Spring spotlight: Soriano needs strong Cactus League effort

Spring training often resembles a working vacation for most veterans. You know, put in a couple innings of work and then call for your tee time. However, the list of proven veteran players who slumped in 2009 is a long one. For those players, regaining their confidence/swing/swagger starts when they report to their Grapefruit League or Cactus League camp. Which disappointing player from last season is in most desperate need of a strong spring?

Stan McNeal makes his case for Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez, but Chris Bahr says it is Cubs left field Alfonso Soriano who most needs to recapture his productive form:

Four years ago while playing with the Nationals, Alfonso Soriano joined the uber-exclusive 40-40 club during a contract year. He quickly cashed in, signing an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs a couple of months before his 30th birthday.

Alfonso Soriano needs to shake off his injury woes to return to his old form.
Alfonso Soriano needs to shake off his injury woes to return to his old form.

Beginning this season (and running through the 2014 season), Soriano will earn $18 million annually. His contract was backloaded, but the opposite apparently was true of his production. At least the Cubs don’t have to worry about paying him a $75,000 bonus for winning a Gold Glove.

If the Cubs are going to compete this season — with spring training quickly approaching, there doesn’t appear to be the usual level of this is THE year hype — several things will have to happen. They are going to need a stronger effort from their rotation, better luck in terms of health and a return to form by Soriano. The Cubs fell off the map offensively in 2009, and Soriano’s bat can help rescue them from the depths to which they sank.

Soriano’s revival must start with a strong spring. But what are the chances Soriano will deliver?

The obstacles

Eroding production. Soriano’s homer totals and OPS have dropped in each of the past three seasons, and 2009 was the first full season of his career when he failed to reach double digits in steals.

Health. Over the past two seasons, Soriano has missed 98 games (after missing 42 from 2001-06). That has contributed to his offensive decline, and it is cause for serious alarm.

Xavier Nady’s arrival. Assuming Nady’s troublesome elbow (two Tommy John surgeries) is healthy, he is expected to cut into right fielder Kosuke Fukudome’s playing time. But if Soriano gets off to a slow start, he often could find himself on the bench in favor of Nady.

The optimism

Rudy Jaramillo. The hitting guru brought out the best in Soriano (.274-64-195) during their two years together in Texas. The Cubs hired Jaramillo to repair an offense that finished 21st in OPS, 22nd in runs and 26th in batting average last season.

Lineup position. Soriano might be miscast as a left fielder, but he no longer is miscast as a leadoff man. He is expected to hit fifth this season, and that should result more RBI opportunities and less pressure. In his three seasons with Chicago (primarily in the leadoff spot), Soriano has averaged 27 homers but just 67 RBIs.

More protection. A healthy Aramis Ramirez, who missed much of 2009 because of a shoulder injury and wasn’t 100 percent when he returned, will be key. The addition of center fielder Marlon Byrd (and the subtraction of Milton Bradley) also will be a boost.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Spring training often resembles a working vacation for most veterans. You know, put in a couple innings of work and then call for your tee time. However, the list of proven veteran players who slumped in 2009 is a long one. For those players, regaining their confidence/swing/swagger starts when they report to their Grapefruit League or Cactus League camp. Which disappointing player from last season is in most desperate need of a strong spring?

Stan McNeal makes his case for Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez, but Chris Bahr says it is Cubs left field Alfonso Soriano who most needs to recapture his productive form:

Four years ago while playing with the Nationals, Alfonso Soriano joined the uber-exclusive 40-40 club during a contract year. He quickly cashed in, signing an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs a couple of months before his 30th birthday.

Alfonso Soriano needs to shake off his injury woes to return to his old form.
Alfonso Soriano needs to shake off his injury woes to return to his old form.

Beginning this season (and running through the 2014 season), Soriano will earn $18 million annually. His contract was backloaded, but the opposite apparently was true of his production. At least the Cubs don’t have to worry about paying him a $75,000 bonus for winning a Gold Glove.

If the Cubs are going to compete this season — with spring training quickly approaching, there doesn’t appear to be the usual level of this is THE year hype — several things will have to happen. They are going to need a stronger effort from their rotation, better luck in terms of health and a return to form by Soriano. The Cubs fell off the map offensively in 2009, and Soriano’s bat can help rescue them from the depths to which they sank.

Soriano’s revival must start with a strong spring. But what are the chances Soriano will deliver?

The obstacles

Eroding production. Soriano’s homer totals and OPS have dropped in each of the past three seasons, and 2009 was the first full season of his career when he failed to reach double digits in steals.

Health. Over the past two seasons, Soriano has missed 98 games (after missing 42 from 2001-06). That has contributed to his offensive decline, and it is cause for serious alarm.

Xavier Nady’s arrival. Assuming Nady’s troublesome elbow (two Tommy John surgeries) is healthy, he is expected to cut into right fielder Kosuke Fukudome’s playing time. But if Soriano gets off to a slow start, he often could find himself on the bench in favor of Nady.

The optimism

Rudy Jaramillo. The hitting guru brought out the best in Soriano (.274-64-195) during their two years together in Texas. The Cubs hired Jaramillo to repair an offense that finished 21st in OPS, 22nd in runs and 26th in batting average last season.

Lineup position. Soriano might be miscast as a left fielder, but he no longer is miscast as a leadoff man. He is expected to hit fifth this season, and that should result more RBI opportunities and less pressure. In his three seasons with Chicago (primarily in the leadoff spot), Soriano has averaged 27 homers but just 67 RBIs.

More protection. A healthy Aramis Ramirez, who missed much of 2009 because of a shoulder injury and wasn’t 100 percent when he returned, will be key. The addition of center fielder Marlon Byrd (and the subtraction of Milton Bradley) also will be a boost.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*