Theo Epstein Wisely Suggests He’s Not Itching to Dump Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano

In recent years, when it became relatively clear that a Chicago Cub was not long for the team, the front office started doing a curious thing: it trashed the player publicly.

It started with former Cubs’ hero, Sammy Sosa. In his declining years, Sosa’s production could no longer out-pace his (reported) selfishness and clubhouse problems. The Cubs, naturally, started shopping Sosa around, despite his massive contract. But instead of doing so quietly, the organization seemed to go out of its way to concede that Sammy was a goner, even leaking stories about Sosa leave the clubhouse early, and getting into scrapes with his teammates. Maybe the front office erroneously perceived a need to trash Sosa so that fans would not be upset at his departure. Maybe the front office was simply angry that it had come to this. Whatever the reason, it never made much sense.

And it kept happening. It happened with Milton Bradley. It happened with Carlos Silva. It happened – last year, and this year – with Carlos Zambrano. Am I saying these guys didn’t deserve to be trashed? Nah. But it’s Business 101: if you’ve got an asset of declining value that you’d like to sell, best to speak well of it to try and save whatever small, marginal value it might have.

The Cubs are now faced with an offseason in which they would love to move Zambrano, as well as Alfonso Soriano. Each of the two is owed a bucket-full of gold, and the Cubs would like to cut bait. So, it’s off to the newspapers with stories about how Zambrano eats puppies and Soriano pushes down old ladies, right?

No. There’s a new sheriff in town.

“From afar, [Alfonso Soriano] still brings a lot to the table from an offensive standpoint,” Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said when asked about what to do with Soriano. “He had 26 bombs, he’s still a threat offensively. There are other areas of the game where he hasn’t quite performed up to expectations the last few years.

“I think it’s a sign of a good organization to look at every player and ask, ‘How can we get the most out of this guy?’ I think with Alfonso, there’s more in there. There’s a real chance for improvement. Obviously, we know what his ceiling is. His ceiling is he’s a very dynamic player, contributes in all phases of the game and who is a legitimate, legitimate middle-of-the-order threat. That hasn’t necessarily been the case, the all-around game hasn’t been there in recent years.

“I think the question is, how do we unlock that? I’m looking forward to sitting down with people who have seen him play every day and worked with him behind the scenes and try to find a way to make that happen.”

And on Zambrano?

“I need to get to the bottom of [what happened with Zambrano,” Epstein said. ”I think the best organizations get the most out of their players, even the ones that might be harder to get the most out of it. But the best organizations also know when it’s time to move on.

“He’s got talent. Obviously, things haven’t gone the way he would have liked or the organization would have liked the last few years.”

Taken together? Epstein isn’t about to proclaim that the Cubs absolutely, unequivocally need to dump Soriano and Zambrano, even if that’s very much an organizational goal. Do his words convince other teams that the Cubs are serious about keeping the two, which thus raises the chances the Cubs can find a taker? Not necessarily.

But one thing that definitely doesn’t help? Telling the world that you’ve just got to get rid of these players at all costs.

When you do that, you assure two things: (1) You’ll get rid of the players, and (2) You’ll indeed pay all costs.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

48 responses to “Theo Epstein Wisely Suggests He’s Not Itching to Dump Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano”

  1. jt

    I still think that Zambrano will be pitching next year in a cubs uniform. (I’ve been saying that since they put him on the disqualified list). I think he’ll have to compete for his position this year though. There’s not enough starting pitching in our system, or available on the market this season not to take a serious look at bringing him back even if it is to post up a 4 era and a 500 w/l record.

    1. jt

      I guess I should add to this by saying, they’re paying him anyway.

    2. hansman1982

      agree, worst case scenario we get another 15 starts out of Z and have to cut him in August after another hissy fit

  2. Lou

    Don’t have a problem with this line of thinking with regards to Soriano. Have A HUGE problem however with Zambrano.

