Friday, December 14, 2012

Judging Alfonso Soriano by his contract

When a baseball player signs a historically bad contract, he ceases to be judged by his play on the field. Instead he is judged against his contract. There seems to be something unfair about that. Alfonso Soriano, like Zito on the Giants, will always be looked at with skepticism. He is ridiculed and derided for the fact that he cannot earn his pay. Is that really fair? The Cubs, who gave Soriano that contract, should be the ones ridiculed. They are the ones that gave him all that money. Because if you take away the money, Soriano has not been that bad a player for the Cubs.

It is not like Alfonso Soriano rolled up in a ball and quit playing. To date, the Cubs have paid him $97 million. And according to Fangraphs, Soriano has been worth $84.3 million for his time with the team. That's not terrible. Average that out over six seasons with the Cubs and that is an average playing value of $16.05 million a season. How would we perceive Soriano if he did not make that kind of money? We would perceive him totally different.

First, we all know that Soriano has holes in his game. He will never be the prettiest outfielder. And that was after he was a pretty disastrous second baseman. He has not had a Hall of Fame career. But he has had a nice career. His career wOBA is .351--not Hall of Fame material, but productive nonetheless. His career triple slash line is: .273/.323/.505. He has 836 career extra base hits including 372 homers. He has scored more than a thousand runs and driven in more than a thousand runs.

In his prime, he reached the 30/30 mark in homers and stolen bases four times. He has 270 career stolen bases with a 78% success rate. He is 103 hits away from 2,000. That is not a bad career. That is a pretty good career.

And how come a guy like Soriano is not given the benefit of the doubt when he was underpaid for several years before he struck it rich? Soriano has built a playing value (again, according to Fangraphs) of $147 million in his career and he has been paid $121+ million. In the grand scheme of things, he has earned his keep.

There is an inherent unfairness that Soriano will always be judged for his contract. It seems petty. This has been stated many times in this space, but bears repeating one more time: Which of us would not put a pen to such a contract? Which of us has ever said to our bosses, "No, really, Joe, you are overpaying me. Stop it already." None of us.

What a player makes is the team's problem and purview. The team either takes a gamble or a calculated risk. Sometimes the team loses. The Cubs lost this one. That has nothing to do with Soriano. Their decision should not make Soriano a scorned and ridiculed player. Separate the player from his contract. And when you do that, Alfonso Soriano has given baseball more good moments than bad ones.


RichieAllen1964 said...

William, what I remember most about Soriano from his Yankee days is his inability to play second base, his unwillingness to bunt (which in my mind was the reason they were so willing to "get rid of him") and his complete refusal to make the shift to the outfield, a place where he could, presumably, do less damage.

But mostly what I saw in Soriano was not his contract, but his utter selfishness. He was all about Soriano in a very public way, and I also think there was a similar feeling about him in the Yankees clubhouse. I suspect he's not unusual in that way, but much more so than most, but at least most are more careful to hide it better.

When the chance to trade him (if memory serves me) straight up for A-Rod, it was clearly a case of addition by addition AND subtraction. It was a great trade for the Yankees, financially and otherwise, and say what you will about A-Rod, he's always been a pretty stand-up guy when it came down to it. The same cannot be said for Soriano.

His playing for the Cubs made perfect sense to me: one loser playing for another.

He seemed to me a guy with tremendous potential whose self-centered ego and his complete refusal to change got in the way of him being a truly outstanding ballplayer.

I don't blame him the contract. He certainly has the numbers to deserve it, but that is not, and has never been, my disdain for him. His time in New York started off with a great deal of excitement for the future and as we got to know him, we wanted less and less to do with him.

Exit stage left Alfonso. Have a nice career.

Bob said...

You are really off base on Soriano Richieallen. He is one of the hardest working players Ive seen and a great team / club house player. Switch from 2nd to left field ? no problem. Go from lead off hitter to hitting anywhere from 5th to 7th no issues. Drop a few ounces on the bat weight, ok. Play centerfield, done. All changes he has done with the Cubs without bitching or crying. Of course he isnt a proven liar roid user or owed $114 million dollars still on his contract.