After dispatching Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins, the Cubs' trade spotlight has shifted to left fielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano is owed $54 million over the next three years, the last seasons of an eight-year, heavily backloaded, $136 million contract signed after the 2006 season. The Cubs' new President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, along with general manager Jed Hoyer, seem to be pointing the Cubs towards a reload, if not a rebuild: getting rid of Soriano's contract, while maybe not opening up financial flexibility, would at least clear a roster spot for different (and potentially better) left fielders.
But is there anyone out there who is a fit for Soriano? The former infielder, who was actually a fine defensive outfielder prior to knee problems that resulted in surgery, now looks like a designated hitter with a glove. That limits his market almost exclusively to American League teams. Were this the Soriano of old at the plate, finding him a new suitor wouldn't be an issue, but Soriano is far removed from being the player who signed this eight-year deal.
Since 2009, Soriano has hit a combined .248/.305/.463. While the power is still somewhat impressive, he doesn't draw walks, and his batting average is too low to make that okay. He has more power than your average player, but without the on-base percentage, he is no better than average offensively (101 OPS+ from 2009-2011, where 100 is average). His projections reflect this reality as well: Dan Szymborski's ZiPS forecasting system pegs Soriano for .245/.297/.453 in 2012, and Baseball Prospectus's early PECOTA projections have him at .245/.297/.445. There isn't much reason to think Soriano, who turns 36 on Saturday, would be any better than in the past, especially since he's been so consistently mediocre as of late.
Mediocre is better than what some teams rolled out at DH in 2011, though. The Twins, Rays, Orioles, Athletics, Angels, and Mariners all performed below the league average in the DH slot, with Seattle nearly as far behind as Boston and David Ortiz were ahead. For the right price -- one where Chicago eats a considerable amount of Soriano's remaining $54 million -- one of these clubs could afford to take a chance on Soriano as a DH.
From the Cubs' perspective, it makes a ton of sense. The money on Soriano is spent either way, and as a left fielder, he is worth maybe one win a year. (According to Baseball Reference, Soriano has put together just two wins above replacement over the last three years, thanks to missed time and defensive problems.) That's an area they can upgrade on, even if it costs them money, but they need to vacate the roster spot in order to do so.
With Soriano cheap -- say the Cubs pay $30M of the $54M -- someone could take a shot on him, as his new cost isn't prohibitive in terms of either budget or a future release if things don't work out. Who fits this, though? The Mariners, as sad as their DHs were in 2011, have Mike Carp to fill that role now. Carp had a 122 OPS+ last year, and had a better line than Soriano despite hitting in a pitcher's park. At 26, and paid close to the minimum, there is no reason to go after Soriano. The Twins decided to cut payroll this year, so Soriano is right out. The Angels have Bobby Abreu to DH, and while he lacks Soriano's power, he can still get on base -- Abreu is the better mid-30s hitter at this point. The Rays can roll the dice with Juan Miranda at DH, or, as Joe Maddon loves to do, can work a platoon at the position that will not only be cheaper than even discounted Soriano, but more productive. Oakland is probably more interested in the money Chicago is spending to get rid of Soriano than Soriano himself.
That leaves Baltimore, the team most intimately connected with these rumors. Baltimore DHs hit .282/.318/.416 in 2011, and though Mark Reynolds is a fit at the position thanks to a glove even worse than Soriano's, that opens up a hole at first base or third base, unless you think Josh Bell, who has been unimpressive at Triple-A and awful in the majors over the last two years can capably fill in.
As unimpressive as Soriano is, he is potentially better than what Baltimore has. It's an unsurprising conclusion if you've followed Orioles' baseball at all the last decade: depth has not been their strong suit, and developing from within has become a lost art. Overpaid and declining veterans have been the way to fill those gaps, and even though Soriano would likely come at a discount relative to his contract, he still fits that mold. He won't change Baltimore's fortunes, but it's possible a move to DH helps his career out by taking a load off of his oft-injured body. And if Chicago is willing to foot the bill, there are worse things to do with the money (like, say, re-signing Vladimir Guerrero for comparable dollars -- he's a known quantity at DH.)
The upside isn't so high that Baltimore should be throwing themselves into this -- they might indeed be better off moving Reynolds to DH, Chris Davis to first, and Josh Bell to third until he plays himself out of the majors. There are likely better options out there to throw against the wall, too, and the cost would be low enough -- and Baltimore's situation already dire enough -- that the lottery ticket approach makes more sense. But if a situation arises where they can ship off their own bad contract, or they can pull a minor prospect away from the Cubs in exchange for Chicago eating a few dollars less, then it's at least worth exploring Soriano.