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Oh my. It’s early. Very, very early. But. Oh my.

When asked about his decision to bat Alfonso Soriano leadoff in yesterday’s intrasquad game (a decision that was properly met with “whatever, it’s a scrimmage, who cares?”), Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum responded unnervingly.

“You can possibly see just about anything,” Sveum said when asked about Soriano at the top of the order. “But like I said, the middle of March, March 20, you’ll find out that I have made up my mind.”

Ok, so that’s not so bad. Everything’s on the table. No big deal, right? Just the media having some early March fun, right? Not so.

You know how you know there’s a little bit of legitimacy here? Sveum actually approached Soriano about the possibility of leading off in the future. That’s where the terror enters.

“He asked me a couple days ago what I thought about batting leadoff and I said, ‘I’m open,’” Soriano said. “My last time batting leadoff here was two, three years ago. I said to the manager, I’m open to any decision he makes. It’s more important for me that I’m feeling good and we’ll see what happens.”

The very fact that such a conversation took place absolutely terrifies me.

Sveum went on to offer a possible justification for batting Soriano leadoff. Again, it was terrifying.

“The one thing about Soriano is that his numbers as a leadoff hitter are pretty good in his career whether he’s leading off a game or leading off an inning, his numbers are pretty incredible over his career,” Sveum said. “ If you want to get into the details of why you might come up with something like that it could be as simple as that.”

Yes, it just so happens that Soriano is magically able to hit better when he’s leading off. His numbers trending downward in the last three years have nothing to do with his aging body – the Cubs were just stupid and stopped batting him leadoff! What were they thinking!?

Setting aside the fact that Soriano’s OBP as a leadoff hitter in his career is still just .338 (and just .331 leading off an inning), using this logic, the Cubs should move Soriano back to second base. After all, he hits .280/.321/.499 and steals bases at a heroic clip when he plays second base. Make the move!

Maybe Dale just means Soriano might lead off against lefties, you say? Sure. I mean, Soriano’s OBP last year crept all the way up to a lofty .312 against left-handed pitchers last year. Clearly, he’s meant to be a leadoff man again!

Seriously. Dale. You can’t possibly believe these things that you’re saying. Alfonso Soriano hit .244/.289/.469 last year, and I promise you that it had nothing to do with him not hitting leadoff.

Indeed, even considering the clandestine meeting between Sveum and Soriano about leading off, I simply don’t believe Sveum is actually considering it. I don’t know what his end-game here is (trying to get Soriano to work on his overall approach? See more pitches?), but it isn’t to turn Soriano into a leadoff hitter. It just isn’t.

(Finally, before you say that the leadoff decision is overrated because the guy only leads off once per game, (1) that’s flatly untrue – thanks to BN’er Jeff W. and research from Sean Forman at Baseball Reference, I can tell you that, for all half innings in 2008 (as an example), the leadoff hitter led off an inning 9144 times (the next closest is number two, who led off just 5080 times); and (2) the leadoff batter gets the most at bats on the team over the course of the season – is Soriano the guy on the Cubs you want getting the most at bats?)

  • Ron Sposato

    Brett,

    I just think he is leaving any door open. I do not believe he is actually considering it.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      As I said, I think so, too. But the conversation happened. That is meaningful.

  • MightyBear

    I like the idea. Then he won’t whiff with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. There can’t be anybody on base when he leads off the game, so he can’t leave them stranded.

  • Stan

    I’ve gotten my daily dosage of sarcasm now.

  • ferrets_bueller
    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It’s in the post.

  • Deez

    I like the idea as well. That’s where he was most comfortable & his most productive throughout his career. Soriano is not a middle of the order run producer.

  • Andrew

    I think Soriano needs to be in a position where there is some help behind him so that he can get some fastballs. Hitting him leadoff would do this and probably make him have better stats. That being said, thats not where he should hit. I think Quade made a big mistake hitting him 7th so often because with no protection, pitchers will never give him anything to hit. I’d say put him fifth between Lahair and Soto. Soto has a good eye so he can handle batting lower in the order than soriano and has the pop to ensure pitchers have to throw some fastballs to soriano.

    • JR Cubs

      I never thought hitting Soriano 6th or 7th was smart. 6th-8th is the positions that batters see the least fastballs, because the pitcher is behind them. Yes having a guy that had a .289 obp as a lead off hitter is scary. But imo I think it is smart (for a variety of reasons) to put him in the best position as possible to put up stats, and that is probably leading off. Bottom line is he sucks big time, and the Cubs need him to put up numbers to trade his ass.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Does anyone really think other teams are that stupid?

        “Oh, wow, Soriano has 15 homers already! Sure, his BA/OBP suck ass, and he’s got 100 more plate appearances than the other guys we’re considering, but, like, 15 homers! That’s a ton!”

