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Indians Trade Target - Alfonso Soriano

Cubs fans watch in disbelief as Soriano connects.
Cubs fans watch in disbelief as Soriano connects.

One in a series of articles previewing the upcoming trade deadline. Previous entries:

An argument to make a trade | Valuing Cleveland's Tradable Assets

Trade Targets: Carlos Quentin | Ryan Dempster | Chase Headley | Matt Garza | Wandy Rodriguez

It's tempting to type the words "nothing to see here, move along" — and then just click "Post." It's pretty rare that a former All-Star, Yankee, blockbuster trade target and mega-contractee is considered so cold on the market that Jon Heyman writes an article, almost Onion-worthy in its irony, just to say that absolutely no trades are brewing.

Let's be honest, though, and realize that Soriano's lack of heat that makes him likelier to land with the prospect-poor Indians. After all, we ended up with Kotchman, we ended up with Damon, and we've given significant playing time to righty bats Jose Lopez and Shelly Duncan. So let's not pretend that we are somehow too smart, too refined a connoisseur of righty bats, to end up with Alfonso Soriano.

Still, he is pretty stinky:

Year Age G PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos Rrep RAR WAR waaWL% 162WL% oWAR dWAR
2009 33 117 522 -11 0 -0 -14 -5 14 -16 -1.8 .473 .480 -0.4 -2.0
2010 34 147 548 10 2 -1 -14 -6 15 7 0.6 .494 .495 2.1 -2.1
2011 35 137 508 2 -1 -2 -9 -6 14 -1 -0.3 .488 .490 0.7 -1.6
2012 36 88 356 6 1 -2 1 -4 10 12 1.2 .502 .501 1.0 -0.3
CHC (6 yrs) 733 3054 33 1 -6 -17 -32 83 63 5.7 .497 .498 7.6 -5.0
Generated 7/23/2012. Provided by View Original Table

I'm departing from convention here to underline his bottom-line value from a WAR perspective. Over Soriano's last three full seasons, he's amassed a WAR of -1.5, or -0.5 per season. In other words, he was slightly below replacement level. For those who prefer to focus on the more reliable oWAR components, the three-year total is 2.4, or 0.8 per season — slightly above replacement level. I think it's fair to say that whatever he used to be, Soriano is basically a replacement level guy now. Even his two-month surge only has him on pace for about 1.7 WAR — average — and that's only if he can keep it up.

That in a nutshell explains why nobody really wants this guy. I don't think the contract is really such a big issue, because any two competent organizations can get together and reach a workable number on the cash exchange. The Cubs have the money, and perhaps more to the point, the Cubs are eating this contract regardless. This points up perhaps the biggest reason why the Indians conceivably would end up with this player: There are no GMs left in the game who are dumb enough to overpay for him. The Jim Bowdens and Jim Hendrys who so over-valued him at his peak are gone, as are the Bavasis and Wades who might have been next in line. Maybe Dayton Moore or Ned Colletti, I guess, but I don't think so. And the Cubs are run by pros who understand sunk cost and have no stake in making Soriano's contract look like anything better than the catastrophe it is. He will go to the highest bidder, and the highest bidder will be the team willing to cover the largest part of his contract, which won't be much.

Roster Fit

Soriano more or less replaces Shelly Duncan on the roster directly. The problem with that is that in his 2.5 seasons with the Indians, Duncan has been more productive than Soriano, producing 1.3 WAR and 1.8 oWAR. The other problem is that Soriano's ability to punish lefty pitchers has been solid but rather inconsistent. Against LHP, Soriano posted a 569 OPS in 2009, 944 in 2010 and 812 in 2011. This season it's 815. In a split that generally amounts to only 140 PA or so each season, one expects plenty of volatility. The platoon split is one of the most reliable ones in baseball, but what this amounts to is that luck largely will determine whether Soriano crushes lefties for two months or not.

The argument for Duncan is that he's healthier and possibly a better defender in left field at this point (although clearly that is damning with faint praise). The argument for Soriano is essentially the lotto-ticket element — that he might explode with solid productivity for these next two critical months and/or be the more productive player next season. Soriano has won spots on seven All-Star teams; Duncan has never won a starting job in a big-league lineup. This baseline talent difference isn't everything, but it shouldn't be ignored, either.

Contract Status

Soriano is in the sixth year in an eight-year, $136 million contract, which pays him $18 million each for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. He will be due about $42 million as of the trade deadline next week.

Heyman cited sources who said the Cubs would have to eat all but $2 million of Soriano's contract to move him. I think that number is a little low, even if the buyer is a low-payroll team like the Indians. Again, we're giving a mill to Damon and three to Kotchman, and those deals are just for one season. I can envision a deal in which we cover perhaps $6 million of Soriano's deal — perhaps $1 million this year and $2.5 million each in 2013 and 2014. Of course, that all depends on ...

Estimated Cost

... which would have to be nothing. And I don't mean Nobody, I mean nothing. I mean organizational filler, a C-grade relief prospect. Again, the Cubs are smart enough to give Soriano away. It is possible that the Indians would agree to eat $6 million of that contract, and it is possible that they'd be the highest bidder at that price. Acquiring Soriano would be a flier, to be sure, but at the same time, there's no doubt we'd find playing time for this guy if we had him. I've heard crazier.