Over the weekend, Jordan highlighted Alfonso Soriano’s comment at the Cubs Convention that the free swinging left fielder would be open to waiving his no trade clause if the right situation came along. Jordan also reiterated the long standing view point of the burden the Soriano contract has been on the Cubs.
The rumors surrounding any possible trade of Soriano have been lukewarm at best. The most information the media has been able to gather is that there have been talks around the Majors, and that a handful of teams have inquired, mostly American League teams that see Soriano as a DH. No team names or talk of what specific bad contracts would be offered back to the Cubs. Despite one of his better seasons as a Cub, the reality is that he is as close as one can be to being impossible to trade.
Team owner Tom Ricketts has been quoted as willing to eat a significant amount of Soriano’s remaining salary due through 2014, but I find it highly unlikely that the team will go to the extreme of waiving Soriano with $54 million still owed. Even though an average production stat line as a Cub of 71 runs, 26 homers, and 73 RBI is not worth the annual price tag of $18 million, it is production that would still be useful compared to letting him walk. Some will argue that Soriano is simply blocking valuable game innings for a prospect such as Brett Jackson, but you figure Jackson and the other outfielders will get plenty of playing time at Soriano’s expense in two ways. Based on his track record with the Cubs so far, the odds of playing time opening up due to a Soriano injury are pretty good. You also have to factor in that new manager Dale Sveum has been introduced to the fan base as a no nonsense manager that will demand 110% effort on the field and emphasize playing baseball the right way. Sveum was asked during a question and answer session at the Convention specifically about Soriano’s tendency to pose at the plate on long balls that fell short of the stands, to which the rookie manager responded that he would have issues benching Soriano or anyone else for such an infraction.
While Soriano may lack in trade value, at least he does not have negative trade value the way Carlos Zambrano did. Just as the new front office tried to emphasize the positives of Zambrano, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be doing the same for Soriano. There is salvageable trade value, even if it is smaller than a mustard seed. The Cubs will need to run with the idea of Soriano being good DH candidate. In such a role, Soriano would be able to save his injury prone legs by not having to cover the outfield on defense. In the post steroid era, anyone that can hit 25 plus home runs would be considered a true power hitter, a common job description required for the role of DH.
Enter the Yankees. MLB Trade Rumors gathered from a couple sources that the Bronx Bombers were now focusing on filling their need at DH after having bolstered their starting rotation. The Yankees have apparently been trying to tell people that their budget only allows them to spend up to $2 million to fill this final need. While this would be hard to believe from a team that is infamous for spending the most than any other in baseball, the apparent rumored targets of Carlos Pena and Johnny Damon seem to support this claim.
This is where Epstein and Hoyer need to sit down with their former division rivals and see what can be worked out for Soriano. Specifically, the Cubs front office can target the newfound depth of the Yankees starting rotation. With the recent additions of Michael Pineda and free agent Hiroki Kuroda, the New York rotation is now seven arms deep. The recent playoff failures of the regular postseason attendee have been attributed to the drop of in the rotation after ace CC Sabathia. Fair or not, much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of AJ Burnett, who has not quite lived up to expectations the last two seasons.
The recent Yankee pitching additions would imply that the new arms are viewed by the team as an upgrade over Burnett at this point in time. With the aging starter due $16.5 million annually through 2013, the money involved match up well with the $18 million per owed Soriano during the same time frame. Eating somewhere in the ballpark of $18 million would be easier to stomach for Ricketts, as witnessed in the Zambrano deal.
The only immediate issues with this idea would be the fact that the Yankees are initially looking for a left handed DH, as evidenced by their targets being Pena and Damon. However the Yankees line up is already lefty heavy as it is, and could benefit with another right handed bat to join Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Russell Martin. There is also question as to whether the Cubs would want to replace a log jam in the outfield (in terms of being able to get prospects like Jackson to Wrigley Field) for a log jam in the starting rotation, especially if Matt Garza is not dealt. Two from the list of Randy Wells, Chris Volstad, and Travis Wood would have to be left out.
The main positive of taking Burnett back in the deal would be the fact that Soriano is gone. But Burnett would also figure to have slightly better numbers for the Cubs just from leaving the AL East. While the right hander would not be expected to force his way into the top of the Cubs rotation during his time here, the veteran would be a servicable back of the rotation option.
Assuming a deal with the reasons above is viable, it would come down to just how bad the Cubs really are looking to move Soriano without having to resort to just cutting him. Regardless, this is the type of scenario that the new front office will need to conjure up to really wipe away the remaining negative fingerprints of the past regime.