For the second off season in a row, Cub fans have had to accept life with Alfonso Soriano because of the big money contract that has made him virtually untradeable. There is no bad contract player on another team that matches up with the $72 million Soriano will be owed through the 2014 season. To add insult to injury, he is a defensively challenged left fielder who apparently has a restraining order that commands him to stay at least 25 feet away from Major League ballpark outfield walls. And the move to the outfield was prompted after his inability to play defense at second base earlier in his career. Translation? Soriano is a designated hitter stuck on a National League team. That fact virtually crosses off the rest of the NL clubs as trade partners, money aside.
But grumblings from a player elsewhere in Major League Baseball within the past few days may be the break that GM Jim Hendry can take advantage of to start turning the knob on the door leading to Soriano’s exit from the Cubs. Who is this disgruntled player? And WWJD?
Many of you have probably already guessed that the unhappy player I am referring to is Michael Young. The career Ranger has been the face of the Texas organization from the down years all the way to the team’s first ever World Series appearance this past fall. As a textbook definition of a team player, Young has been playing infield musical chairs during his career at the request of the Rangers, going from 2B to SS to 3B.
When free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre finally found a landing spot with the Rangers, Young suddenly found himself displaced from his defensive position for the third time is his career. Meanwhile, the cogs in my brain started to attempt to dream up plausible Soriano for Young trade ideas for a “WWJD?” post. But those hopes were quickly squashed when it was reported that Young was willing to accept yet another position change, this time to DH.
Despite this cooperation from Young, the Rangers traded for Mike Napoli from the Blue Jays. Even though the Rangers had been trying to swing a deal for one of the Cubs catching prospects this offseason, the truth is that Texas had depth at the position even before dealing for Napoli. And Mitch Moreland’s break out numbers during the 2010 postseason looks to make 1B his job to lose this Spring. As a result, the acquisition of Napoli seems to have been interpreted by Young as a threat to his playing time as first choice DH. This latest show of disrespect from the Rangers seems to be the last straw, and now Young is demanding a trade.
Admittedly, the $24 million difference between the Soriano’s contract compared to Young’s is not going to be easy to negotiate (including $18 million in 2014 while Young would be a free agent). Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested the Mets trade Jason Bay for Young, citing the Rangers desire for a traditional DH. The contracts for Young and Bay literally match dollar for dollar through the 2013 season, with the difference coming in the form of a $3 million buy-out ($17 million option) for Bay regarding the 2014 season. But sources have told Sherman that Young would exercise his no trade rights to block a trade to New York.
Money aside, Soriano would be a perfect fit for DH. This would help Soriano only have to focus on hitting, and in theory, could help keep his risk for injury down by not having to play defensively on the field. At the hitter friendly Ballpark at Arlington that Soriano is already familiar with from his previous stint with the Rangers, he could easily match the home run and RBI totals that players like Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome would have provided, players that the Rangers are known to have pursued for DH this offseason.
For a straight swap, this proposed trade simply comes down to how willing the Rangers and Cubs are to tango. Realistically, the Cubs are going to have to send $18 million with Soriano to cover his 2014 salary. The negotiation would have to occur over the additional $2 million Soriano makes per season through 2013. As difficult as this deal may seem to those tired of Soriano trade ideas, past history for both teams serve to prove that there is more hope than perceived. This is the same Rangers team that ate a ton of money to deal Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. And this is the same Cubs team and GM in Jim Hendry that was able to dump insubordinate Sammy Sosa to the Orioles while eating almost all of the $17 million due to Sosa for the 2005 season.