  3. joeydafish

    Theo must be broadcasting the fact that Soriano is salvagable. But to unlock something that NEVER existed (defensive skills) is wearing rose colored glasses. Theo will be given the benefit of the doubt if even HE can’t unload Soriano, a mounumentous task left him by the previous, bumbling men in charge. To get the most out of Soriano he would need to be a DH, plain and simple.

  4. Dave_MKE

    I agree with everything, except for the part about Bradley.

  5. Spencer

    They could try to restructure Soriano’s contract.

  6. jt

    I don’t believe he said “can’t” he said he had a “I have a hard time imagining that.”

    which is why i think he’ll leave it up to Theo, and we’ll allow him to try and build his value back up.

    1. jt

      This was in response to Brett above….

      “The one problem I do see on the Zambrano side is that Ricketts has already said he can’t see Zambrano pitching for the Cubs again.”

      1. hansman1982

        There is a reply button…just sayin’

        1. jt

          yeah i know… i tried to hit the tab button to submit the reply and it didn’t post my comment, so i hit the back button and then hit submit and it didn’t post as a reply.

  7. packman711

    This is easily the first (of many) instances of class from the new front office. Like.

    1. hansman1982

      It is still very unnerving hearing these comments come out because in the past you knew exactly where Hendry stood about a player and I am having a hard time reading between the lines from the Cubs FO

      1. Lou

        Really? We did. Then why did Hendry give Zambrano $90 mil right after the Michael Barrett incident.

      2. Wilbur

        In most business scenarios you negotiate sales and purchases among a few involved parties and don’t have to make public comments on the transaction – not only on how others value your asset, but how you value your asset.

        The differences for any sports President/GM are obvious and candidly as a fan your/our opinions on what is said by our President/GM leading up to or during any negotiation is the last thing that he must consider.

        That doesn’t diminish the fact your assessment is totally valid, just that the Pres/GM does not see speaking to fans as germane to the negotiation and hence is not speaking to the fan base.

        When the Pres/GM is talking about an asset he has under financial control and does not want to move, then he will speak to the fan base. It’s not too hard to see which group Sori and Z fall into.

  8. Larry

    Theo is a smart GM and seeing that Zambrano has value and the Cubs need pitching it would be dumb to just give this guy away.

    1. cedarpip

      Bingo. Zambrano, as of right now is still one of our 3 or 4 best pitchers. That’s how bad it is. As for Soriano, he has deadline deal written all over him — I expect him to become a DH sooner than later. Especially with guys like Adam Dunn around. And Theo is absolutely doing the right thing by sending the message to other teams that we aren’t just going to give these guys away. Can’t wait to see how it all unfolds …

    2. DRock

      The problem is, other teams don’t want him. His value is at its lowest point ever and the only chance we have to get rid of him is if we eat most of his contract. I think they may have to do a similar thing as last season with Silva when they just released him if no team wants him in a trade. I think we would all be surprised to see Epstein and Rickets allow Big Z to take the mound for the Cubbies in 2012.

    3. EQ76

      Exactly.. and I’d rather have him winning 11 games for us rather than paying him to win those 11 games elsewhere.  Starting pitching is our greatest need and giving Z away for nothing isn’t helping us.. especially with him only having 1 year left on his deal.   I’d rather salary dump Soriano than Z.

  9. LEO L

    I agree that Zambrano will be traded but I wouldnt be surprised if he stays. He still puts in the innings and rarely gets hurt and that can help a bullpen. He has some value. If there is atleast no threat of pitching for the Cubs then you wont get much in return. But if no one calls your bluff then you make the most of it and let him pitch. Later during the year when another team needs a pticher for injury or playoff run you might still get something for him. it is a contract year so he probably will need to behave if he wants to continue. Seeing that he is pitching during the winter makes me think his competitive juices are still going.

    1. DRock

      Are you forgetting about his horrible actions last season and the past few seasons? It doesn’t matter if he is a “pretty good pitcher”. There are plenty of other “pretty good pitchers” in AAA that can easily replace him in the rotation. His numbers are on the fast decline. The guy is a cancer to the Cubs and we need to unload him before 2012.

