Without a doubt, the name you’ll hear the most in trade rumors this month – for the Chicago Cubs, anyway – is Alfonso Soriano. As a right-handed power bat, enjoying his best season in years at the plate and in the field, Soriano has quite a bit of value.
That is to say, if you could completely ignore his contract, which pays him $18 million per year through 2014. Fortunately for the Cubs, that contract is the very reason they’ll be able to trade him this month, because he’ll easily clear waivers. Unfortunately for the Cubs, teams have trouble separating the value Soriano would have as a member of a club in a pennant race, and the extreme lack of value in his contract.
“When guys sign really big contracts and then they go through a year or two when they may not perform at a peak level, I think players get labeled because of their contracts as ‘undesirable,’” President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein told reporters, according to the Tribune. “[Soriano has] always has been a great teammate here and he has been a very productive player this year, he really has improved his defense and has been very productive with the bat.
“It’s hard to step back and evaluate the player independent of his contract. Sometimes teams fall into dismissing a player because of his contract. Certainly he’s helping us and he could help other teams. I’m sure he’ll clear waivers and see if something else materializes. But we’re certainly happy to have him here.”
Of course, the Cubs will be willing to eat some of that contract if they can get prospect value back in return, and, indeed, they had preliminary discussions with a handful of teams before the trade deadline about doing just that.
Soriano has admitted that the Cubs had spoken to him before the deadline to get a sense of what teams he would be willing to consider in trade. In general, he prefers non-West Coast teams (to be closer to his family), and prefers teams that look to be competitive not only this year, but the next two years. Presumably, the non-West Coast thing is why Soriano rejected a would-be trade to the San Francisco Giants, as confirmed by Gordon Wittenmyer.
But Soriano did approve a prospective deal to one West Coast team: the Dodgers. That was back when the Cubs were scrambling to make something worth with the Dodgers in a Ryan Dempster deal, and they thought including Soriano might make it work. Those discussions apparently got very close to a deal (remember when Brett Jackson was mysteriously pulled on July 30? Soriano’s agent was calling him at the same time to alert him that a deal was “very close”), but ultimately, the two sides couldn’t make it work.
From here, the Cubs obviously won’t say publicly that they want to trade Soriano, but it’s not hard to read between the lines in the Epstein quote above, and the following, from GM Jed Hoyer.
“I suppose there is a chance in August, but he handled things so well,” Hoyer said Wednesday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “He was great with us. He’s having a great year, some teams were interested. He told us to bring some teams to him if there was a possibility. We did that well in advance. He told us certain places that he was interested in, certain places he wasn’t. I thought the way he handled it was really great ….
“We could move him potentially in August. He’s had a great year and done everything this coaching staff has asked, and we really appreciate the way he has handled not only the season but the way he handled this trade deadline.”
It’s fair to expect that we’ll be hearing plenty about Soriano this month.
(And, yes, I do see how you could read Hoyer’s quotes about Soriano and the deadline as a shot at Ryan Dempster, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s just as possible that, since Soriano is still with the Cubs, Hoyer doesn’t want fans blasting him for rejecting a trade to the Giants …)