Posts Tagged ‘Theo Epstein’

The Soriano Conundrum

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

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 ┬áTheo 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.

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Should the Cubs Eschew the Big Name Free Agent Forever?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

With my return to non-minor league topical posting, I actually spent quite a bit of time considering what I wanted to write about today. At first, I thought I might write about what free agents I thought the Cubs should pick up, but then thought that would be a better post when we get closer to free agency. Next, I thought about a post regarding why the Cubs should keep Alfonso Soriano, but thought that would be better to put in my back pocket until after we see what the Cubs do to start their offseason from a personnel standpoint? And then I thought maybe I should write about what I think the master plan Theo and Jed for the Cubs is. But that would honestly be too obvious, as I don’t think they’ve made any mystery of that.

However, one clear part of the plan for the first couple off seasons under current management is to entirely avoid big name free agents. Last year, the Cubs’ biggest free agent pickups were Paul Maholm and David DeJesus. And, by all accounts, the Cubs will not be involved in the big name free agents this season, so for those of you hoping to see Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke in Cubby blue, you’re likely to be disappointed.

The general viewpoint among most insiders is that a team should avoid the big name free agent until they are poised to compete for the postseason. But look at the $100 million plus contracts that have been signed. How many of those contracts worked out?

And think of Theo Epstein’s history with big time free agent contracts. Carl Crawford was a disaster. John Lackey was a disaster who also was involved in the largest controversy involving fried chicken in United States history.

The big name free agent is problematic for several reasons. First, players who reach free agency are almost always flawed in one way or another. This year’s top free agent position player, Josh Hamilton, has a long history of injury issues and personal demons, not to mention the fact that he will turn 32 shortly after next season starts. A lot of big market teams are concerned that Zack Greinke, the best free agent pitcher, would struggle with his mental health issues in a higher pressure environment like New York, Boston or Chicago. Even Albert Pujols, the best player of the last decade, had a big red flag in the combination of his age and contractual demands when he hit free agency a year ago. The players that lack red flags simply don’t reach free agency… until they are old enough that their age becomes that red flag.

This past year, the best free agent acquisitions were Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Beltran and Josh Willingham. The Brewers signed Ramirez $36 million over 3 years. He put up a .300/.360/.540 line to go along 27 home runs. His .900 OPS was 40 points higher than Albert Pujols’ this season. The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran for $26 million over 2 years. He hit .269/.346/.495 while playing a respectable right field. Josh Willingham batted .260/.366/.524 in the first year of a 3 year, $21 million deal. ┬áThe combined money in those three deals is less than 1/3 of the Albert Pujols contract.

Big name free agents might just not be worth the risk. Ever. Especially when you can often get players who will put up similar numbers but require not only a commitment of a lot fewer years, but also a lot fewer dollars per year.

This is not to say that I think the Cubs should never attempt to obtain a superstar. But I think the path to do that is the trade market. And if you look where Theo Epstein had the most success in Boston, it was in the trade market. You can attain younger players who are not only cheaper, but have more of their primes ahead of them than free agents, who already have at least six seasons of service time, do.

Also, Ronnie Woo Woo was on my train home tonight. In his Cubs’ uniform and a Bears helmet. Just thought I’d close with that.

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