If Cubs were decent, Alfonso Soriano would likely be an MVP candidate
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org September 10, 2012 10:24PM
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 10: Alfonso Soriano #12 of the Chicago Cubs flies out to center in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 10, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:20AM
HOUSTON — They tried to trade him last winter. They tried again in July, but he used his no-trade rights to nix the deal. In fact, the Cubs’ new bosses were willing to pay millions to move Alfonso Soriano almost from the moment they took over the team.
The only guy in Monday night’s lineup over the age of 30 has undergone such a complete baseball rebirth at the age of 36, he might have been in the National League MVP conversation if the Cubs had played even as well this year as, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, or maybe if he’d accepted that trade to the San Francisco Giants.
‘‘He’s probably the biggest surprise in all of baseball, really,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said before the Cubs’ 4-1 victory against the Houston Astros on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Soriano (.258 batting, .314 on-base and .496 slugging) went 0-for-3 with two walks. Dave Sappelt had two doubles and three RBI and Chris Volstad earned the win in the game.
Soriano has gotten a lot of local attention for his dramatically improved fielding under the tutelage of coach Dave McKay this year.
But his run production has been almost as impressive, especially after going the first 30 games without a homer.
With five homers and 10 RBI in his 15 previous games, Soriano entered the series opener in Houston ranked seventh in the league with 28 homers and fourth with 94 RBI.
‘‘A lot of people have written him off, being another year older, and the legs were another year older,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Hopefully he does end up with 30 and 100. That’s not too far-fetched now. It’ll be one of the better stories of the year.
‘‘And thank God he’s put together that year for us. Obviously, we haven’t been all that productive, and he’s been the one cog in the machine that’s been consistent, as good as anybody in baseball since May 15.’’
Soriano says he used to imagine winning the MVP early in his career. He finished third, behind Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez in 2002 with the New York Yankees.
This year’s MVP race in the National League might have tilted his direction if the team wasn’t so bad. The NL West-leading Giants’ top player, Melky Cabrera, was suspended for performance-enhancing drug use, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun’s big numbers are diminished some by his own team’s losing record, and Matt Kemp and Joey Votto — who got off to big starts for their contending teams — both have missed significant time with injuries. It’s put guys such as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen and the Cincinnati Reds’ Jay Bruce into prominent spots in the discussion.
‘‘Yeah,’’ he said, ‘‘but it’s very hard. That’s why I have a lot of respect for those guys that can be MVP [candidates], because not only do you have to put up good numbers, but the team has to play good and be in the playoff [race].’’
Soriano, though, plays without regrets, not even for turning down the Giants deal.
Reminded that might have put him into position to challenge for the MVP, he stuck by his rationale in July and August.
‘‘Maybe,’’ he said. ‘‘I might feel comfortable with the team if I go, but I want to feel comfortable with the city. I don’t care about the [challenges of] the ballpark. It’s more the city. I don’t like the city of San Francisco. So thank God we only go one time a year.’’
He’d rather try to be an MVP influence in the Cubs’ rebuilding process down the stretch, if not into next year.
‘‘I try to teach these guys it doesn’t matter what the record is. When you have the uniform on, you play like it’s the first game of the regular season,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s September, but we’ve got to just forget the record and just think about playing hard and playing to get the win tonight.’’