SEATTLE – There’s no easy exit strategy for the Cubs and Alfonso Soriano, one of the last remaining symbols from Tribune Co.’s win-one-for-the-Tower mentality. It will involve egos and money and the priorities for the Theo Epstein administration.
Soriano’s $136 million megadeal expires after the 2014 season and the Cubs are signaling that the 37-year-old, seven-time All-Star might not see his name in the lineup every day hitting cleanup and playing left field.
Manager Dale Sveum hinted at a reduced role for Soriano before Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners in 10 innings at Safeco Field.
“He’s the manager,” Soriano said after going 2-for-4 with a home run, his first since June 8. “I like to play, but sometimes at my age it’s good to rest. He wants to do what’s best for the team. I’m happy with the way he handles the team.”
Once David DeJesus fully recovers from a sprained right shoulder, likely just after the All-Star break, the Cubs will add another outfielder to a mix that also includes Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz and Brian Bogusevic.
“You’re gonna have to see what happens because a couple of them might be part of our future,” Sveum said. “They’re left-handed hitters that are athletes, two-way players that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. So we’ll work it (out and) figure out the playing time.”
DeJesus (assuming he’s healthy) and Schierholtz will almost certainly hear their names in trade rumors between now and the July 31 deadline.
Sweeney, 28, signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in April after the Boston Red Sox released him. He’s hitting .297 with four homers and 15 RBI in 43 games since coming up from Triple-A Iowa.
Sveum sat Soriano on Wednesday and Thursday in Milwaukee, in part to get a better look at Bogusevic, the 29-year-old out of Oak Lawn and De La Salle Institute. Bogusevic had hammered Pacific Coast League pitching, putting up a .929 OPS at Iowa.
“I don’t know if you would call it a platoon,” Sveum said. “But it would be a way where (we’d) figure out how to get these at-bats with the matchups (and) whoever’s the hottest. Who knows how all that’s gonna work out? A lot of times those things work themselves out.”
Soriano will likely be the designated hitter for this six-game swing through Seattle and Oakland. It’s not necessarily the job he wants. He prefers viewing himself as a complete player.
But Soriano’s pretty good at it, entering Friday hitting .370 with seven homers, 20 RBI and a 1.156 OPS in 73 career at-bats as a DH. That could eventually be the final act of his distinguished career, being a DH somewhere in the American League while chasing 400 home runs.
“I can do that maybe for like one week, two weeks,” Soriano said. “I don’t know if I can do that for the rest of the season. But so far, I’m enjoying interleague play, so I just try to do my job.”
The Cubs still owe Soriano roughly $27 million, and have understood they’d have to subsidize most of that salary if they ever find a taker.
Soriano, of course, would have to be willing to waive his no-trade rights. He’s been said to have softened his stance about leaving Chicago, but would still have ideas about where he’d want to go (likely a contending team not on the West Coast). He’d also have to get hot again to improve his numbers (.248 average, eight homers, 31 RBI) and drum up interest.
Sveum hasn’t discussed this yet with Soriano, and it could be an awkward conversation between the manager and a player with a lot of pride.
“I haven’t decided to do anything,” Sveum said. “I would definitely talk to him about it. You’re not just gonna do something like that with a guy that’s had that kind of career. But that’s a ways down the road to even think about that.”