2012 Cubs recap: Left field
October, 17, 2012
By Doug Padilla | ESPNChicago.com
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAlfonso Soriano had an unlikely resurgent season with 32 home runs and 108 RBIs.Doug Padilla reviews the Cubs by position. Today he focuses on left field.
Amid the rubble of a disastrous season, Alfonso Soriano managed to revive his stalled out career at age 36.
He hit 32 home runs, tied for fifth best in the National League, and his 108 RBIs were not only a career best, they were third-best in the league.
It was everything Cubs management could have hoped for, especially if trading the veteran was their first order of business. Soriano still has nearly $40 million coming to him over the next two seasons.
But another theory has also emerged. Rebuilding franchises don't have much use for a single player that makes short of $20 million per season, but could Soriano be the exception?
The reality remains that even if Soriano is traded, the Cubs will still have to eat much of the salary that still is coming to him. So if you're still going to have to pay him, why not keep him?
Soriano not only gave an anemic offense at least a little production this past season, he also managed to improve his defense in left field under new outfield coach Dave McKay. But it's his entire approach to the game that gives him value as well.
Soriano not only personally mentors young shortstop Starlin Castro, taking him to the batting cage every day and offering encouragement, he sets the standard for the young clubhouse on what work ethic is supposed to look like.
Whether he is struggling through physical ailments or not -- and with his sore knee this year there was plenty of struggle -- Soriano remains a tireless worker as the first to arrive and one of the last to leave each day.
Does that translate to a value at $18 million a season? Of course not. But getting something out of the tens of millions he still is owed might be better than nothing.
Whether he stays or goes, what's amazing is that there is even conversation if one or the other should happen.
Soriano's revival seemed to start early, way back in spring training, when he was crushing the ball. Then the season started and Soriano's production vanished. He didn't have a home run on May 14 and had just six total extra-base hits.
Starting on May 15, Soriano was able to go toe to toe with anybody in baseball when it came to the power department. He hit the most home runs of any National League hitter starting on May 15, and he ended up being one of just three NL hitters to record at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, along with the Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Padres' Chase Headley.
Soriano also became the first hitter in franchise history to record at least 107 RBIs at age 36 or older. Ernie Banks had 106 RBIs at the age of 38 in 1969, while Moises Alou had 106 RBIs at the age of 37 in 2004.
How much production is still in him remains a question. The Cubs say they are still willing to explore a trade for Soriano, who said himself on the last day of the season that he will weigh his options. (As a veteran of 10 or more seasons with at least five playing for the same club, Soriano has the right to veto any trade.)
Clearly, a Soriano deal will come down to how much salary a team is willing to take on in a trade. It doesn't seem fathomable the Cubs will be able to dump most of it, but if a team takes a significant chunk, they could be looking for a different left fielder this winter.
THURSDAY: Center field.