Cubs

With Zambrano gone, will Soriano be next?

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With Zambrano gone, will Soriano be next?

Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are symbols of the old way of doing business, the boom-and-bust cycles that have swept this franchise.

The Cubs shipped Zambrano to the Miami Marlins on Thursday and will wind up paying roughly 15.5 million of his 18 million salary for 2012. In return, they get Chris Volstad, a former first-round pick whos 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in his big-league career.

Thats a wash, but the financials wont be as neat for Soriano, who also has a full no-trade clause and is still owed about 54 million across the next three years.

Thats part of Theo Epsteins inheritance. The president of baseball operations pointed to Sorianos 26 homers and 88 RBI last season (while not mentioning the .289 on-base percentage).

Hes a valuable offensive player, Epstein said. If at some point in the future theres a transaction that makes sense with any of our players if it puts the Cubs in a better position going forward were going to pursue that.

But with respect to Alfonso, hes got power and hes an offensive contributor and we can work with him to get the best out of him. Well see where it takes us.

More than once, Soriano has said that he wouldnt block a deal if the Cubs wanted to get rid of him (though that was before Epstein was hired). He will turn 36 this weekend and should eventually transition into being a designated hitter in the American League.

Soriano is a flawed player, but he doesnt alienate teammates and staffers the way Zambrano did, one reason that compelled Epstein to make this trade with the Marlins.

They love Sorianos energy and upbeat attitude. Hes essentially as popular in the room as hes unpopular on talk radio.

It was Soriano who once invited Starlin Castro to live in his house, making the rookie feel comfortable and smoothing the transition. And it was Soriano who confronted Zambrano in the clubhouse on Aug. 12 after the enigmatic pitcher was ejected for throwing at Atlantas Chipper Jones.

The day after with Zambranos locker cleaned out Soriano delivered this memorable quote: Hes a big man, but I think mentally hes weak.

During their initial meeting in October, Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts discussed a long-range vision and the troubled assets the Cubs have on the books. Epstein had full authority to eat money in the Zambrano deal, and it will be his call on Soriano.

You have to decide, Epstein said, are we better off with one year of Carlos with the 18 million paid? Or are you better paying the 18 million and getting a 25-year-old pitcher (under your control for three years)? Understanding when theres a sunk cost (is sometimes) the sign of a progressive organization.

That said, progressive organizations dont go around randomly calling people sunk costs. I think you have to work with players and try to rehabilitate them. In this case, putting all the factors together, this was the best thing for the Cubs on (and) off the field.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.