I can’t say why I was reconsidering Alfonso Soriano recently (other than the fact that he was released in our Ottoneu league – in my mind, a very surprising cut), but as I look back over his career I wonder if there has been a more misunderstood career. Admittedly, I am biased since I sat in the right field bleachers in Phoenix in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series when he took Curt Schilling deep to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead that Mariano Rivera would relinquish in painful fashion (for me and my fellow Yankee fans, anyway).
Merely raising Soriano’s name invariably brings to the fore a litany of “bads”. Soriano’s plate discipline has vacillated between god awful and merely below average – though anyone that has watched him repeatedly chase sliders down and away doesn’t have to look at his career 6% walk rate or 54% swing rate. His indifference as a fielder is well documented – though since he moved from 2B to the outfield, those limitations have been more successfully hidden. After joining the 40/40 club in 2006, Soriano signed an 8 year/$136M contract largely viewed as an albatross, and the Cubs have been trying to get out from under that contract almost since its inception.
The focus on Soriano’s limitations obscures some rather impressive positives. Soriano broke in as a full-time player in 2001, and has hit 369 of his 372 career HRs since that point. Only 6 players (Pujols, ARod, Adam Dunn, David Ortiz, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko) have hit more. In addition to the power, Soriano has swiped 270 bases (and his 75 CS mean he’s stolen those bags at a 78% clip). With 28 more home runs he would eclipse the 400 HR mark – there are 5 players in baseball history to club 400 HRs while stealing 250 bases – Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Andre Dawson and Gary Sheffield.
Finally, the matter of the contract – Soriano was paid an $8M signing bonus, and then the contract called for $128 over his 2007-2014 seasons. From 2007-2012, he has collected $94M (excluding the signing bonus), and he will earn $18M in each of the next two seasons. If we amortize the signing bonus ratably over the life of the contract, the following table shows Soriano’s WAR, the value of that WAR and his salary thus far:
Soriano debuted on the North Side with a monstrous 2007 season (albeit aided by a ridiculous UZR rating that was likely at least partially random variance), and followed it up with a more than respectable 2008. Through two seasons, the Cubs were sporting more than $10M in profits – until 2009 hit. Almost out of nowhere, Soriano posted a replacement level season. In mid April, Soriano collided with Wrigley’s (ivy covered but solidly) brick LF wall, and ultimately underwent surgery in September. Whether this injury caused the down year or now I’ll never know, but the down year accounts for nearly all of the “loss” the Cubs have faced over the first 6 years of Soriano’s contract. Ultimately, Soriano has delivered about 85% of his contract value to date – not a bargain by any stretch, but that is a far cry from the “albatross” contracts that MLB owners hand out with alarming frequency. He likely won’t deliver $38M in value over the next two seasons – but he can still hit even at age 37.
Alfonso Soriano won’t go to the Hall of Fame, has never developed any plate discipline,and has been overpaid for what he has delivered on the field. However, he’s going to retire with over 400 Homers, 250 SBs, and close to 50 WAR, accomplishments worthy of not being overshadowed.