When Dale Sveum wrote out his intersquad lineup and had Alfonso Soriano listed as his leadoff hitter, I was impressed. Â I had no idea Sveum could spell anything with more than one syllable. Â When he did it again for the Cacti League opener, I was intrigued. Â When I found out Phil Rogers had written about it, I was entranced. Â Surely Phil would have a take on this that would be fittingly dumb and hilarious.
1. These arenâ€™t baseball cards weâ€™re watching. Theyâ€™re people. Thatâ€™s why I really like the Dale Sveum/Theo EpsteinÂ idea of giving Alfonso SorianoÂ a shot to hit leadoff again.
They’re not baseball cards? Â So Reed Johnson is that flat because of that catch he made in Washington in 2008?
Like it or not, the CubsÂ still owe Soriano $54 million.
Not only that, but they’re way behind in getting him those Yum Yum Donuts he asked for.
And, like it or not, heâ€™s still one of their most productive hitters.
That’s nonsense. Â The Cubs have lots of more productive hitters than Soriano. Â Hey, there’s Starlin Castro and…, well there’s…how about that guy….um….well, David DeJesus’ wife has nice cans!
So dropping him down in the batting order, as Lou PiniellaÂ and Mike QuadeÂ did over the last two years, really accomplishes little other than make angry fans feel better.
You mean this new front office full of spoiled geniuses won’t cater to the will of the maniacal throngs? Â We must be assuaged! Â We don’t want Soriano leading off! Â We want bison dogs! Â We want nachos made out of waffle fries instead of chips, and we want them served in a helmet, not a mini helmet, one of those enormous helmets like David Wright wears! Â What was the first thing we didn’t want? Â Screw that, where are our nachofries?
Epstein would love for Sveum and hitting coachÂ Rudy JaramilloÂ to get more out of Soriano.
Really? Â I would think he’d want less. Â Why would he want Soriano to build any value? Â You know, Phil gets ALL the scoops. Â They’re mostly about the Astros or Rangers, but really, that’s all we Chicago baseball fans care about. Â Hey Phil, how’s Brett Wallace filling out those enormous pants in Kissimmee these days?
That might make it possible at some point to trade him to an American LeagueÂ team that could use him as a combination DH/left fielder, a role that clearly suits him better than being a full-time left fielder.
You know what else might make it possible? Â Really dumb American League general managers. Â Can’t somebody give Ed Wade a job?
OK, to this point, I’m uncomfortable, because I basically agree with Phil’s overall point (as hard as that point may be to identify.) Â The Cubs don’t have a real leadoff hitter (which is news, because they just had one the other day…if the other day was October 2003). Â The Cubs also are going to be lousy. Â It doesn’t matter if Soriano bats first, fifth or ninth, the Cubs are going to lose a lot. Â If your goal really is to find a sucker to take him, why not at least try him in the one spot in the order he has had the most success at? Â Especially, you know, the first week of March. Â And the second week of March. Â And hell, how about all of March, I’ll even throw in April. Â Because it doesn’t matter. Â What matters is the longshot that he’ll succeed and you can trade him. Â Otherwise this season is about figuring out what young players can play and which ones can’t. Â If you find somebody you think might be a leadoff hitter, move Soriano down. Â If not? Â Let him hack away up there. Â Who gives a shit?
Pride is always a part of a baseball playersâ€™ emotional package, and for a hitter that does have something to do with where his name is written on the lineup card.
And, just like that, Phil loses the thread. Â Pride isn’t going to get Soriano to stop swinging at balls in the dirt. Â Jumping a starting pitcher before he’s had a chance to get comfortable on the mound might be a benefit of getting to lead off the game. Â That’s about it.
The most professional guys work their best to perform the same regardless, but the lineup card always has something to say about a guyâ€™s self esteem, as well as his standing within the clubhouse.
Hey, Ian Stewart! Â You bat sixth. Â You can’t stand there in the clubhouse! Â Stand over here!
That was clear when Alex Rodriguez was talking about his desire to continue to bat cleanup for the YankeesÂ this year.
Wait, what? Â What just happened? Â Why are we talking about A-Rod now? Â Is he leading off for the Cubs?
I was in Tampa at the start of camp when Rodriguez was talking about how he felt he could be the most valuable to the Yankees as the No. 4 hitter, behind Robinson Cano.
And…Phil has left the building. Â Let’s give him a few paragraphs and see if he comes back to Soriano.
While we’re waiting, let’s watch a squirrel try to jump from a fence to a roof:
Soriano never complained about Quadeâ€™s lineups last season.
Just with his posture.
Why not let Soriano hit first?
I’m not arguing with you, Phil. Â Until you say something dumb, again.
No, heâ€™s not a strong on-base guy. But he hits home runs and doubles, and thatâ€™s a pretty nice way to start an inning.
You know what else is a nice way to start an inning?
Hitting him in the leadoff spot isnâ€™t going to keep the team from winning.
No, a complete lack of talent is going to do that.
Say the Cubs got a .759 OPS from the leadoff spot this season.
Hey, if we’re just making up numbers, say they get a 1.201 OPS from the leadoff spot. Â That would be even better!
That would have ranked them seventh among National LeagueÂ teams a year ago, ahead of three of the four playoff teams (Phillies, DiamondbacksÂ and Cardinals).
Now this is a pretty interesting argument. Â Phil wants to you to imagine a number he pulled out of his ass. Â One that is higher than the OPS of every National League playoff team except the Brewers. Â Why? Â Because Phil is dumb. Â This is how Phil embraces advanced metrics. Â By making them up.
And whatâ€™s not being said here is that Epstein and Sveum are hoping that Soriano will feel better about himself, and hit better as a result. Heâ€™s had an OPS of .807+ in eight of the last 10 seasons.
What’s not being said here is how you came up with .759. Â Was it your hotel room number in Tampa? Â Maybe it was how much per gallon the rental car place charged you for gas? Â God, I hope it was your cholesterol!
Finally, hereâ€™s one last benefit of hitting Soriano first, and itâ€™s not a small one.
We’re looking for small benefits. We don’t want the Cubs to win too many games and ruin their chance at drafting Andrew Luck.
He is clearly one of the Cubsâ€™ most dangerous hitters. And by hitting him first, not seventh, you can get him four plate appearances and pull him for a defensive replacement one or even two innings earlier than normal. You get him to the plate four times and lessen your exposure in the field. Thatâ€™s smart.
What? Â Oh, Phil. Â You are the dumbest.
So the Cubs should bat Soriano first so they can take him out of the game earlier? Â You know what? Â They could bat him leadoff in every road game and then take him out in the bottom of the first! Â No errors! Â Somewhere Tony LaRussa is plotting a comeback just to try this. Â First inning pinch hitting! Bring back Mark McGwire!
Chances are that Soriano won’t lead off during the season. Â DeJesus will. Â Soriano will likely bat fourth or fifth and the Cubs will pray he feigns competence and they can eat most of the rest of his contract and foist him off on some other team.
But no matter how it shakes out, we can be comforted that somewhere out there (likely in Texas), Phil is making up numbers for us.