Alfonso Soriano still has enough offensive ability to help several contenders. (AP)
Last summer, it appeared that Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer would get a chance to check off an item that had been atop their to-do list since they took the helm in October 2011: trade Alfonso Soriano. That was no small challenge given the $54 million that still remained on the eight-year, $136 million contract Soriano signed in November 2006. In the midst of his most productive season since 2008, the then-36-year-old leftfielder generated interest from the Giants, Dodgers and possibly other teams prior to the July 31 trading deadline, but his unwillingness to accept a trade to San Francisco — his right given a no-trade clause in his deal — cost the Cubs their best chance of dealing him.
Now the slugger is back in the news, as ESPNChicago's Jesse Rogers quotes Soriano as saying he would accept a trade to "six or seven" teams if Chicago falls out of contention, a strong possibility given that it is coming off a 101-loss season and projected for a .478 winning percentage according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system.
Soriano finished 2012 hitting .262/.322/.499 with 32 homers, for 2.4 Wins Above Replacement Player — not bad for a player worth just 2.0 WARP for the previous three seasons combined. In terms of Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement, the numbers are 1.8 for 2012, and −1.5 for the previous three years, with the varying values both within each system and across systems owing much to defense; both metrics agree his fielding was much improved last year relative to his recent history. He's still owed $36 million over the next two seasons, the vast majority of which the Cubs will have to absorb if they want to move him. In December, they were rumored to be willing to pay $26 million, about two-thirds of that total, if they received the right prospect(s) in return. For a one-win player (he has averaged 1.1 WARP over last four years), the remaining $10 million would make for a more or less break-even proposition, but for a replacement-level player (average 0.3 WAR over that stretch), it's an overpay
In compiling my winter reportcard series, I found several teams out there with subpar arrangements either in leftfield or at designated hitter, which is to say teams that could use Soriano's services, at least at the right price. What follows are a half-dozen spots where he might fit, not all of which fit into the slugger's imperfect understanding of geography and climate; he's said to have rejected the trade to the Giants because of the cold weather and his history of knee woes, and instead desires to be relocated to a team in the "east or center" even if more such teams are further north, in cooler climates. For what it's worth, the NOAA National Climatic Data Center data shows Chicago as the fifth-coldest major league city based on average daily high temperature, with San Francisco the 12th coldest.
The teams below are listed in order of best fit, with obvious noncontenders ruled out since it's likely such a trade would be rejected.
Baltimore Orioles: Orioles leftfielders combined to hit just .235/.298/.396 last year, while their DHs hit just .240/.323/.407, and amid their surprisingly quiet offseason, they've done little to upgrade either position. In fact, their biggest move all winter was to retain free agent leftfielder Nate McLouth via a one-year, $2 million deal. McLouth hit .268/.342/.435 in 55 games with the Orioles, a big step up from the .203/.312/.313 he hit in 158 games from the beginning of 2010 until his release by the Pirates in late May, but obviously a much smaller sample.He's the long half of a platoon with oft-injured Nolan Reimold, who hasn't played in 100 major league games in a season since 2009.
At DH, the team has SHINO (switch hitter in name only) Wilson Betemit, who hit .302/.357/.502 in 280 PA against righties last year, compared to .140/.219/.186 in 96 PA against lefties; his career splits are nearly 200 points of OPS apart. Soriano has hit .276/.346/.522 in 440 PA against southpaws over the past three years, which would be good enough for Baltimore manager Buck Showalter to find him time at either position without too much trouble.
San Francisco Giants: The departure of Melky Cabrera via free agency leaves the Giants with just three returning players who hit at least 10 homers last year: Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval. Lefty Gregor Blanco (.244/.333/.344 in 453 PA last year) is the current starter in leftfield, with switch-hitter Andres Torres (.230/.327/.337 in 434 PA with the Mets) in reserve, and historically stronger against lefties than righties for platoon purposes. Both are much better defenders than Soriano, but either one could come off the bench in the late innings to minimize his exposure afield. Yes, Soriano has already rejected a deal to San Francisco, but you'd think two world championships in three years would make for a selling point to a player who hasn't been on a team above .500 since 2009.
Texas Rangers:Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, who hit 67 of the team's 200 home runs in 2012, have both departed via free agency, and new DH Lance Berkman isn't going to make up that power deficit all by himself. In fact, he's a considerable injury risk given that he played just 32 games last year and is almost literally on his last legs. Nelson Cruz is a risk as well given his connection to the Miami Biogenesis mess, though admittedly the possibility of him being suspended for using PEDs without a positive test is very narrow. David Murphy is probably better suited to a platoon either in left or centerfield, last year's fluky showing against southpaws notwithstanding. Soriano spent 2004-2005 with the Rangers and has hit a robust .323/.368/.613 in 731 PA in their ballpark over the course of his career. He wouldn't have to worry about being cold given that Dallas is the majors' sixth-warmest city.
Tampa Bay Rays: With Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and eventually Wil Myers figuring into their corner outfield picture, the Rays don't have much space in the outfield for Soriano, which is probably a good thing given the mismatch between their turf and his knees. Tropicana Dome aside, Tampa Bay is the major's third-warmest city. At the very least, the Rays could use a platoon complement to DH Luke Scott, who hit just .229/.285/.439 with 14 homers in 344 PA last year while missing seven weeks due to back and oblique injuries, his second injury-plagued season in a row. Scott is helpless against lefties, having hit just .193/.257/.408 in 239 PA against them over the past three years. If he can't rediscover his form at all, Soriano would be an upgrade against pitchers of either hand, but at the very least he's platoon material. If he's willing to learn first base — where weak-hitting James Loney and Your Name Here are the existing platoon — he might find even more work.
New York Yankees: They're already old and they have leftfield spoken for via Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson, but the Yankees could easily find a use for Soriano, whom they signed out of the Dominican Republic way back in 1998. They don't have a strict platoon complement for either DH Travis Hafner or rightfielder Ichrio Suzuki, both lefties. The working plan appears to be giving erratic infielder Eduardo Nunez time at shortstop or third base while Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis or eventually Alex Rodriguez is due for a half-day off while Hafner sits.
Though Ichiro's career platoon splits are negligible, he has hit a thin .292/.319/.343 in 686 PA against lefties over the past two seasons. Thus far, the players whom general manager Brian Cashman has dredged up as potential platoonmates — Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera — have been better left undredged; Soriano has been more productive than either. Alas, the hitch is that he's never played rightfield in a major league game, save for a one-inning stint in the 2003 World Series. The same goes for Gardner and Granderson, neither of whom has a strong enough arm to handle the position. Still, when the alternatives are Diaz and Rivera…