        • JR Cubs

          Ha… I don’t think other teams are stupid. Just saying if he performs better leading off because of the fastball thing it could help slightly… I can’t help but think of ways to raise his trade vaule and wonder if that’s what the FO is doing too. Considering he has 0 value right now, why not? Maybe it’s just me…

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            It’s not just you, other folks feel the same way.

            It’s just not me. :)

          • Nomar’s Left Glove

            Currently, Soriano has more value throwing batting practice than actually playing. The fact that he can only hit lead off because breaking pitches make him look awful diminishes his trade value irrespective of stats. Very few team need a lead off hitter with a sub-300 OBP that bats .230. Add that with the fact that he glides around LF with speed and grace of a manatee on Benadryl and his albatross of a contract and you have a recipe for a large contract player being released and the Cubs eating his contract when he begins to block talented younger guys. I might wonder if that might be around August or September if Rizzo and LaHair are hitting and they have to move LaHair out of first base to make room for Rizzo.

  • Tarheel Cub

    Pull a LaRussa and bat him in the pitcher’s spot…

    Oh, did he manage to get on base yesterday?

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

    Maybe I was being presumptuous in assuming I wouldn’t have to explicitly state why (1) pointing to Soriano’s career leadoff stats is an utterly absurd justification for batting him leadoff this year, and (2) Soriano might be the single worst batter on the entire team to bat leadoff (even if you think he’s a quality hitter, his spot is somewhere in the middle).

    • JasonB

      His career leadoff statistics are perfectly valid indicators – if we were evaluating where to put him in the lineup 10 years ago when he had the bat speed that allowed him to post those numbers.

      Soriano is a sub .300 OBP hitter and his sole redeeming quality is his ability to hit the ball out of the park.  He is the anti-leadoff hitter.  If we want him to leadoff a lot of innings, bat him 9th behind the pitcher.  It would be better for the offensive production than having him hit leadoff.  He’s basically a 7 hitter at this point in his career.

      • DocWimsey

        Also, if you look at Sori’s numbers in the different lineup spots (at least up to 2009 or 2010), then it turns out that the numbers simply were not significantly different from a one-rate plus variation model. Yes, he put up better numbers in the #1 slot: but that is entirely different from stating that he was a better hitter in the #1 slot.  Everybody is going to put up best numbers somewhere.

        • Bric

          Doc, seriously, bud, I think you rely on numbers more than any team really does. It’s a game and a business that involves people. How was Woody talked into coming back to the Cubs? His relationship with Hendry and his love for the city. Really had nothing to do with numbers.

          Again, Sori’s been in the league for almost 15 years and knows and has played for alot people. If, this year, he’s playing hard, concentrating on minimizing errors, and another team suddenly needs an experienced DH, then he might get moved. Otherwise, the Cubs will probably try to buy out his contract or just have to cut him and eat the loss. Numbers won’t have anything to do with it other than the dollar numbers.

  • Dan

    The reason for Soriano to bet lead off would be…, to increase his trade value! The more at bats, the more home runs! DUH!!!

    Think about it, instead of 25 home runs from Soriano, he may get 35 home runs. That could save the Cubs 10-15 million in a trade for Soriano. The Cubs are going cheap.

    By the way, I’m kinda being sarcastic? i think…

  • Cheryl

    It does make some sense. It may be the only place where Soriano can bat without the pressure of people in scoring position. But this may only be something Sveum is consdidering.

  • spencer

    How many career lead off homers does he have? I know everyone bitches about his obp and rightfully so, but there are far worse options.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’m not sure there is a worse leadoff option from the expected starters, besides the pitcher. Not only is Soriano a terrible leadoff option, in and of himself, he’s most productive in a run-producing spot. Leading him off hurts the Cubs twice.

    • http://dailybigten.com DBT

      Some old numbers on Sori leading off:

      http://wrigleyville23.com/2009-articles/april/soriano_a_solid_leadoff_hitter.html

      (This is not to suggest he should lead off. Just some old numbers that are/were interesting.)

  • Guancous

    Eh, it’s not like this decision will prevent the Cubs from getting home field advantage. Their main goal is arguably creating trade value for Soriano. It’s worth a loss over the course of a season if Soriano performs better and saves the Cubs a couple million dollars.

    • BFiddy

      If your goal is to create trade value, put him after Castro and before LaHair/Soto to try and get him some fastballs with guys on base.

      Batting him leadoff won’t create trade value…it will make him look worse.

      • Bric

        The dude’s been in the league for almost 15 years. He’s probably played under 15 or more coaches and batting coaches. It’s not like anybody in the league doesn’t already know who he is and what he does. Even if he hit .350 with 8 homers in April and May in the 3 spot the issue wouldn’t be his numbers. It would be his attitude, ability to stay healthy, and how much the Cubs are willing to eat of his contract and whether it’s worth it to pick him up. Playing him where he wants would go a long way in being able to move him.

