By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Did you know the expression “out of left field” supposedly has its origin in Cubs history? Of course you didn’t because I’m so much better than you. But like the mental patients that helped coin that phrase, many Cubs fans have long had me puzzled by their distaste for the man in left field right now.
Alfonso Soriano is not Todd Hundley flipping the bird to the home crowd and being one of the bigger busts in Cubs history. He’s not Jeff Blauser, the priciest bench player the team ever had.
Nomar Garciaparra he is not either—Soriano takes the field even when he’s banged up. And he isn’t Hee Sop Choi because… well, he’s not a large Korean man.
Soriano is not a bust by any means. But he’s been treated by Cub Nation like he’s paid in starving kitten tears pretty much since the ink on his huge contract dried. Why?
Oh, that albatross of a contract. Right.
Actually, it’s more like a rather poopy pigeon at worst. Soriano’s deal has not prevented the Cubs from winning a damn thing, even though it’s very comforting to blame the team’s underachievements on the hoppy left fielder since he donned the blue pinstripes in 2007.
Soriano ranks 16th in 2012 salary earned and has the 13th overall highest contract in baseball. It’s a lot of money, sure. Again, though, that was offered to him. Like he should have instead said, “Oh, heavens me, I couldn’t possibly!”
What his isn’t is the Pujols deal, which will be laughable in a few years. It’s also not the Jayson Werth or Vernon Wells deals which have increased Al Qaeda recruiting by 20% according to The Pentagon. The Barry Zito and Carlos Lee deals have merely killed millions of freshwater fish.
But hate the guy who took money offered to him and actually produces, right?
Three players in the MLB right now have hit 20 or more home runs in eleven straight seasons. One is Pujols. Another is David Ortiz. The third is Soriano. He’s also the only Cub besides Andre Dawson to hit 20 bombs in each of his first six seasons with the team.
And yet fans are always waiting to boo him if he strikes out. And he shrugs it off because he’s a good guy and always has been. Fans are waiting to boo when he makes an error in the outfield, too, but they’ve been waiting all season because he has zero of those so far in 2012. Haha, you waiters you.
He’s actually only committed 36 errors in five-plus seasons as a Cubs outfielder. A team could do a hell of a lot worse with its left fielder… like anyone else, actually, per Soriano’s MLB-leading UZR and UZR/150 among left fielders this season. (He was one of only six regular LFs with a positive number in both those categories in 2011, by the way.)
The boo-birds are constantly hovering, though, waiting to pick at the remains of a bad play. One will come. I’d be lying if I said I expected Soriano to be error-free right now, let alone finish the season as such, and if I said he’s looked pristine in the field at all times this year. But he’s nowhere near the liability he’s been branded.
And speaking of errors, one of the kids that Cub fans love, Starlin Castro, he’s been making a lot of those this season, both physical and mental. Manager Dale Sveum has covered up his tattoos with a fuzzy cardigan and went all Danny Tanner more than once this year regarding Castro’s gaffes in the field and on the basepaths, but so has the guy many feared would be a poor mentor to Castro.
After one of Castro’s lesser mental games last Friday against the Cincinnati Reds, Soriano had a chat with the skittish shortstop. “You have to prepare mentally and physically, too,” Soriano said of their conversation. “Not just physical. You have to prepare yourself mentally and all those little errors mentally cannot happen in this game.
“He needed motivation. He has to concentrate more on the game because it’s only a 3-3½ hour game. After that you can do whatever you want. You have plenty of time.”
I know it sucks for lots of fans that Soriano doesn’t merely parade around the clubhouse wearing his contract as a loincloth, but find me a current or former teammate that has a bad word to say about the guy. Even Matt Garza loves him, and Matt Garza still watches cartoons.
It’s nice that Soriano is mentoring a youngster like Castro and presumably the other faces of the future like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Those guys can probably tell you, too, that Soriano isn’t exactly blocking a spot at the moment for a future star in the minors. The organization’s Triple-A and Double-A affiliates aren’t exactly teeming with outfield studs at the moment. If 2015 is the year that all the Epstein/Hoyer moves and picks and signings culminate into big league results, Soriano will be gone by then anyway.
Would I like Soriano traded? If it means the money saved (which won’t be much because the Cubs certainly have to eat much of his remaining contract) goes toward future talent, okay. Fine. Sure. Yeah. I guess.
But am I longing for it? Not really. On a team going nowhere for the time being, he seems to help a lot more than he hurts. A respectable .808 OPS this year and a solid 3.1 WAR—it’s a far cry from Matt Murton who preceded him in left… or the rest of the bevy of talent besides Henry Rodriguez and Moises Alou that’s patrolled near Waveland Ave. since Gary Matthews in 1985.
I appreciate Soriano’s game. It’s time you release yourself from that mental institution you have yourself in and appreciate it, too.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at email@example.com. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.