Game Time: Whose Overpaid Left Fielder Situation is Worse? Astros or Cubs?
Baseball gods, I have to give you credit. You tried as hard as you could on Saturday to keep me from writing about it on Monday. You gave us Ubaldo Jimenez throwing the first no-hitter in Colorado Rockies' history. That was cool. Even cooler than that, you gave us the Mets and the Cardinals in a 20 inning classic that sent Tim Kurkjian into "meaningless stat that hasn't happened since..." overdrive (If having an orgasm over meaningless baseball stats were an Olympic sport, Kurkjian would be Michael Phelps).
Those were two pretty sporty salvos you fired, baseball gods. But your late day heroics were not enough to scrub this potential blog post from my brain. For I invested three hours of my day on Saturday watching the Cubs and the Astros from Wrigley Field, and I realized that while we've been in our own Carlos Lee Cocoon here in Houston lamenting the remainder of his ridiculous six year, $100 million contract, Cubs Fan has his own issues that he (or she, once it starts to get warmer outside) has to come to grips with when it comes to his favorite team overspending on underachievement.
Which brings us to the crux of this post -- when the Astros broke camp in 2008, I was fairly vocal that the top issue Astro fans would be debating/discussing/ready to commit suicide over in 2010 was Carlos Lee's contract (which at the time had five years and $89 million remaining on it). It's easy now to say "Well duh," but my nature is to at least give a cursory glance at the fiscal/business side of sports (especially with a schizophrenic owner who one day complains about financial constraints, and then spends $15 million on Brandon Lyon). And while no one was vehemently arguing the opposite of my Lee contentions in 2008, no one was really giving it the attention I thought it deserved either.
Now here we are in 2010, Carlos Lee is almost 34 years old, and twelve games into the season he is batting .104 and is on pace to hit exactly zero home runs and drive in zero runs for the season. His OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) is .226, which is less than the BATTING AVERAGE of four of the five Astros starting pitchers (in some cases, significantly less). And he has two years and $37 million remaining on his contract AFTER this season. Just a complete and utter disaster.
And yet, after watching the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano stumble around left field like he got stuck at second base of a sloshball game, I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe the Cubs' situation in left field is worse than the Astros'. If you're looking for proof beyond just what you've seen as an Astro fan, just know that Soriano was quoted regarding a miscue last Sunday against Cincinnati as saying "I saw it all the way, but at the last moment, I took my eye off the ball and thought about the wall."
There's only one way to truly find out....yes, we need to "Tale of the Tape" this thing and find out who is less screwed, the Cubs or the Astros. So sit back, crack open an Old Style and let's do this:
TALE OF THE TAPE - OVERPAID LEFT FIELDER CATEGORY
ALFONSO SORIANO, Chicago Cubs vs CARLOS LEE, Houston Astros
VITAL CONTRACTUAL STATISTICS
LEE: Two years remaining after '10 for total of $37 million
SORIANO: Four years remaining after '10 for total of $72 million
ADVANTAGE: ASTROS. Less time on the contract and Lee's no-trade clause expires after this year. Soriano has a full no-trade for the duration of his deal. (Also, did you know that Soriano gets six premium seats to EVERY Cubs home game. That's actually some material value right there. Scalper's Value, about $100K in a bad year. Scalper's Value of equivalent seats at Astros games, about ten grand tops.)
LEE: "El Caballo," given to him by White Sox announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson. It means "horse" in Spanish.
SORIANO: "Fonz," given to him by legions of very uncreative fans. It is the middle syllable of his first name, and direct thievery of one Arthur Fonzarelli.
ADVANTAGE: ASTROS. Lots more souvenir possibilities with toy horses and toy horse bobbleheads to help offset some of the sting of Lee's bi-weekly paychecks. Plus, I'm afraid Henry Winkler would kick my ass if I gave the advantage to Soriano.
LEE: Carlos is a pretty carefree dude who seems happy every day that he's above ground, which people often interpret as Carlos "not caring about winning." Which may, in fact, be true. Think Manny Ramirez' spacey personality and pretend Ramirez had eaten Dustin Pedroia.
SORIANO: Kind of an enigma. He's protested throughout his career many times when a position change (in the field and batting order) has been proposed, yet Lou Piniella says he's a pretty good leader in the clubhouse.
ADVANTAGE: ASTROS. Age old adage -- It's always better to have a jolly fat guy around than a guy who bitches about his position. Always.