      • DocWimsey

        Almost none of the contending teams really use RBI as a “value” statistic anymore: they all know that those are a product of slugging and team OBP.  If Sori is posting a decent slash-line and a contending team suddenly needs a DH (which probably will not happen), then there is the possibility of a trade if the Cubs will eat a big chunk of the contract.

        Frankly, given the number of AAAA guys out there, it does astound me that teams ever have problems filling the DH slot…

    • Bric

      That’s what I was thinking. The Cubs are in rebuilding mode and Soriano’s last three years of contract are only in that plan because they can’t move him. May as well put him where he’s most comfortable in order to be happiest, and therefore, most productive for what he is- a power hitter with a huge bat and big time strike out ability. He’s going to be who he is regardless of where you put him.

      For years Lou, the media, the fans, everybody wanted him to bat anywhere but wherever he happened to be at the time. The clear solution was and still is that the only place he should be batting is on an AL team.

  • John

    Sounds like your brief love affair with Sveum is over Brett. You guys crack me up. Spring games haven’t really started yet and you’re going thru a childhood tantrum about Soriano batting leadoff. Give Sveum a break. Let him maneuver and experiment. Geez. I have more faith in him than you. Awww, don’t pout. Maybe law is the Best thing for you.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Pro-tip: read and digest the entire post before throwing stones.

      Second pro-tip: immature taunts thoughtlessly tossed in my direction don’t make me look bad. They make you look bad.

      • bluekoolaidaholic

        Third Pro-tip:
        Thoughtless, immature taunts thrown at the wordmaster might get you punished with having to listen to endless references to proper usage of “dis-interested”.

  • optimist

    This is the kind of article that makes me reconsider whether or not to visit this site. I’ve always loved Bleacher Nation because of its objective and generally positive, optimistic fan-based articles. The site has been a great summary of the day’s Cubs news, bringing together all the sources and articles into one cohesive location. Bleacher Nation has been a breath of fresh air in the world of bitchy, whiney, sarcastic sports blogs and talk radio stations.

    Unfortunately, this article reminds me of the opinionated, pedantic, negative sports opinion I came to Bleacher Nation to avoid.

    • Can’t think of a cool name

      I don’t find the article negative. Brett is stating his opinion (and probably the opinion of many Cub fans) with facts to back it up.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Even if all of that were true – I disagree, but hey, different strokes and all that – you’re talking about one article out of DOZENS every week. If you avoid Bleacher Nation to avoid that ONE article out of dozens, I tend to think you’re missing out on the very thing you aren’t getting elsewhere.

      And it’s a Saturday, man…

  • Cerambam

    Ya well I love it here

  • ferrets_bueller

    The only worse options, IMO, are Barney and Campana.

    • JasonB

      While I have been very vocal about my thoughts on Barney in the past, I am at least encouraged about the muscle that he added in the offseason.  He’s never going to have HR power, but if he can at least develop gap power, then pitchers won’t be able to throw him grapefruits at will anymore, which should lead to more walks to go along with the higher Slg % associated with more doubles and triples.  He runs the bases well and he plays defense so even slightly better offensive production will turn him into a very good baseball player.

  • Mark

    Let Sveum manage by creativity for awhile. He is going to have to be creative this season.
    It will take trying a lot of different attempts to win half of our games.

  • die hard

    Sveum may be using this as a distraction to keep focus off of the other more meaningful moves in the works which may be undetected as of now. Dont know what they can be but they must be out there somewhere. Will keep lookng.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That would not surprise me.

      • Smitty

        I think this is exactly what he is doing. Deflecting attention. If you look at that lineup, He had Sori #1 and DeJesus #6. Flip those two and that lineup looked like what it would most likely be to start the year.

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  • Deez

    FACE IT!
    We are stuck w/ Soriano until 2014.
    Nobody wants him.
    This says nothing about his work ethic or him as a person.
    We couldn’t get rid of Soriano offering to eat upwards of $45M of the rest of his salary.
    The Cubs on paper look horrible this year.
    We have no true middle of the order guys anymore.
    Try him at the leadoff spot & see what he can generate for us.

  • Nick

    I’m with Mark give Sveum some time and just be excited that he is willing to try somethings right or wrong. If magically Soriano works in the lead off spot great if not lets hope he switches it up we’re going to need some magic anyway this season. If he keeps running him out there while struggling then we have a problem.

    Brett I’m actually a little excited to see it after your previous write up about how hard working Soriano is, prior to that I was as down on him as any one for being lazy and overpaid. That was a great writing and I appreciated it.

