The Chicago Cubs front office has undergone sweeping changes throughout the past two weeks. With President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, General Manager Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod now in place as the brain-trust of the Cubs’ front office, the Cubs’ roster is next in line for sweeping changes. The World Series will conclude tonight, and after the final out is recorded, the focus for Epstein and company will be how to improve a team that lost 90+ games last season.
The first order of business for Epstein and the rest of the Cubs’ front office will be determining whether or not Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena return next season to the Cubs. Ramirez, who publicly voiced his displeasure with the Cubs’ front office during the latter portions of the season, told ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine that he likes the fact that the Cubs brought in Epstein, and is open to returning to the Cubs in 2012. Meanwhile, Carlos Pena is a fan of Epstein’s, and the two have some level of respect for one another considering Pena was with the Red Sox in 2006. Ryan Dempster falls under the same category as Ramirez and Pena, but unlike the two, the decision to return will be solely on Dempster who holds a $14 million player option for the 2012 season.
While the decisions to bring back Ramirez or Pena will not be easy, Epstein is facing a much more difficult decision. That difficult decision would be deciding the fate of Alfonso Soriano. Towards the final months of the 2011 season, many reports surfaced suggesting that Soriano’s days with the Cubs organization are coming to an end.
There are 3 years, $54 million remaining on Soriano’s contract, and if the Cubs are going to move Soriano this winter, it is likely that the front office will have to be prepared to eat a significant portion of that contract. Epstein is no stranger to trading away veteran players with bloated contracts, with the trade of Manny Ramirez being one of his biggest successes. Epstein watched Soriano in his prime while the outfielder was with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, but having been from afar, Epstein believes there could still be some potential for Soriano.
“From afar he still brings a lot to the table,” Epstein said Wednesday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “He had 26 bombs, and he is still a threat offensively.
“Yeah, there are other areas of the game where he hasn’t quite performed up to expectations the last few years. I think it’s the good quality of an organization to look at every player and ask how can we get the most out of this guy. And I look at Alfonso and I think there is still more in there.” ESPN Chicago
If Epstein has proved anything over his career, it is that he is one of the game’s most intelligent minds. This would be why I think that these comments made by Epstein is the beginning stages of a process that ends with Soriano no longer being with the Cubs’ organization. One of the basic rules of shopping a player is that you never actually admit that you are shopping said player. The Cubs have been burned by that rule in the past with the likes of Milton Bradley and Carlos Silva, and Epstein and Hoyer will likely take different approach then the one former General Manager Jim Hendry took while shopping both Bradley and Silva. The Cubs were so eager to trade Silva that no team took the bait and waited until the Cubs bit the bullet and released Silva.
However, saying things like “he still brings a lot to the table” and “there is still more in there” in regards to Soriano may be Epstein’s way of selling the veteran outfielder. Have the word put it out to other teams that you are not inclined to move Soriano and that he still is a valuable middle of the order run producer, and with Epstein’s reputation, there may be teams that believe Soriano can still be successful. Then, begin to develop a market for Soriano, and hopefully the Cubs will receive an offer that is better than what most baseball insiders currently expect. It sounds crazy and a tad optimistic, but if someone were to tell me in September that Epstein would be the top man in the Cubs’ front office come October, I would have thought they were crazy.