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.