Brian Urlacher isn't the only Chicago athlete going under the knife. Alfonso Soriano's knee surgery on Tuesday means that the guy who swiped 41 bags in 2006 for the Washington Nationals and turned that into an 8-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs should be on his way back.
There were many reasons GM Jim Hendry threw seemingly endless amounts of cash at Soriano as he entered the free agent market. Part of it was the 46 dingers and 41 two-baggers. Part of it was also the fact that Matt Murton wasn't an everyday outfielder. And part of it was the 41 stolen bases. The Cubs were thinking they had a dynamo at the top of the order that could beat you in multiple facets of the game. Three years later, it's Cubs fans giving Soriano beating.
I'm having a hard time believing that old saying "speed doesn't slump" after watching Soriano abandon his running game over the last three years. Soriano has only 47 steals since joining the Cubs in 2007. In the three years before that, he had 89. The only full season in which Soriano did not snatch at least 30 bags was his 2004 season with the Texas Rangers. Despite that dip in the stolen base department, Soriano averaged 34 steals per season before coming to the Cubs.
In his defense, Soriano (or Sorryano as some have cleverly nicknamed him) has battled numerous injury bugaboos since donning the Cubbie blue pinstripes, but if this surgery does what it is supposed to do, the Cubs should see some larceny on the base paths.
In fact, if Lou Piniella is still around, he should channel his old self, grab Soriano by the neck and tell him to go steal some bases.
I do not want Piniella or any baseball fan or analyst to tell me Soriano doesn't need to run like he used to because he's been dropped to the sixth spot in the order. That's dumb. With the way the Cubs offense has performed, players should be trying to get themselves into scoring position by any means necessary
Do you know what Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, Hanley Ramirez and David Wright have in common? They're all middle-of-the-order hitters who rank in the top 10 in the NL in stolen bases. Kemp leads the group with 32, while Wright and Phillips are tied for ninth with 24 each.
Besides, this isn't 1969 where the No. 7 & 8 hitters aren't batting in the .230s. Well, at least, they shouldn't be.
And I especially do not want to hear from Piniella (or whoever the manager happens to be) that "he's got the green light, so he can go when he wants."
As a manager, you hold all the cards. If you want Soriano to try to steal second, you relay the sign to him via one of your coaches. That is why you have spring training, right? As a manager, you call for hitters to lay down a sacrifice bunt. As a manager, you call for a player to take a 3-0 pitch. Some managers even call games for young starters. So, in conclusion, as a manager, sometimes it is your job to tell your players what to do.
The Cubs have never been a team known for being fleet of foot, but when you rank 10th in runs scored, ranking dead last in stolen bases (47) isn't going to help put runners in scoring position. And if Derrek Lee gets his wish and sees this team return as is, Soriano is going to need to channel the deft base stealer he once was.
It would go a long way in helping him earn the $18 million he'll make annually for the next five years starting in 2010.