8:56 PM CST, February 11, 2013
MESA, Ariz. — On the eve of their first workout of the spring, the Cubs suffered a setback.
Carlos Marmol arrived.
Another blow is sure to follow in a few days. Alfonso Soriano will walk in the door.
Cubs President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will tell you it was a productive offseason. They added badly needed pitching depth and filled some minor cracks. But they did not accomplish the thing that is at the top of their to-do list: Get some prospects and at least a little salary relief on the two high-priced veterans who clearly don't fit the patient rebuilding plan.
This is nothing against Soriano or Marmol, really. They have done nothing worse than say yes to the contracts they were offered. But both are at a point in their careers when they should be trying to help teams win 90 games, not 75.
They both need to be gone, even if Soriano is coming off a career year and expected to deliver as much at age 37 as he did at 36.
"One thing about Sori — he keeps his body in good shape," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Obviously he's a year older, his legs are a year older. But give him 150 games (healthy) and you're going to see 25-35 (home runs) and somewhere around 100 RBIs. … We think he's going to get more opportunities (to drive in runs). He drove in 108 without as many opportunities as a lot of guys who hit in the four-hole.''
That's a good point. The Cubs' left fielder was third in the National League in RBIs yet 25th in the league in at-bats with men in scoring position. He had 138 such chances, which somehow was 65 fewer than Hunter Pence, the league leader, and 22 less than Carlos Lee, who split his season between Houston and Miami.
Even Marco Scutaro, Aaron Hill and the Mets' Daniel Murphy — you know him, right? — had more chances than Soriano. All three of those guys were primarily No. 2 hitters. They regularly came to bat in the same inning as the pitcher, and they still got to the plate with men on second or third more than Soriano. That's stunning, but Starlin Castro's on-base percentage was a puny .323, with just 36 walks while playing 162 games.
Soriano can really hit. Since Soriano joined the Cubs in 2007, just about every good stretch the team has had was fueled by his run production, including the 19-10 stretch around the All-Star break last year. But he's serving no point on a fifth-place team, and he's not getting younger.
Soriano could have been a difference-maker for the Rays last year. Maybe even the Tigers, as it turned out. Yes, he improved in left field, thanks to healthier legs, but he belongs in the American League. He would have been a better designated hitter for Texas than Lance Berkman and still could fit on the Orioles or Rays, maybe even the Yankees.
Marmol, who turned 30 in October and will earn $9.8 million this year, is likewise a completely wasted piece on a second-division team. He started off miserably in 2012, falling in love with his slider and losing track of the strike zone, but was one of baseball's best closers after the All-Star break. That's what the numbers say, anyway.
Epstein almost had him traded to the Angels at one point before being scared off by Dan Haren's medical reports. He probably thought there would be other chances but there weren't, possibly because Marmol was busy defending himself from a sexual assault allegation in the Dominican Republic.
The Cubs' front office hasn't had a great record making trades. The unloading of Tyler Colvin for Ian Stewart has been a bust and glitches developed in potential trades involving Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Soriano and Marmol.
Time marches on. Dempster did get dealt after the one false alarm with Atlanta, Garza appears to have gotten healthy over the winter and the nearer Soriano and Marmol get to the end of their deals, the easier it should be to trade them. That is, unless it turns out Soriano insists on being a Cub for life and no one wants Marmol. Their stock might never be higher than it is right now. Scary thought, huh?
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