      1. jt

        I don’t think anyone has forgotten what a tool he’s been during his contract. I just think the cubs have multiple positive points to allowing him to come back and fight for a position next season.

        1: He’s already under contract for next season, and is most likely good for at least 10 wins and a 4-ish ERA.
        2: It’s a contract year, if he wants to keep playing this is extra incentive for him to be calm and competitive.
        3: If he is pitching out of his mind by mid season, he could return complete relief for the remainder of the season (and his contract), or a couple of decent prospects from a team making a serious title run.
        4: If he’s terrible, then release him during the season, not a big deal.

        1. DRock

          All I’m saying is, I don’t want to even risk having another incident with this guy. Theo talked about a “Cubs way” that he wants to introduce and Zambrano’s actions have no place with this new look organization. We have tolerated his temper problems and outbursts and fighting teammates long enough. I think in order to really implement this new “Cubs way” we need to unload a guy like Z. Soriano is tolerable and maybe we can try to trade him midseason to an American league contender in need of another bat, but I’m sorry, as talented as Z may be, the new Cubs front office and manager should not tolerate Z in 2012 and beyond.

          1. T Wags

            Couldn’t have said it better myself, DRock.

          2. EQ76

            I guess it depends on how bad his incidents really are then.. i mean, the media makes him out to be a villain.. but are his antics really that bad in the clubhouse?  I’d like to know for sure on that.

  10. scottie

    even before the disaster of this august.. i think i recall Z saying he would retire at the end of his current contract.. yes?

    1. Fishin Phil

      Yes, he did say that at one point.  Of course, he also said that he was “cured”, so take it with a pound of salt.

  11. Shawn

    Theo talked about establishing a winning culture and an environment of accountability.  He also talked about sunken costs and making moves that hurt you in the short term but help in the long run.  Trading Zambrano would hurt the Cubs in 2012.  But it also sends the message this shit won’t be tolerated.  Sometimes you just have to cut bait and move on.  I am tired of the yearly Zambrano drama.  Let somebody else deal with it.

    1. DRock

      Thank you Shawn. This is exactly what I was saying. I am tired of the Cubs putting up with Z and his horrible attitude. We can easily find some other pitcher to win 11 games who has a mid 4 ERA without the baggage.

    2. trevor

      shawn, it is not going to hurt us in the long run, if we keep him, anyway. If we keep him then maybe we get 12 wins out of him, and he is gone after the season. if we trade him we will struggle in 2012 and we still wont have him after the 2012 season. So why waste a pitcher, who’s numbers aren’t as bad as you guys are putting them out there to be, when we can keep him, and get rid of him next year, Instead of having to worry about getting a pitcher to replace him. We already have to worry about finding a guy for the 5th spot, and not to mention all the other things we have to deal with (Rameriz, 1st base, ect.) Most likely we wont be contenders next year anyway, we might as well keep him when we are going to have to pay the majority of his contract anyway.

      1. Shawn

        For me it has nothing to with production.  If Zambrano were to come back and pitch for the Cubs it is probable he wins 10+ games and posts an ERA around 4.  If that were all the Cubs were getting I would have him play out his contract.  But thats not all you are going to get with Zambrano.  There is the baggage that comes with it.  Some people will say that is just Z showing how much he wants to win and he is just emotional.  I see it as someone who has no idea what it means to be a professional.  I wouldn’t expect him to be happy with that performance in Atlanta, or happy that he was left in.  I also don’t expect him to throw a hissy fit like a kid who’s mom wouldn’t buy him a toy at a store.  Every year there is a Z moment.  With the possibility of a young team I don’t want that mental midget anywhere near them.  Every year he says he has changed and every year its the same.  I have had enough.

