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Cubs Improve Outfield Depth, but What About Alfonso Soriano?

The Cubs' Starting Outfield Appears Set Baring a Soriano Trade

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COMMENTARY | Adding outfield depth was one area, among many, the Chicago Cubs wanted to improve this offseason.

Last month, the club signed veteran backup Nate Schierholtz (one year, $2.25 million) and this week came to an agreement with journeyman Scott Hairston, 32, on a two-year, roughly $6 million deal.

Although an aging David DeJesus is better suited defensively to play right field, he's moving to center to make room for a likely platoon role between Schierholtz and Hairston in right field.

During the past two seasons, Schierholtz, a left-handed hitter, has posted an .811 OPS vs. right-handed pitching while Hairston, a right-handed batter, has found plenty of success against southpaws, posting an .825 OPS over his nine-year career.

The bigger question, however, is how content are the Cubs with keeping Alfonso Soriano as their everyday left fielder?

The organization has made no secret they're interested in trading the 37-year-old, but finding a trading partner continues to be a challenge.

Soriano is owed a hefty $36 million over the next two seasons. The Cubs are reportedly willing to eat as much as $26 million on the remaining deal, but the money aspect isn't the only sticking point in trade talks.

Given Soriano's terrific season in 2012 (151-games, 32 HRs, 108 RBIs), team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are seeking a higher-level prospect in return for Soriano.

Additionally, Soriano has a full no-trade clause, would prefer to join a contending team, and has a preference to play on the East Coast--if the Cubs must trade him.

However, as recently as last week, Soriano expressed his desire to remain in Chicago through the end of his current contract. "I want to stay here and finish my career here and try to win before I retire," Soriano said.

"I signed here to bring a World Series winner to Chicago. It's been a long time since they won a World Series. That's my dream. I hope to stay here, and when they win, I want to be part of that team."

With that attitude it's hard to believe the Cubs would be better off without Soriano than with him. And from strictly the standpoint of avoiding another 100-loss season, it would be a killer to lose Soriano's bat on a team that scored the third fewest runs in all of baseball last season.

Ultimately, if the Cubs can move Soriano, I believe they will. But they won't give him away, and starting the season with Soriano in left field is the least of the club's worries during the second year of the rebuild.

BACKUP OUTFIELDERS

Dave Sappelt made his Cubs debut last September and put up a decent showing in 36 games. Consistency over a full season has yet to be seen, but Sappelt should crack the opening-day roster as a situational bench player.

Not only can Sappelt give Soriano a breather in left field, something manager Dale Sveum says he wants to commit more to this season, but he can also come off the bench as a defensive replacement, pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.

If it were up to Cubs fans, Tony Campana would also be a staple in the outfield mix. Just don't count me among his supporters.

The trouble with Campana, for all intents and purposes, is he's not a major league-caliber player. Aside from his elite base-stealing abilities, most aspects of his game are sub-par. He lacks consistency in the field, at the plate, and simply doesn't get on base enough to use his speed.

For those reasons, I wouldn't be surprised if Campana becomes a roster casualty before spring training. The current 40-man roster is full and the team still needs to add Hairston. Something has to give, and it could be the scrappy fan favorite who gets cut.

Not to be forgotten is Brett Jackson, who the Cubs have slated for a return trip to Triple-A following his disappointing major league debut last August.

The 24-year-old struck out an unsightly 59 time in 142 plate appearances, which led to the club's decision to have him completely overhaul his swing this offseason.

Although the team's coaching staff spoke encouragingly of Jackson's progress during the recently held Chicago Cubs Convention, he'll still need to prove his revamped plate approach is worthy of being recalled to the big leagues.

Ideally, that would happen near mid-summer, similar to Anthony Rizzo's path last season. By then it's expected the down-and-out Cubs will begin exploring the trade possibilities of flipping veteran players for prospects.

Mid-season trades could potentially involve several of the Cubs' outfielders (Soriano, DeJesus, Schierholtz and Hairston) but would grant Jackson an opportunity to play regularly should even one outfielder be dealt away.

If all goes as planned, Jackson will likely remain as one of the long-term pieces of the rebuild. Otherwise, a setback at Triple-A could land Jackson on the trading block before his stock falls any further due to a lack of production, injury or age.

It's far too early to give up on Jackson -- not with his strong work ethic and not with the rebound we witnessed from Rizzo last season, ascending from big-league bust to big-league star in half a season. Jackson's rise doesn't need to happen as quickly, or even reach as high in 2013, just as long as he shows he belongs in the major leagues.

With the first spring training game less than a month away, the Cubs' starting outfield appears set baring a Soriano trade. It's a group that's deeper and more talented than last year's outfit, but keeping them together through July will be difficult if the Cubs struggle in the standings as expected.

One step at a time, I suppose.

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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