Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum allowed a moment of candor yesterday when discussing the huge season of his aging left fielder.
“It’s as high as it can be,” Sveum said when asked about Soriano’s trade value, per the Tribune. “Those kind of things are all [dependent] on what you’re getting back and all those kind of things. The replacement value of that is very difficult to find.”
As noted in today’s Series Preview, Soriano’s production has indeed reached levels he hasn’t seen in years – his .825 OPS is the best he’s had since his injury-shortened 2008 season, his 32 homers are the most he’s had since 2007, and his 108 RBI are the most he’s ever had. His defense is the best it’s ever been in the outfield (he’s approaching above average!), and he’s going to play in more games this year than he’s ever played with the Cubs in a single season.
In other words, there are many reasons to agree that Soriano’s trade value hasn’t been higher (since signing on with the Cubs, that is). Then again, in a theme you’ll hear all offseason, he’s 36 years old, is signed for two more years at $18 million per, and has full no-trade rights.
Those twin facts do not great trade value create.
Ultimately, we’re going to hear about Soriano trade rumors many times in the coming months. But for the no-trade rights, those rumors might even come to fruition. If Soriano were a free agent this Winter, what kind of contract might he expect to get? Given his rejuvenated production and defense, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine him getting something like two years and $14 million (FanGraphs has Soriano worth 4.3 WAR this year, which would put his dollar value to the Cubs in 2012 at something close to $22 million – just sayin’ (and, yes, that number is undoubtedly inflated because FanGraphs *loves* Soriano’s defense this year – Baseball Reference has him at 1.8 WAR, which would put his value closer to $10 million)). If the Cubs ate enough to take that down to two years and $10 million, might they get a nice prospect, while saving $10 million in the process (something that seemed insanely inconceivable just five months ago)?
Maybe. But those no-trade rights, man. Those no-trade rights.
He’s said he won’t accept a trade to a team other than a competitive, Eastern-half-of-the-country type (except for the Dodgers), and we’ve heard whispers that he’s already excluded the Orioles, Pirates and Rays. That clips out a huge portion of the trading population. Factor in his age, and a possible disbelief that this season was a resurgence rather than a swan song, and you might have just one or two interested teams to which Soriano would actually consider a trade. When you’ve got that kind of limited market, it doesn’t matter how much value Soriano might have according to the back of his baseball card. It’s hard to put a useful deal together.
Ultimately, the Cubs might find the market for Soriano better next Summer (which, for most players, would be counterintuitive). There won’t be as many freely available players like him as there will be this Winter, and there might be a couple teams more desperate than they are now. Further, the Cubs would have paid down an additional chunk of the money Soriano’s owed, and maybe he would have shown by then that 2012 wasn’t a fluke.
It still seems like there are more questions than answers at this point (not the least of which is: do the Cubs really want to dump Soriano, given that there’s no one in waiting behind him to replace his production?). Obviously it will be one of the bigger story lines this offseason.