        1. MrCubs73

          An issue that arises when you just cut Zambrano is not just Zambrano’s salary, but the replacement cost. So if you cut Zambrano and his 18 million dollar contract, then pick up someone in the 5-10 million range, you are essentially paying 23-28 million in 2012 for that spot in the rotation. Remember, this is also a business and this is real money. When your number 4 or 5 spot in your rotation is costing you Pujols money, that should be out of the question. Zambrano is essentially working on a one year contract for Theo and the gang, so just like he would try to impress his new team if he were traded, he will be doing the same thing here. The Cubs could reap huge rewards if Zambrano can harness those inner demons for one season. If that Zambrano shows up, the Cubs start to have a decent from of the rotation. Garza, Dempster, Zambrano. About July 1st, if he is pitching good, there are a lot of teams that could tolerate Zambrano down the stretch if he were pitching like an All-Star again, besides, if the Cubs were a decent and winning team, some of this may have never happened.

  12. alsecord

    The real cancers on the team were a clueless manager and an inadequate pitching coach, thus the Big Z blow-up. I am sure that the new Cub manual will have a large behavorial chapter in it, so the players know exactly what behavior consequences will exist. Bring back Z.

    1. DRock

      Wow, you all are too quick to forget about what this guy has done to us? He got into a fight with Derrick Lee of all people- probably one of the classiest, most well like players out there. You cannot predict the next Z outburst and no pitching coach, manual, or anything else will prevent Z from having another outburst. We are the laughing-stock on Sportscenter everytime he slams his glove down or punches a teammate. Enough is enough.

    2. trevor

      not to mention we were the worst defense in the league last year

  13. alsecord

    If we could get value for value in a trade for Z, by all means trade him, but I just don’t see it happening without paying most of his salary. If we are paying most of his salary might as well have him pitching for us, besides we need more competitive players like him anyway.

    1. T Wags

      There’s a fine line between competitive and crazy… And he crossed it about 568 too many times.

      1. jt

        To those of you saying that, I’d be curious to see what your commentary was on his behavior when the cubs were fielding winning teams. This stuff didn’t just start in 2010 guys, and most of us were laughing about it or rooting it on talking about his “passion”.

        I’m not saying give the guy a garaunteed spot in the rotation. Let him fight it out like a rookie in spring training. If he’s pitching well, put him in the rotation. I’d go this route before paying him 19million to win 10-12 games for someone else and provide them with depth.

  14. T Wags

    When he’s pounding his chest and hollering while heading to the dugout after a big strikout to end an inning, that’s passion. I love that about him and always have. But when things don’t go his way and he throws a “hissy fit” and endangers his teammates, that’s crazy. I can’t stand that and it shouldn’t be tolerated. Winning team or losing team, it doesn’t matter.

  15. Stinky Pete

    The problem with just cutting him loose at this point is that all of his infractions were before “The Cubs Way” or Before Theo. Now, with an actual organizational philosophy and expectations to go by, when he violates the rules, and we all know he will, THEN you cut him or ship him to Pittsburgh or send him to Iowa or whatever punishment. It’s a nice demonstration of cause and effect for everyone else in the organization of how the new system works.

    1. Pat

      But is there a “cubs way” yet? I know Theo wants to establish one, but I can’t imagine that already done. Deciding an organizational philosophy is always difficult to implement, but the bi-polar nature of the ballpark makes it even more difficult (half year pitchers park, half year hitters park).

    2. DRock

      I get what you are saying, Stinky Pete, but I just don’t think I could handle watching another incident from Z, because we all know it’s gonna happen (no pun intended).

  16. chefcharmin

    I think that if you look at it, Z needs Behavioral boundaries. He needs structure. He is the type who wants to know where the line is. He didnt have it with Pinella, and obviously we have seen that Quade might has well have been roadkill with the way he lead and “managed” the cubs last year. Q just let everyone run over him (including Dempster of all people). Bring in a new pitching coach last year and i cant believe noone saw this coming…Bring him back on a short leash.

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