It was the right time to move on, and Alfonso Soriano and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein both knew it.
Friday’s trade, which sent Soriano to the New York Yankees for minor league right-hander Corey Black, continued the roster overhaul which this season alone has seen pitchers Matt Garza, Scott Feldman and Carlos Marmol and outfielder Scott Hairston dealt in a series of moves with likely more to come before Wednesday’s deadline.
The departure of Soriano means 28-year-old Jeff Samardzija is the longest tenured Cubs player and the only remaining from the 2008 team, the last time they made the playoffs.
It also creates at-bats and a spot in the outfield for Junior Lake, who has shined since making his major league debut July 19, as well as giving manager Dale Sveum a change to mix and match his lineup when outfielders Ryan Sweeney (fractured rib) and Brian Bogusevic (hamstring) are healthy.
Epstein knew at some point that Soriano’s playing time would diminish in favor of other players.
“We’re trying to secure some shorter-term assets, some longer-term assets, trying to turn some older players into younger players and give some opportunities to guys to establish themselves,” Epstein said. “That’s a big part of why this move was made.”
Black, who will pitch at Advanced-A Daytona, is another young asset in the Cubs are stockpiling in the organization. Epstein said he projects as a power-arm reliever, comparing him to White Sox reliever Jesse Crain. Epstein credited Soriano’s cooperation during trade talks and said it caused the deal to be “relatively seamless.”
The Cubs will get some salary relief from moving Soriano. The Yankees will reportedly pick up approximately $6.8 million of the $24.5 million Soriano is owed through next season. Soriano left the Cubs hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs in his past 21 games.
Epstein didn’t rule out the Cubs signing a free agent to a similar mega-deal, citing the talent of the player involved, how he fits the roster and whether it would impact the team from competing annually. The priority remains building a “healthy” organization with depth, Epstein said. The next important step for the Cubs is developing the young talent they have within the system and make sure they reach their respective potential.
“I’m of the belief that you’re never one player away,” Epstein said. “If you think you’re one player away you’re getting desperate and you’re asking for trouble.
“Looking ahead, I think we will acquire impact players through free agency. We’re just not going to build our plans around that.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.