Will Alfonso Soriano be a fit with the Cubs in 2012?
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org August 10, 2011 10:48PM
Alfonso Soriano runs out a sixth inning home run during the Cubs 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals Wednesday August 10, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:19AM
Hack Wilson. Andre Dawson. . . . Alfonso Soriano.
They are the only players in Cubs history to hit at least 20 home runs in each of their first five seasons with the team.
Two are in the Hall of Fame. The other — well, he’s still waiting to find out if there will be a sixth season as a Cub, despite 54 million reasons suggesting few palatable alternatives.
Welcome to your Cubs 2011 season, which, coincidentally, has only picked up on the field as it has begun to count down into the final 20 days before a possible prospect watch for 2012.
Three more home runs Wednesday — including Soriano’s 20th —gave the Cubs their eighth victory in 10 games, 4-2 over the Washington Nationals, and a chance for a third consecutive series win Thursday.
But, of course, not even a season-high eight games in a row with a home run, a decent start by
Rodrigo Lopez, a four-hit game by fan-favorite Reed Johnson — heck, not even a Ron Santo statue dedication — can hide the fifth-place flaws and imminent hard decisions facing ownership and the front
office in the next few months.
Not the least of which involves whether to cut ties with Soriano at all costs — specifically $54 million left on the final three years of his contract — to create space to upgrade, and/or “youth-anize,’’ the roster.
“He’s an interesting guy,’’ manager Mike Quade said of Soriano — who also joined Albert Pujols (11) and David Ortiz (10) with active streaks of at least 10 consecutive years of 20 homers or more. “Because he goes through the streaks where he struggles and you just don’t know when he’s going to come out and do some damage.’’
Soriano, who has responded to a 28-game homerless drought with six in his last 16, rates his expectations of returning at “50-50.’’
Even if the Cubs eat enough money to make that move, then what?
The team isn’t sure about last year’s 20-homer rookie outfielder, Tyler Colvin (.123, four homers), whose playing time was the reason Kosuke Fukudome was shipped to Cleveland two weeks ago.
And they haven’t decided whether to take a September sneak peek at top outfield prospect Brett Jackson (.312, seven homers in 26 games at Class AAA Iowa).
Jackson, their first-round pick in 2009, must be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the
Rule 5 draft if the Cubs promote him when rosters expand in September. He requires no such protection through the winter if they don’t bring him up.
The immediate bottom line is that what you see is pretty much what you get the rest of the season — with the possible exception of another late-season look at starter Casey Coleman and a glance at 28-year-old Iowa slugger Bryan LaHair.
Beyond that, several would-be prospects of interest have taken steps back this season. Promising reliever Chris Carpenter has an oblique strain.
And beyond Jackson, there aren’t enough close-to-ready prospects to push the Cubs to make an August waiver-wire trade to create roster room. Never mind what September might look like.
“You can talk about the Jacksons and some of the other people we’re excited about, some of the younger players,’’ Quade said. “But I’d like to see guys here who are ready to be here and ready to be taking a serious look at. I think by the end of the season at both Double- and Triple-A, we’ll have a better idea.’’
For now, at least, they’re winning more often. And doing it with power — including homers by Johnson and Geovany Soto on Wednesday — adds to the late-season entertainment value.
“Everybody woke up and started hitting the ball better and realized how good we are,’’ Soriano said. “It’s getting too late, but it’s good we realize how good we are . . . because [it gives] more confidence for next year.’’