When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer joined the Cubs’ organization a year ago, many presumed that their first order of business would be getting rid of Alfonso Soriano. The rumors were that they would be willing to pick up nearly all of Soriano’s contract, $18 million per year through 2014, and weren’t expecting all that much in return. Soriano was viewed as the symbol for all that was wrong with the organization under Jim Hendry: he was overpaid, declining, had no plate discipline and played bad defense.
What a difference a year makes. Not only did Soriano post offensive numbers on par with his strong 2010 season, but based upon all reports he vastly improved his fielding in left field. Where Soriano could get by with bad routes and fundamentals in left in 2007 and 2008, when he still had his legs and essentially all of his physical talents in their prime, that was not true in 2009 to 2011. He appeared to have devoted himself to improving his fielding, and it paid off. According to FanGraphs, Soriano was worth 4 wins above replacements in 2012.
Furthermore, all reports have Soriano as a guy who has become a fast favorite of both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Despite the rumors of Soriano’s laziness, the media always reported he was a hard worker. That seems to clearly be the case.
So what should the Cubs do with Alfonso Soriano now? Of course, if the Cubs get an offer for Soriano that absolutely blows them away, they should take it. But the real question is where the break point is.
So let’s start with what we know: First, the Cubs would still be willing to pick up all of Alfonso Soriano’s contract for the right package of prospects and/or young major leaguers. Second, during this offseason, the Cubs are going to err on the side of the future over the present in any personnel issues.
The big question is if Soriano can repeat his 2012 performance. If Soriano stays healthy, I firmly believe he can. What was the big difference between Soriano’s strong 2010 and 2012 seasons and his weak 2011 season? For the most part, it was that Soriano batted 30 to 40 points higher on balls in play than in 2011.
And here’s my theory: if Soriano can repeat his 2012 season for the first half of 2013, his trade value will peak in July. Not only would it would show that he’s less likely, especially than people thought a year ago, to decline beyond being a useful major leaguer, but a Soriano with last year’s numbers could be the best power hitter available at the trade deadline next year.
There’s also the consideration that we do not know the timeline the Cubs’ brass is really looking to compete in. If the Cubs are looking to compete for the division in 2014, though, odds are pretty strong that Soriano would be their best option to start in left field, presuming that the 2014 version of Soriano would be better than at least 2 of Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Jorge Soler.
So here’s the real question: if I’m Theo or Jed what do I need to be offered to trade Alfonso Soriano right now? As I said above, the Cubs would rather pay most of Soriano’s contract and get better prospects in return than the opposite. And I wouldn’t expect to get someone on par with the Cubs’ top three prospects (Baez, Soler, Almora). But I’d need to get the prospect I think is number 4 in the system to pull the trigger at this point.