On the one hand, reporting that the Chicago Cubs will be shopping Alfonso Soriano this offseason is a bit like reporting the rain in Seattle. We know they’re shopping Soriano. They have been for years.
But Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi have taken it a step further, and offered something a bit more concrete:
The Cubs expect to meet with teams regarding Soriano during the upcoming winter meetings in Nashville, according to major-league sources. It won’t necessarily be easy to deal Soriano, who has a full no-trade clause and is due a total of $36 million over the next two seasons ….
The Philadelphia Phillies are one obvious fit for Soriano. They are looking for a right-handed outfield bat to replace Hunter Pence, who was dealt to the San Francisco Giants at the July trade deadline. With Pence gone and catcher Carlos Ruiz suspended to begin the season, the Phillies have only one player on their active roster — shortstop Jimmy Rollins — who hit more than 15 home runs in 2012, when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed time with injuries.
The FoxSports pair go on to note that the Phillies’ current outfield - Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown – could very much use a big-time bat. (And to which I say, maybe the Cubs would take back the displaced outfield (former top prospect Dom Brown?).)
The nature of the report suggests to me a couple things: (1) the leak didn’t come from the Cubs, (2) the leak probably came from the Phillies, and (3) the Cubs really are going to have formal meetings with teams about Soriano. By that last one, I mean: this isn’t a situation where Bob-told-Fred-who-told-Jim-who-told-Jon that the Cubs maybe might be kinda shopping Soriano at the Winter Meetings. Instead, it sounds to me like someone on the Phillies side caught wind that his higher ups had scheduled a meeting or two with the Cubs’ brass specifically to discuss Soriano.
That doesn’t mean that a trade will happen this week, or at all. But it means that there is a level of seriousness to the trade efforts that go beyond the general “we’ll listen on anybody and we’d want quality pieces for someone like Soriano” stance the Cubs have taken in recent weeks.
The market for Soriano’s services are probably a mixed bag. Although he’s coming off an excellent season where his offensive production improved in tandem with his defensive ability, the free agent outfield market is rather robust. Yes, were he a free agent, Soriano would probably be viewed as among the best right-handed corner outfield options – many teams are seeking right-handed power this offseason. But many players are available for nothing more than cash. For Soriano, the Cubs will want prospects.
How much of Soriano’s $38 million salary through 2014 the Cubs are willing to eat is probably the most important factor in whether the Cubs will be able to deal him for a nice return. Just one year ago, teams wanted the Cubs to eat all but 5% of his deal just to put anything together at all. Soriano’s huge 2012 season has helped that situation considerably, and you now get the sense that if the Cubs were willing to eat $14 or $15 million of that deal, they could actually get a pretty nice return for him.
Obviously Soriano’s no-trade rights remain an issue – he has previously said that he would accept a trade only to a competitive team in the Eastern half of the U.S. (except for the Dodgers, who have no interest now). Depending on how the free agent market shakes out, I still see a number of teams who fit that bill and who could use Soriano – the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Orioles, the Rays, and the Braves, to name just a few besides the Phillies. But, if the Cubs are able to move Soriano, we’ll have to keep this limited market in mind when we judge the return.
The Cubs will also have to weigh the fact that, without Soriano’s bat, the Cubs’ offense goes from terrible – it was bottom three in baseball last year – to the lineup equivalent of the clown from ‘It.’ (That is to say: scary and long-term nightmare-inducing (I can’t be the only one).) Perhaps that’s not a concern, as the Cubs maybe don’t expect to be competitive in 2013.
I think, instead, it’s more likely that the Cubs recognize they might take an offensive hit without Soriano, but hope that they can reasonably approximate his bat on the free agent market (Ryan Ludwick?), and hope that they’re striking while the iron is hot on Soriano. Who knows? Maybe the Cubs are shopping Soriano aggressively because they’ve already got their sights set on a top free agent outfielder like Michael Bourn? Moving Soriano would mean the Cubs arguably need two outfielders, so we’ll see.