The Cubs and Sox both need some more runs. The Cubs have decided that power is the answer and the Sox have decided that it is not. That interesting dichotomy will play out over the coming season. One or both may be right. Or as my buddy, a Mets’ fan, said, both will probably be wrong. It’s a lot of fun hanging out with him. Especially when the Mets do their usual imitation of a kamakazie team.
On the North Side they are looking for Alfonzo Soriano to return to form and become the force he used to be. PAUL SULLIVAN of the Tribune takes a look at that.
More than five months after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Alfonso Soriano said he’s almost good to go.
“It feels like about 80-85 percent,” Soriano said Monday. “I have five or six weeks here working now, and I’m hoping it feels much better and I’m ready for Opening Day.”
Soriano said he has been working this offseason in the Dominican Republic but has not tested the knee yet by running hard or playing any outfield. He doesn’t feel pain when taking batting practice and is not worried about being ready for the season.
Soriano was told by the coaching staff to take it easy at the outset of spring training, and the Cubs didn’t expect him to be at 100 percent at this point.
“He looks wonderful,” manager Lou Piniella said. “He’s strong. He’s ready to go, says his knee hasn’t bothered him.”
After hitting 12 home runs the first two months of last season, Soriano hit only eight the rest of the way in one of the worst seasons of his career, finishing with a .241 average and 55 RBIs. Baseball Prospectus projected Soriano’s “days as a premier player are long gone.”
Now it will be up to Soriano to prove his critics wrong.
“It’s tough to play this game, and when you have something on your mind, it’s tougher to play,” he said. “I’m not making excuses about me knee. It’s part of the game. … What happened with my knee, a couple years ago is what happened with my hamstring and my calf, and I kept playing with soreness in my body. I hope this year I’ll play more healthy.”
Soriano is in the fourth year of his eight-year, $136 million deal. He turned 34 in January and has had the nagging injuries the last three years. He insisted his bat speed is still there, and that the only problem he had last year was battling the knee injury.
The addition of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo should help Soriano, who hit 34 home runs and drove in 104 runs under Jaramillo with the Rangers in 2005. Soriano also is looking forward to playing with center fielder Marlon Byrd, whom he teamed with in Washington.
Well, since the Cubs have him for 4 more seasons, then him playing at a higher level is almost mandatory. They will need more than him, of course, but he is an integral part of the Cubs’ offense. If, as he seems to believe, he is over the injuries and returns to form, then the Cubs will be a dangerous team to face. That assumes that they fill those 4 and 5 holes on the pitching staff with something other than pine tar.
On the South Side the Sox are implementing their new plan over the objections of General Manager Kenny Williams. I do find it amusing that they are going to be a more traditional National League team just as the American League is settling into a rein of dominance. It is so nutty it just might work. CHRIS DE LUCA at the Sun Times took a few minutes out of his busy day to speak with Ozzie Guillen about the changes.
‘’We can create more runs,’’ Guillen said. ‘’In the past, yeah, we could score 10, but all of a sudden, when we need to score one, we can’t. That’s why our philosophy changed.
‘’We have a bunch of guys in the lineup who can hit 20-plus home runs. I would rather have 10 guys hit 20 home runs than have one guy hit 50. How many times did we have men on second base and we couldn’t score a run when we needed it? If everybody contributes—not have a super year, but have the year they are supposed to have—then this ballclub should be fine offensively.’’
No doubt, Guillen believes that. But Williams seems to prefer a big bopper in the middle of the lineup.
That’s why there was such a battle of wills between the manager and GM over whether to re-sign Thome, a free agent who later went to the Twins. It was the first clear sign of tension at the top since Guillen and Williams formed a partnership—with the blessing of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf—before the ‘04 season.
‘’Kenny always worries about the ballclub,’’ Guillen said. ‘’That’s his job, I guess. He’s never satisfied. I told Kenny two months ago that I’m satisfied. I’m not worried about this ballclub. Maybe people are going to look at it a different way, but I don’t see it that way. The power is there. The astronomic power is not.’’
It’s a gamble for a team that has relied on those big bats in the middle. And we’re talking about trying to survive with a National League-style offense in the American League.
If this doesn’t work out, Guillen says point the finger directly at the manager. There are some in the organization who believe Williams will do just that if the new Sox fall flat.
‘’I’ll take it. Why not? I always like challenges. I like to prove people wrong,’’ Guillen said. ‘’When we won in 2005, we didn’t have that many guys that hit home runs, but we could score from second on a base hit.
‘’I say to Kenny and Jerry, ‘Listen, if this thing don’t work out because of me. ...’ The first time something doesn’t work, I’m not going hide ... from the media, the fans or the players. I take the blame. You know why? Because I’m the face of this ballclub. I’m the one that makes the move.’’
Is Guillen feeling extra pressure?
‘’No. Thanks to Kenny, Jerry and [assistant GM Rick Hahn], they have given me good ballclubs to compete,’’ Guillen said. ‘’If you have a bad ballclub for two, three years in a row, then you have a chance to get fired. But they never give me that kind of chance to be that bad.’’
I do wonder what he called Rick Hahn that prompted the editorial correction. But I am not sure it matters. The Sox have have made a bold decision to go back to baseball’s roots. Of course, in the good old days you never had to worry about steroids. Beer and cigarettes, yes. But not much else.
The fun thing about the Cubs is that, after their failed experiment of having the first DH in the National League, they have gone back to their strengths no matter the record. And, more fun for fans, the Sox are planning on being a team that the South Side hasn’t seen since the late 50’s. Since both teams are going to be so diverse, they will give fans clear talking (i.e., beer buying) points for the entire season. I am not sure I have ever looked forward to watching both teams at the same time this early in the year.
I’ll watch them both, but I’m still only cheering for the Sox.