When it comes to unloading Alfonso Soriano this Winter, despite Theo Epstein’s excellent salesmanship, it seems likely the Cubs would be willing to eat as much as $45 million of the $54 million Soriano is owed over the next three years. Soriano may have some production left on the offensive side of the game, but his defense in left field is growing increasingly unbearable. He is, by all accounts, better suited to DH in the American League. The Cubs, of course, would be happy to accommodate that transition.
But, instead of unloading Soriano for pennies on the dollar, might they instead seek out a bad contract swap? A hallmark of the Jim Hendry era, the goal of a bad contract swap is to take on someone else’s wildly expensive problem, who hopefully fills a need slightly more than your own.
For Soriano, though, the return contract would have to be extremely bad for the other team to consider taking on Soriano.
How bad? Like, Vernon Wells bad.
That’s Phil Rogers’ suggestion, and its one that got the last guy who took it fired. Trading for Vernon Wells was among the primary reasons Tony Reagins was fired as Angels’ GM. Of course, he gave up a little more than Alfonso Soriano – like, for example, playoff superstar Mike Napoli – but Wells was a disaster of Biblical proportions in 2011, his first year with the Angels. Wells hit just .218/.248/.412, and felt the wrath of Angels fans all year.
Now, Alfonso Soriano is no longer a superstar, and the Cubs can’t expect to reap a windfall for trading him. But a straight up Wells/Soriano swap is probably not something the Cubs should consider.
Sure, Wells is three years younger than Soriano, and a marginal upgrade in the field. And, sure, Wells had good offensive years in 2010, 2008, and 2006. But Wells’ contract is even more onerous than Soriano’s. They’re both under contract for the next three years, but Wells is set to make an eye-popping $21 million per year – $3 million more than Soriano.
Additionally, it’s not as if Soriano is a worthless asset, particularly on the right (read: AL) team. Soriano was better than average offensively last year – as he has been six of the last seven years.
Ultimately, would the Cubs be better off “upgrading” from Soriano to Wells for an additional $3 million per year through 2014, or saving some $3 or 4 million per year and finding another left fielder? The answer seems obvious. Indeed, it’s not implausible to believe that the Cubs could find an upgrade over both Soriano and Wells for that $6 or $7 million difference.
Even if the Angels were willing to throw in cash to even up the deal, I’m not sure taking on Wells is something the Cubs should consider. As Theo Epstein has said, the Cubs as an organization need to develop a better appreciate for the concept of a “sunk cost.” The money on Soriano is already spent – but the Cubs’ left field position over the next three years is not. By dumping Soriano, the Cubs open up the possibility of bringing in (or up) a productive left fielder in 2012-14. By taking on Wells instead, left field remains a potentially frustrating obstacle for those three years.
In truth, the only way I could see myself supporting a swap for Wells is if Epstein and the Cubs’ (theoretically improved) scouting department see something correctable in Wells’ 2011 season, and believe he will be an above-average offensive and defensive left fielder over the next three years. In other words: I would want Wells only if Epstein and Co. affirmatively want Wells (rather than merely see him as a means to be rid of Soriano). Concededly, there is reason to believe Wells could bounce back – his anemic .214 batting average on balls in play last year suggests he was incredibly unlucky. I suppose I could be convinced.
But, on the balance, I’d rather see the Cubs cut bait on Soriano, and move forward in a new direction.