I’ll be the first one to admit that the Alfonso Soriano era in Chicago was a mistake. It was the first mega-signing that the Cubs made — even Sammy Sosa in his heyday didn’t get what Soriano got — and it could very well be the last, too.
Yes, the Cubs did win division titles in 2007 and 2008, so the signing of Alfonso Soriano did pay dividends in that respect. But he failed miserably in the playoffs each year, and that’s even more important because he was the leadoff hitter both years, the man whose job it was to kickstart the offense. His .071 (x 3) triple slash line in the 2008 playoffs — when the Cubs had probably their best shot to win the World Series in a half century or more — is the stuff of legend, and not in a good way.
So, with the rest of this year and one more remaining on Alfonso Soriano’s Jim Hendry-era contract, Theo Epstein and company took what they could get for Soriano, and it wasn’t much. Perhaps young Corey Black, who the Yankees gave up to get Soriano, will one day make me eat those words. I hope he does. But for now, it seems that the Cubs didn’t think Soriano was worth keeping around until his contract expires in 2014. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to say “good riddance” when the trade was announced at the end of July.
But, as always, there was a price to be paid. The Cubs will eat an out-sized chunk of the money that Soriano is still due, meaning that his recent offensive explosion must feel like — pardon the expression — found money for the Yankees.
But the price the Cubs are paying goes beyond money. And to understand why, let’s think about donuts or bagels or whatever round morning pastry you can think of, because that shape has become much more commonplace for the Cubs in the days since Soriano was traded away.
Looking at the team’s numbers this year is enough to make any Cubs fan wince. Alfonso Soriano was with the Cubs through the first 98 games of his season, and they were shut out a total of five times. And since Soriano left town, the Cubs have played 21 games and have come up empty in six of them. The Yankees, on the other hand, haven’t been shut out once since Alfonso came back to the Bronx.
Including Sunday’s game against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have 40 games left to play this season. How many of those 40 games will end up in a shutout? My guess is that goose eggs will become a regular fixture for the Cubs over these next six weeks.
The season was lost, in theory, a long time ago. Keeping Alfonso Soriano or trading him wasn’t going to matter in this regard. And like the Carlos Zambrano-for-Chris Volstad deal that didn’t pan out last year, this was about biting the bullet to get rid of a legacy player. I get that, but it will make the rest of this season really hard to watch.
The current Cubs offense, post-Soriano, is looking like awfully thin broth. My guess is another six shutouts, and possibly as many as 10, will be visited on the Cubs before the season ends in St. Louis, six weeks from now. And if anyone has a better guess, that what the comments are for, isn’t it?