Hearing "Alfonso Soriano" and "gold glove" in the same sentence is a little like hearing "touchdown" and "bunt" --they just don't fit. Throughout the course of Soriano's eventful career, he has been a porous defender. First, he scarred second base with 105 errors over his first five full seasons with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. The Washington Nationals decided that they would exile him to left field, let his bat determine his value, and hope he didn't let in more runs than he drove in. The pattern continued with Soriano's move to the Cubs prior to the 2007 season.
Obviously, the error numbers went down because outfielders have a lot fewer chances to make errors --unlike second base. Of course, there is a lot more to playing defense than whether or not a player makes errors. Do they make the routine plays? Do they make non-routine plays? Do they take good routes? Do they make smart throws to the infield? Over the years, Alfonso Soriano was one of the worst overall defenders I had ever seen. He never seemed to be in the right place at the right time, did a funny little hop that supposedly "helped" his timing when catching fly balls, and, given his bloated contract and only passable offense results, made me simmer with frustration and desire for his departure.
I say "was" because, against all odds and logic, it simply is no longer the case. Alfonso Soriano not only has played exceptional defense this season, but he's clearly been willing to learn from coach Dave McKay. For a player that is currently 36-years old and has been a career-long defensive liability, I think that speaks well of Soriano. It appears that Dave McKay actually has been able to teach an old dog new tricks.
That brings us back to the question: Does Alfonso Soriano actually have a chance to win a Gold Glove this season? The answer is, shockingly, yes. He has zero (yes, you read that right) errors, five outfield assists, has started two double plays, and --coming from someone that has watched most all Cubs games this season-- takes much better routes. Further, he makes the routine plays and has even been making some of the tougher ones. Given his age and deteriorating knees, you won't see Soriano make too many highlight-reel plays, but if you watch him game-to-game, you'll see the improvement. In fact, you won't be able to avoid seeing it.
The Gold Glove award also has a new format --which will help Soriano. Instead of giving it to the three top outfielders overall, the award will be given to one outfielder at each position-- left, center, and right respectively. Whether we think this is a good or bad development is irrelevant inasmuch as it means Soriano is only dealing with one-third of the competition for the award than he would have been in the past. You can read the "Cubbies Crib" blog to see how Soriano is stacking up against some of the other contenders.
He might not ultimately win the award --after all, there are still two months left in the season. However, as a player who has been constantly maligned for one thing or another throughout his career (certainly by me for starters), credit needs to go where credit is due. Whether he wins the award or not, I can't help but be impressed.
Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, having lived in Illinois his entire life and having followed Major League Baseball throughout.