Oh crap, now I have
to talk about these guys. As much as I usually, intentionally avoid any discussion of Chicago's minor league baseball franchise, when a local team makes the biggest free agent splash of the off season, I just can't ignore them.
The Cubs made a big splash, but is it a good move? The quick answer is that Alfonso Soriano
is what the team needed – a high powered outfield bat. Jay Mariotti is certainly excited.
Of course, Mariotti i
sn't exactly on the cutting edge of performance analysis. He correctly identified Soriano a
s a good power hitting outfielder. But Mariotti i
s dead wrong in his belief that the Cubs are suddenly a much better team. And he's dead wrong in his belief that now was the right time for the Cubs to overspend on Soriano.
Soriano hits with power. He had 46 homers last year, and has been around 40 a season much of his career. But he's really not cut out to be a leadoff hitter. He has a career .280 batting average and .325 on-base percentage. Last year was better, but how much of Soriano's new found on-base skills are real, and how much a product of teams pitching around him? Soriano drew 13 extra intentional walks last year -- inflating his on-base percentage -- but he also drew 21 extra unintentional walks. So, his on-base percentage probably won’t regress all the way to the .310 level it was at in ’05, but he’s also not likely to remain around .350, as he was in ’06.
Beyond the fact that Soriano is ill-suited to a lead off role, the biggest problem with this deal is his age. This deal isn't two years too long, as Mariotti speculates, it's six years too long. Soriano turned 30 last year, which actually means he’s already on the downslope of his career in all likelihood. Baseball Prospectus hasn’t updated PECOTA yet, and Soriano’s figures to see an upswing because he outperformed his 90th percentile projection last year, but based on last year’s PECOTA, Soriano looked like he’d be worth about $15 million over the next five years, rather than the $85 million the Cubs will pay him, never mind the additional $51 million they’ll pay him for his 36, 37, and 38 year-old seasons.
Plus, the Cubs aren't at a level where they're ready to take advantage of adding a player like Soriano. Even at last year’s level, Soriano is worth about 4 more wins than Murton, Jones, or Pierre in whichever outfield spot he takes over. Given that the Cubs have done little else to make the team any better (don't be fooled by Mark DeRosa's hot spring, after June he returned to the utility infielder level he's played at for the rest of his career), that means a jump from 66 wins to 70 wins. Not exactly the economic sweet spot where its worth paying a premium for a guy who can put you over the top and get you into the playoffs.
Soriano's a good player. The Cubs need more of those. But the Cubs just burned a huge chunk of the budget on one player who won't put them over the top. And they'll still be burning a big chunk of each season's annual budget on him long after he's stopped being a good player. Soriano's signing may or may not help the team next year as much as several astute mid-level signings would have, and in the long term, the Cubs' big splash will do the club more harm than good.