COMMENTARY | Alfonso Soriano's name was a staple in trade rumors last summer. Six months later there's barely a whisper of the outfielder being traded.
Finding a taker for the 37-year-old hasn't been easy for the Chicago Cubs, who are in the second year of a rebuilding effort focused around younger and more affordable players than Soriano.
Aside from the lofty two-years, $36 million remaining on Soriano's contract, the Cubs have a second hurdle to clear in order to trade Soriano.
Having acquired 10-5 rights (10 years of Major League service, five years with the same team) coupled with his full no-trade clause; Soriano has the luxury of nixing any trade not to his liking.
This appears to have limited the Cubs last summer when they were unsuccessful dealing Soriano before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
When the San Francisco Giants agreed to trade for the outfielder just several days following the non-waiver trade deadline, Soriano rejected the deal based on the fact he didn't want to play on the West Coast (except for the Los Angeles Dodgers) and also didn't care for the cool temperatures at San Francisco's AT&T Park in early autumn.
This is the last known chance the Cubs had to trade Soriano before season's end, and their next best chance to deal him wouldn't appear to be available until the Baseball Winter Meetings in December.
When the Cubs settled in Nashville for the Winter Meetings they approach Soriano about possible trade scenarios, and although Soriano expressed a desire to remain with the Cubs, it was reported he had resigned to the idea the team would trade him sooner than later.
But nearly two months later the Cubs are in the same spot with Soriano they were six months ago, still on the hunt for a trade partner.
The silver lining for the Cubs in retaining Soriano through the end of last season was the terrific year he had both offensively and defensively. Playing in 151-games, Soriano hit 32 HRs, drove in 108 RBI and posted an .821 OPS, proving he's still a capable middle of the order power hitter. Meanwhile, his defense significantly improved as he finished the season with a .996 fielding percentage having committed just one error in left field.
In turn, Soriano's solid play has tempted the Cubs to keep their asking price for Soriano on the high side with the desire to acquire a major league ready prospect in return.
To help grease the skids for a trade the Cubs are also willing to absorb all but $10 million remaining on Soriano's contract, essentially making him a $5 million per-year player over the next two seasons, which is a reasonable price if Soriano can repeat his performance from 2012.
Also taking into account Soriano's known desires to play on the East Coast, for a contender and in warmer weather; we can whittle down a few possible suitors for a trade before opening day.
The Rangers hit 200 home runs last season, the fourth most in the American League. Josh Hamilton (43), Mike Napoli (24) and Michael Young (8) accounted for 75 of those home runs. All three have departed the club this offseason.
There's also the chance Nelson Cruz (24 HRs) is temporarily suspended by MLB due to his alleged involvement with an anti-ageing clinic that supplied him with PEDs. Include Cruz in the threesome listed above and that would mean a loss of half the power production the Rangers managed last season.
It's already been a disappointing offseason for the Rangers thus far, especially in the wake of choking away the AL West division title to the Oakland A's and an early exit from the postseason. The team has failed with multiply attempts to lure some of the best free agents on the market while watching their division foes grow stronger over the winter.
Soriano's power stroke could ease some of the pain. Arlington is obviously a warm weather market, the Rangers play in a hitter-friendly ballpark and there's still enough talent on the club to keep Texas in playoff contention.
Given the organization's underwhelming offseason, perhaps the Rangers are ready to come off a higher level prospect to bring Soriano in for his second tour of duty with the Rangers, where he played in 2004-2005.
The man Soriano played for in Texas was Buck Showalter. Now skippering the Baltimore Orioles, Showalter's club is looking to acquire a big-bat in the lineup.
Lately the O's have shown mild interest in trading for Soriano, and they have a surplus of young pitching arms they could deal to get him.
Baltimore isn't the warmest weather market, but it's obviously an East Coast location and a team trending upwards in the standings having secured a wild card berth after a 93-win regular season.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Tampa Bay Rays seem an ideal fit for Soriano for several reasons.
With BJ Upton off to Atlanta there's an opening for a right-handed hitting outfielder, and specifically, a solidified designated hitter. That would speak well to Soriano whose battered legs could benefit from not having to play the field every game.
The Rays are far from gun-shy in the trade market having already pulled the trigger on an offseason blockbuster with the Kansas City Royals. The Rays packaged pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to net four prospects in return, including the highly touted Wil Myers.
Another trade may not be out of the question with the season nearing and the big-name free-agent bats having signed elsewhere.
It's not easy keeping pace in baseball's toughest division and the Rays appear fortunate enough to meet Soriano's preferences: East Coast team, comfortable weather provided by a domed stadium, and a competitive team having won 90-plus games in four of the past five seasons.
The Cleveland Indians may feel like a stretch to acquire Soriano. It's cold in Cleveland and the team isn't very good. Two negatives right off the bat.
However, the Tribe brought a sense of renewed energy with the hiring of Terry Francona as their new manager and the high profile signing of outfielder Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal.
The Cubs of course could use a center fielder, and Brantley, 25, fits the mold of the type of player the Cubs are trying to build around--an affordable player entering his prime years.
The tricky part would seemingly be selling Soriano on the idea the Indians are committed to spending enough money to compete within the next two seasons.
The arrival of Francona brings much needed credibility to the franchise, and the AL Central is rather pedestrian behind the reigning AL pennant winning Detroit Tigers.
I doubt that's enough to convince Soriano to accept a trade to Cleveland (especially considering the options above), but the Indians would likely welcome Soriano with open arms and there's something to be said for playing in a place where you're wanted.
Brian Corbin is a Chicago-based sports blogger and passionate Chicago Cubs fan. He's covered the Cubs year-round since 2007 on his blog BullpenBrian.com. His posts have been published on the Chicago Sun-Times News Group web sites and numerous baseball blogs.
You can follow Brian on Twitter @bullpenbrian.
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