Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are symbols of the old way of doing business, the boom-and-bust cycles that have swept this franchise.
The Cubs shipped Zambrano to the Miami Marlins on Thursday and will wind up paying roughly 15.5 million of his 18 million salary for 2012. In return, they get Chris Volstad, a former first-round pick whos 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in his big-league career.
Thats a wash, but the financials wont be as neat for Soriano, who also has a full no-trade clause and is still owed about 54 million across the next three years.
Thats part of Theo Epsteins inheritance. The president of baseball operations pointed to Sorianos 26 homers and 88 RBI last season (while not mentioning the .289 on-base percentage).
Hes a valuable offensive player, Epstein said. If at some point in the future theres a transaction that makes sense with any of our players if it puts the Cubs in a better position going forward were going to pursue that.
But with respect to Alfonso, hes got power and hes an offensive contributor and we can work with him to get the best out of him. Well see where it takes us.
More than once, Soriano has said that he wouldnt block a deal if the Cubs wanted to get rid of him (though that was before Epstein was hired). He will turn 36 this weekend and should eventually transition into being a designated hitter in the American League.
Soriano is a flawed player, but he doesnt alienate teammates and staffers the way Zambrano did, one reason that compelled Epstein to make this trade with the Marlins.
They love Sorianos energy and upbeat attitude. Hes essentially as popular in the room as hes unpopular on talk radio.
It was Soriano who once invited Starlin Castro to live in his house, making the rookie feel comfortable and smoothing the transition. And it was Soriano who confronted Zambrano in the clubhouse on Aug. 12 after the enigmatic pitcher was ejected for throwing at Atlantas Chipper Jones.
The day after with Zambranos locker cleaned out Soriano delivered this memorable quote: Hes a big man, but I think mentally hes weak.
During their initial meeting in October, Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts discussed a long-range vision and the troubled assets the Cubs have on the books. Epstein had full authority to eat money in the Zambrano deal, and it will be his call on Soriano.
You have to decide, Epstein said, are we better off with one year of Carlos with the 18 million paid? Or are you better paying the 18 million and getting a 25-year-old pitcher (under your control for three years)? Understanding when theres a sunk cost (is sometimes) the sign of a progressive organization.
That said, progressive organizations dont go around randomly calling people sunk costs. I think you have to work with players and try to rehabilitate them. In this case, putting all the factors together, this was the best thing for the Cubs on (and) off the field.