The Obligatory Carlos Lee-Alfonso Soriano Comparison Blog

MLB: JUN 05 Pirates at Astros

I could easily bore you with a rundown of what went terribly wrong in the Chicago Cubs' blowout loss at the hands of the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. But I could do that in a few sentences. No pitching. No defense. And lots of offense from the home team.

Instead, I'll approach one of the most controversial topics Cubs fans randomly muse over after nights when Alfonso Soriano plays poorly defensively -- despite a 3-for-4 day at the plate. (He's got .394/.444/.667/1.111 slash stats in 36 plate appearances as the team's No. 6 hitter.)

Don't you wonder if the Cubs would have been better off with Carlos Lee in left field?

Soriano and Lee were the two top free agents of the first John McDonough/Jim Hendry era of spending money to fill gaping holes.

If I remember correctly, Soriano was more of the people's choice as he was coming off a 40 homer, 40 double, 40 steal season despite playing for the Washington Nationals. He also was coming off a stellar defensive campaign in his first year as an outfielder, leading the National League in assists.

Lee was more of the logical choice. Sure, he was a known Cub-killer, but the damage he did against other NL Central teams and during day games gave him the advantage in that perspective. But the Cubs, like many other NL teams, were scared off by the idea that he could balloon into an unmovable blob in left field.

Since coming to Houston, Lee owns a .308 batting average, .360 on-base percentage, .531 slugging percentage and an .890 OPS. But since coming to Chicago, Soriano has been no slouch at the plate, but his numbers compared to Lee's have taken a dive. He's hit .279 with a .327 OBP, .519 SLG and .840 OPS. He has out-homered Lee 78-74, but has almost 100 less runs batted in. But that stat should be served with an asterik, seeing that Soriano has spent a good chunk of his tenure with the Cubs as the team's lead-off hitter.

And while I supported Hendry's decision when he made it, and still support Soriano to this day, I cannot help but wonder if miscasting Soriano as a lead-off man will turn a good signing into a failure. Had the Cubs been truly looking for a middle-of-the-line-up guy, they should have signed Lee, who has hit in the middle of the order his whole career. Instead, Hendry took a calculated risk, and no one could have predicted Soriano's free-fall from the top of the order -- especially when he was leading off games with homers.

In the end, Hendry's biggest misstep might have been the contract size and length given to Soriano. Again, few (if any) predicted this kind of economic downfall, but it's not second-guessing when you have questions about signing a player to a deal through the age of 38 with a back-loaded contract. Soriano has five years and $90 million riding on the remainder of his deal with a full no-trade (I felt I needed to make that seem important). And while Lee's contract isn't much better, as he will make an average of $18.5 million for the remainder of his contract, El Caballo's deal expires a full two years before Soriano's and with his full no-trade protection waved in the last two years of the deal.

If anything, this blog is an indictment of Hendry and manager Lou Piniella. Had Piniella slid Soriano down the line-up earlier, maybe Hendry would have felt a sense of urgency (like the ones he gets when he needs a donut or two) and found a way to acquire a traditional No. 1 hitter. Instead, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot and (gulp!) Milton Bradley represent the best top-of-the-line-up guys because of their relatively good on-base percentages.

At this point, only Soriano can save Hendry's legacy as Cubs GM. The Jason Marquis experiment and the Ted Lilly signing are a wash as the Cubs have gotten more than expected out of Lilly, but sold low on Marquis right before a breakout season.

But it will be Soriano who decides where Hendry ranks among Chicago's North Side general managers


Shea J said...

good write-up, but there a few things you fail to take into account:

A. Soriano's September heroics in 2007 got the Cubs into the playoffs nearly by himself. Granted he (and the rest of the Cubs) has been quite pathetic in the playoffs as a Cub but that brings me to my next point.

B. Would Carlos Lee help in the playoffs? Doubtful. Last year was bad dont get me wrong. But if I'm going into the playoffs I want a guy who has done it before and really has a penchant for big hits. You might THINK that is Carlos Lee, but it isnt. His clutch hits come with RISP but his team is up or down by 5 or 6 runs already. Not to mention his postseason average sits at .091. No Hr's no RBI. Soriano is over 100 points better in the playoffs despit his recent struggles.

C. Fielding. Yes Soriano seems a bit lackadaisical at times out there but he covers about 5 times the ground that Carlos Lee does and had 10 times better of an arm (56 OF Assists in 3.5 years as an OF... WOW)

So yeah, if you want someone who would consistently fluff up your stat sheet with meaningless HR and RBI then Carlos Lee is your man. But if you want someone who can absolutely carry a team with his bat and has a record of clutch performances IN the playoffs (as a yankee) then Soriano gets the nod HANDS DOWN. He lived up to his contract the first year and was hurt much of last year. But nothing in his history shows that his struggles this year will continue.