With the deal between Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees that will send Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx complete, the marriage between Soriano and the North Siders is over. It was a long time coming, as he was a trade candidate the minute that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in the Cubs' front office.
Soriano spent his days in the Windy City as one of the most polarizing players in Major League history. Many will celebrate his career in Chicago as a success, while those that fall on the negative side of the Soriano spectrum will draw their criticisms for the veteran outfielder from where they always have: his contract.
In the winter of 2006, Soriano signed an eight-year contract, worth $136 million. In the defining move of the Jim Hendry Era, Hendry and Crane Kenney handed over a pile of cash to Soriano, who was apparently supposed to be reluctant in accepting the deal. His contract is largely labeled a failure, perhaps one of the biggest in the history of the bigs. But looking back, was it really all that bad of a contract for the Cubs? Not quite.
Soriano's final numbers with the Cubs include a slash line of .264/.317/.495/.812, 181 home runs, over 500 runs knocked in, 70 steals, and over 800 strikeouts in almost 3,700 plate appearances. His first two seasons in Chicago were outstanding, including a 2007 season in which he carried the Cubs to the playoffs on his back. He followed up with a strong 2008. After those first two years, the honeymoon in Chicago was over.
Nagging injuries took their toll on Soriano, particularly in 2009. After recording 19 steals in each of his first two seasons, Soriano wasn't a weapon on the basepaths anymore. His averaged dipped significantly, as did his performance in the field. Fans began to greet him with boos and the Cubs slipped right back into mediocrity, which is part of the reason that the Cubs find themselves where they are today.
But Soriano has taken far too much blame for what has happened over the course of the last several years. There have been some extremely disappointing stretches throughout his time in Chicago, there's little doubt about that. But looking deeper into the numbers, Soriano was better than we all think.
In terms of his fielding, which helped him to get a bit of a negative reputation, it was much better than advertised. His UZR was off the charts in his first two seasons. In fact, since the 2007 season, only Jason Heyward boasts a better UZR per 150 games than Soriano, and he's played in roughly 3,000 less innings. Heck, Soriano had only one error total during the 2012 season.
Ultimately, Soriano will go down in history for what he did, or supposedly didn't do, with the stick. Yes, Soriano struck out a lot. That's something he was doing long before he arrived on the North Side. In fact, his 162 game average for punchout in his career is 146. His successes should outweigh his shortcomings.
Soriano's 181 home runs with the Cubs rank 11th in franchise history. In that first year with the Cubs, he posted a wRC+ of 122. He followed that up with 117 in 2008. Those are both excellent figures.
If there's on number that gives an indication that Soriano's contract wasn't a failure, it's this one. In 2007, a free agent win was worth just about $5 million. According to Fangraphs, Soriano's WAR from 2007-2012 was 17.8. Which means he was worth about $89 million for those six years. The Cubs paid him $97 million over that span. A slight overpayment, yes, but far from a failure. The real number is actually closer, since a free agent win was actually worth a touch more than $5 million.
Soriano's time with the Chicago Cubs will be characterized by nagging injuries and a ton of strikeouts, at least by most. But it should be defined by an ability to create runs and pound the baseball. On top of the fact that he was simply a classy veteran that was well received by his teammates. Hopefully, when he does make it back to Wrigley, it's to a standing ovation, rather than a chorus of unfortunate, and misguided, boos.