There was a lot to cover yesterday as Theo Epstein addressed the media and there was one interesting nugget that I saved for today. The Cubs are faced with a decision to make on Alfonso Soriano and while this decision seems easy on the surface for a rebuilding team, there is much involved that will complicate the issue. Epstein summed it up as follows,
"I think if teams pursue him in a trade we will consider it and see if it makes our future better and makes us a better organization going forward. But he's got value to us because he helps us win games, he provides protection in the lineup, and he's a great example for our younger players to follow in the clubhouse ... If we trade him we're losing something, and we would have to get something in return to justify that. If that opportunity comes along and a team is very serious about acquiring him we will go to him and it will be up to him because he has 10-and-5 rights at this point."
Soriano, for this part, isn't necessarily opposed to the idea. Per Patrick Mooney of CSN, it's contingent on when the Cubs think they can contend,
“It depends how long,” Soriano said. “If they want to rebuild for next year, I’ll be here. But if they want to take longer than two years, then they have to think about moving me out to another team that can win quickly. I have two more years on the contract and maybe I retire after that. I just want to have one more shot to go to the World Series before I retire.”
I imagine Theo Epstein's response has to be calculated here. You don't want to send a message that you can't or won't try to win by 2014. It's certainly not out of the question that the Cubs can contend by then. You can certainly tell him that the Cubs don't plan on adding big name free agents this offseason, as Theo has already implied, but you can't guarantee him that they won't pursue someone next offseason.
If I were the Epstein, I'd tell Soriano that while it's likely the Cubs will be a lot better by 2014, the organization as a whole probably won't be where it wants to be until 2015. I'd say that while the team will try to win, the front office still won't be ready to shelve long term interests in favor of short term ones. That to me seems like an honest response and Soriano will have to take his own calculated risk and decide whether it's best to take his chances here or go elsewhere.
The Cubs certainly have long term interests in dealing Soriano and even his manager Dale Sveum, who has much to lose if they trade Soriano, understands the big picture. He knows that Soriano's value has improved after a good season, and he's also in tune with the front office's stance that you can't trade him just for the sake of trading him. No one is interested in just giving Soriano away. Someone needs to make it worth their while.
“(Soriano's trade value) is as high as it can be,” Sveum said. “But those kind of things are all what you’re getting back. The replacement value of that is very difficult to find.”
So even though there is some mutual agreement that a trade would be good for both parties involved, there are still big obstacles left, the first of which is getting some value in return. I'd imagine that there are a lot of teams that could use Soriano in their lineup, the bigger question is whether any of those teams are willing to give the Cubs something they could actually use.
Another obstacle is finding the right fit. We know that Soriano wants to be traded to a contender, so that eliminates about half of the teams in baseball -- and even less than that when you consider the teams that have mutual interest. We also know he prefers to play in warm weather, which would shorten that list even further.
Further complicating the issue is that Soriano really likes the Cubs coaching staff, particularly Dave McKay,who transformed him into a competent outfielder. He prefers not to be a DH, calling it "boring". In a more general sense, Mooney also said that Soriano likes the way the new coaching staff all treated him with respect. He likes being here. If he's going to be traded, not only does it have to benefit the Cubs, but it also has to benefit Soriano as well. Like it or not, he has earned that right and the Cubs will respect that.
There will be communication in the offseason between Soriano and the Cubs decision-makers about where the Cubs are in their rebuilding. They'll also need to discuss which teams fit Soriano's needs best. It would help the Cubs to know which of those needs are a priority, whether it's best chance to win the World Series, the weather, or how the team plans to use him in the field. It's going to be hard to find a team that meets all his preferences to a tee, so some give and take would be necessary for the Cubs to be able to create the market necessary to help them get value in return.
Given all that, it's not going to be easy to deal Soriano this offseason, and we haven't even talked about the money issue, which is obviously another obstacle.
In the end, as always, it's going to boil down to value. The Cubs cannot afford to pass up opportunities to improve the organization as a whole. Giving Soriano away doesn't help them accomplish that goal, but at the same time, if a team is willing to give the Cubs acceptable long term value in return, it's a move the Cubs will have to make.