run production from 2007 until the band was broken up in 2010 with the trade of Lee to Atlanta. Aramis was gone a year later and Soriano appears out the door any day now.

From 2009 on the Cubs have had only two players aside from A-Ram, D-Lee and Soriano crack 20+ home runs in a season: Tyler Colvin with 20 (2010) and Carlos Pena with 28 (2011).

Not surprisingly, with Colvin and Pena departed by 2012 the Cubs had but one hitter surpass the 20 home run mark last season: Soriano with 32 HR. The next closest was Bryan LaHair with 16 HR.

The outlook for 2013, unfortunately, isn’t much better. With LaHair traded this offseason to Japan, and Soriano rumored to be headed elsewhere via trade, the Cubs are starved for power at the traditional power positions for an NL team.

Ideally you want your big boppers patrolling the corner outfield and the corner infield. As it stands, the Cubs’ outfield consists of David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz–who combined for 15 HR last season–and a handful of light-hitting backups. So unless Ian Stewart and Louis Valbuena finally reach their potential, it’s basically Anthony Rizzo as the lone power threat at the corners.

Rizzo of course appears to be a lock to reach 20+ home runs for the foreseeable future. He hit 15 HR in 87-games last year, which projects out to roughly 30 bombs over a full season. And thankfully more muscle appears on the horizon.

  • Starlin Castro could develop more power. His home run numbers have increased in each of his first three seasons: 3, 10, 14.
  • Top prospect Jorge Soler, 20, has all the makings of a dynamic major league power hitter. At 6’3″, 205lbs he’s already displayed majestic power shots in the minor leagues; quickly earning the nickname ‘Soler Power’.
  • Outfielder Albert Almora, 18, who was Chicago’s top-pick in the amateur draft last June, could potentially be a 20+ home run hitter.
  • Shortstop Javier Baez, ranked the top prospect in the Midwest League this past season, has shown plenty of raw power.
  • Brett Jackson still has a shot to be a power guy if his revamped swing this offseason pans out.

There are likely to be other prospects who will show power potential and it’s fair to assume the Cubs will eventually dip into the free agent market to land a slugger. My guess is that would most likely come to fruition next winter, although this offseason is far from over and it’s becoming more unpredictable by the day.

But while it’s nice to think about the Cubs’ power production looking upwards in the seasons to come, it’s worth remembering round-trippers don’t mean everything.

What better example than the world champion Giants? San Francisco not only hit 34 fewer home runs than the Cubs did last season, but ranked dead last in all of baseball with 103 dingers.

Pitching and defense have always been the staples of championship teams, but it couldn’t hurt the Cubs’ anemic offense to park a few more hits on Waveland and Sheffield next summer.

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When Cubs Had Josh Hamilton, Angel Pagan and Alfonso Soriano

By bullpenbrian - December 5, 2012 - 5:15 am Leave a comment.

Crazy to think at one point the Cubs could’ve played an outfield of Josh Hamilton,Angel Pagan and Alfonso Soriano.

It could’ve happened as early as 2007, but the possibility hardly had a chance to take root and likely wouldn’t have lasted long anyway.

Chicago selected Hamilton with the third overall pick in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, but immediately traded him to Cincinnati for $100,000.

Meanwhile, Pagan, then 24, had just made his major league debut in 2006. He stayed through 2007 as a part-time player (injuries too) before Jim Hendry traded him during the offseason to the Mets for Corey Coles and Ryan Meyers, neither of whom reached the big leagues.

Granted the Cubs won back-to-back divisions titles in ’07-’08, but what might have been had Hendry not pushed all his chips in on outfielders Matt Murton, Felix Pie and Kosuke Fukudome?

And that’s not to forget Soriano’s mega-deal of 8-years, $136M.

To be fair, Hendry wasn’t always afforded the luxury of a long-term approach to win a world series. The Tribune company wanted to sell the team and a championship trophy was the leverage to increase the selling price. The future success of the organization was barely an afterthought.

Shortsightedness, however, is one of the pitfalls of a ‘win-now’ mentality the Cubs were operating under five-years ago. It induces panic to set in when falling short of the ultimate goal, and when panic takes hold you sign Milton Bradley.

That’s why it’s so encouraging Tom Ricketts is taking an opposite approach from the previous ownership. With Team Theo the Cubs are methodically building a plan for sustained success.

The ultimate goal will always be winning the world series, but when the Cubs fall short it won’t take hitting rock-bottom to get another crack at the hardware.

The pace of rebuilding is painfully slow, but the chance another dynamic outfield trio slips through Chicago’s hands is unlikely. With Epstein at the wheel the future will never be out of sight out of mind; for that we can be thankful.

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Cubs Better Off Keeping Soriano?

By bullpenbrian - December 3, 2012 - 1:45 pm 2 comments.

Theo Epstein says he won’t ‘give away’ Alfonso Soriano this week via trade.

But the more I think about it, ‘settling’ on an offer for Sori during the Winter Meetings might be the best option for Chicago.

Soriano turns 37 in January. His trade value will likely never be higher than what it is now coming off his productive season in 2012.

If the Cubs wait to deal Soriano there’s the risk he gets off to a slow start in 2013 or worse, gets injured. Then what do you get for him?

His full no-trade clause could also make it tougher to deal him next July, as was the case this past year, which only increases the risk of hanging on to him.

Perhaps the biggest trouble is replacing Soriano’s offensive production (32 HR, 108 RBI, 121 OPS+).

The Cubs finished 28/30 in runs scored last season with only a few signs indicating the offense could be slightly better next season.

However, if the Cubs land a quality center fielder this week the offensive outlook changes. Another legit hitting outfielders alongside Soriano could survive with a rotating platoon in right field.

It may take the Cubs figuring out what they’re going to do in center field before determining what to do about Soriano in left.

But if I’m the Cubs I’d pull the trigger on the best offer for Soriano in Nashville. He needs to be replaced eventually and it’s hard to imagine the offers for him are any better following the Winter Meetings.

I don’t want to see the Cubs ‘give away’ Soriano, either. But I would like to see something of value in return for him, too.

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