SPARE TIME ACTIVITIES
LEE: Cattle rancher. Carlos owns a couple of cattle ranches and actually skips portions of spring training because he has livestock entered in the Houston Livestock Show in March
SORIANO: WWE events and hitting on chicks. Twice in the last year I've been a fan in the same building with Soriano. At one, I was at a WWE live event in Chicago last May, and Soriano got into a (staged) beef with a few of the wrestlers. I was very jealous, I've always wanted to do that. The other event was an Astros-Cubs game for which I was given front row seats along the third base line. I took a very attractive female co-worker with me to the game, and Soriano literally winked at her every time he ran in from the outfield after the third out. It was simultaneously emasculating and hilarious...more the latter.
ADVANTAGE: EVEN. Any advantage that Soriano had from attending WWE events is more than canceled out by the fact that he would be a terrible wingman.
SABERMETRICIANS HATE THIS ABOUT...
SORIANO: Has had more home runs than walks three times in his career. Translation -- he's not very disciplined at the plate.
LEE: Had the worst range factor (1.19) of any left fielder in the National League in 2009. Translation -- he's not very disciplined at the buffet table.
ADVANTAGE: CUBS. As long as he's batting down in the order, the lack of plate discipline isn't as big a killer as Carlos Lee playing left field like Jabba the Hutt
SCARIEST BASEBALL-REFERENCE.COM "SIMILAR BATTERS"
SORIANO: (2) Raul Mondesi, (4) Troy Glaus, (5) Cliff Floyd, (6) Eric Chavez, (7) Adrian Beltre, (8) Ryan Klesko. All fell off in their early 30's (or sooner), kind of like Soriano. The Cubs will be paying Soriano until he's 38 years old.
LEE: (1) Dante Bichette, (5) Greg Luzinski, (9) Kent Hrbek. All fell off in their early 30's, kind of like Lee. Fortunately, each found a second life after baseball wrestling sumo style in Japan. (I might have made up that last part.)
ADVANTAGE: EVEN. The signs are not good for either one.
SORIANO: Rocks the old school, high knee sock uniform. A great retro look.
LEE: Goes with the pajama bottom, low ankle uniform. A terrible modern look. Bonus points, though, that Carlos can sell his uniforms on eBay as tents for families going on camping trips.
ADVANTAGE: CUBS. Any look made famous by Barry Bonds can't win. Sorry, Caballo.
NBA PLAYER COMPARISON
LEE: At his best, Lee was a borderline All-Star who actually made the All-Star team a few times. He didn't do everything well, but the things that were his specialty (power, drive in runs), he did real well. Ultimately, he got a big fat contract that no one else was coming close to, hoodwinking an entire front office, and showing up with bigger man boobs each year than he had the year before. To be fair, the fans probably hate him more than his teammates do. NBA COMPARISON: RASHEED WALLACE
SORIANO: Stop me if you've heard this story before -- player comes into the league and lights the world on fire, doing things that very few in his sport can do. While he spends his prime years changing teams a couple times (for a variety of reasons), eventually he settles in with a franchise where he thinks he can make a run at a title while getting paid a salary that is among the best in his sport. However, virtually from the time he arrives with this franchise, he battles the injury bug. If it's not a hamstring in spring training, it's a bad leg (amazingly, while missing weeks at a time, fans are still voting him into the All-Star Game). Ultimately, it culminates with knee surgery ending his 2009 season. He comes back every time, but he's never the same and now the team can't believe they're cutting these huge checks every two weeks. Yes...go ahead and kill yourself, Cubs Fan....Alfonso Soriano is TRACY MCGRADY.
ADVANTAGE: Do I even need to dignify this with a response??
CONCLUSION: Neither team can move these guys, not without having to pay massive amounts of the remaining salary. With Lee, if he keeps hitting below the Mendoza Line, the Astros won't be able to move him at all. So they're left trying to pay off his contract with about 15,000 fans coming to the ball park every night. Good luck with that, Drayton. Meanwhile, the Cubs are committed to Soriano for a longer period of time for more money and a no-trade clause to work around, but their fans will show up at Wrigley even if they trot out a bunch of softball players from the plumber's union league. So paying Soriano is not as big an issue for them. Despite the Astros winning more categories in the Tale of the Tape, it's hard not to think that their financial wherewithal makes the Cubs a little less screwed, but honestly, there are no winners here.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show", and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.