    This could also be more about finding run producers long term as well.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I guess I just can’t get on board with throwing stuff against the wall to see if it works. Hoping for magic is not a strategy (and you’re quite right – that’s all this would be). Why not bat Barney leadoff and hope for magic, right?

  • terencem

    Maybe this is just a carrot to dangle in front of Soriano to see if he can try to improve his pitch selection and patience at the plate?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I hope so.

    • DocWimsey

      That’s something upon which players only rarely improve even at the minor league level.  It’s not going to happen to mid-30′s big-leaguer.

  • Ian Afterbirth

    I’m not as concerned with where Soriano hits as where some of the kids hit.
    I would decide where everyone else is most comfortable and productive and then put Soriano in the slot that’s left over. I’m a little more concerned about batting Castro third for instance. I want him to keep developing without undue pressure. This team is going to have a hard time scoring runs and I don’t want Castro feeling responsible for it.
    Soriano, whatever he does or does not contribute, is what he is and his development is moot.

  • OCCubFan

    I think everyone is overreacting. Brett wrote:
    “You know how you know there’s a little bit of legitimacy here? Sveum actually approached Soriano about the possibility of leading off in the future. That’s where the terror enters.
    “He asked me a couple days ago what I thought about batting leadoff and I said, ‘I’m open,’” Soriano said.”
    Undoubtedly, Sveum talked to Soriano and probably discussed the lineup, but we have only Soriano’s version of the details. It is not a disparagement of Soriano or his integrity to suggested that he might have reported things differently than what Sveum intended to say. Even if you know what both people in a conversation think was said and why, you still don’t know the truth. People remember things differently and infer motivations on the other that might not have been intended.

  • Nick

    I guess Barney in the leadoff spot is the same concept. Maybe this has more to do with getting a look at DeJesus in a run producing spot oppose to who’s leading off? I see DeJesus had a couple of seasons with 70 RBIs in KC. What’s a bigger weakness lack of run producers or a lack of a leadoff hitter? Probably not a good sign when you have both. And I’m not seeing a whole lot of OB% in this group either, yikes.

    Could it be the old righty lefty thing?

    Soriano- R
    Stewart- L
    Castro- R
    LaHair- L
    Byrd- R
    DeJesus- L
    Soto- R
    Barney- R

  • bt

    It’s not like he is blocking Rickey Henderson.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Might as well put Rodrigo Lopez in the rotation. It’s not like he’s blocking Tom Seaver.

      • bt

        As Theo said, it’s tough to screw up a lineup. Changing where a guy is going to bat is a lot different than putting an unqualified person into the rotation. The Cubs don’t have a clear cut leadoff hitter. Which is why they are desperate enough to consider putting Soriano there. They hopefully have better options than Rodrigo Lopez.

        I think most reasonable people would say there is a difference between saying “I doubt Soriano’s position in the batting order is a huge deal” and saying “Throw anyone out there, nothing matters”.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I offered the logical extension of your point, which, at its essence is: there’s no Hall of Famer available to lead off, so who cares who leads off? Your restated point was a bit more thoughtful. I still think it’s lame to suggest that the difference between a guy with a likely .300 OBP leading off and a guy around .340 (DeJesus for example) is meaningless.

          • bt

            Do you remember the lineup tool from CSFBL? Do you remember the minute differences in run production between the “best” lineup and the “worst” lineup? That is what Theo is getting at. And that was when you had clear cut leadoff men and cleanup hitters. I wouldn’t hit Soriano leadoff, but it becomes a lot less egregious when you realize he is bumping David DeJesus out of that spot.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Maybe I’m irrationally excited about DeJesus bouncing back.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          And it is tough to screw up a lineup. Batting Soriano first this year is one way to do it.

          • Cheryl

            Sure it might screw things up. But what if its the area he’s most comfortable in in terms of batting Would that make a difference in his batting Maybe so. There’s pluses and minuses to him batting first – right now mainly minuses. But spring time is the time to be creative. Why not bat him first for a while and see how he responds. You can always move him to another slot in the lineup and platoon him.

  • TeddyBallGame

    He’s not batting leadoff, let’s be serious…noone besides Soriano and Sveum know the context of that convo and for all we know, Sveum was laughing as he asked him. I feel like Sveum might be messing with us, he CAN’T be seriously thinking about him being our leadoff hitter Opening Day..

  • jim

    I am impressed! Soriano shud be leadoff! This is just intelligent, logical thinking instead of being held hostage to preconceptions.

  • NEcubsfan

    This would be really stupid if we had any other legitimate option at lead off this year. However, if we are going nowhere and Soriano produces best leading off, is this necessarily a bad idea? Would this not at least improve his trade value in the hopes of dumping him before next year?

  • Tony S

    It is possible the leadoff conversation between dale and alphonso was specific to that one game.

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