Soriano has two years left on his deal, each worth $18 million. Combined with what he's set to be paid for the remainder of this season—reportedly $8 million—that leaves $44 million for another team to take on if they want to make a trade for the Cubs left fielder.
Depending on the metaphor that best suits your taste, the remaining two years on that deal are like two cinder blocks on Epstein's feet, dragging him and the Cubs' future down with it, or like a giant monolithic slab that can't be looked around, obscuring the future from view.
OK, maybe that's a bit overdramatic. But if Soriano wasn't carrying the weight of that contract, he most likely would have been dealt to another team before the July 31 trade deadline. As it turns out, he was very close to being traded despite his contract.
According to ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine, the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers were "very close" to pulling off a trade involving Soriano. Who the Dodgers would have traded to the Cubs and how much of Soriano's contract the Dodgers would have paid was not reported.
But the Dodgers already showed a willingness to take on a big contract, agreeing to pay the remaining $34 million on Hanley Ramirez's deal when he was acquired from the Miami Marlins. As a result of taking on that money, general manager Ned Colletti only had to give up one young starting pitcher and a Single-A pitching prospect.
Presumably, Colletti was negotiating a similar deal with the Cubs since he refused to trade any of the organization's top five prospects in other potential exchanges. Shedding Soriano's contract from his team's payroll was surely acceptable for Epstein, even if he didn't get top talent in return.
So either the Dodgers ended up balking at taking on all of the $44 million owed to Soriano, or the Cubs weren't going to trade him without getting certain prospects in the deal.
However, maybe enough of a framework is in place to revisit the trade before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.
As reported by ESPN Chicago, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told a Chicago sports talk radio station that Soriano could still possibly be traded in August. Much of the legwork has already been done. The Cubs gave Soriano a list of teams that could potentially make a deal and Soriano said which ones he would accept a deal to.
However, the Dodgers likely aren't interested in Soriano anymore since they acquired Shane Victorino to play left field. There's no place in the lineup for Soriano now, and the Dodgers didn't get such players to rotate them among each of the three outfield positions.
Yet the Dodgers weren't the only team talking to the Cubs about dealing for Soriano in the hours leading up to the trade deadline.
The San Francisco Giants expressed interest in Soriano. There was no report of how close a deal was to being made or if a trade had actually been agreed to.
But it's a moot point. As the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer reported, Soriano invoked his "10-and-5" rights (10 seasons in the majors, five with the same team) to veto any possible deal to San Francisco. Soriano said the only west coast team he would go to was the Dodgers.
The Giants ended up getting Hunter Pence before the trade deadline, negating any need they would have for Soriano.
Unlike the Dodgers, however, the Tigers weren't willing to take on the entire remainder of Soriano's contract. And maybe the Cubs asked for higher-caliber prospects—or a greater number of them—in return for paying some of Soriano's salary. That's just a guess, of course. We may never know the full details.
That is, unless the Tigers and Cubs also try again to make a deal in August. Detroit has Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and even Delmon Young to play left field, but Soriano would be a significant offensive upgrade. Judging from the defense he's played this season, according to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he could help the Tigers in the field as well.
But as CBS Sports' Danny Knobler reported, Detroit wants a middle-of-the-order bat to put behind Prince Fielder in their lineup's No. 5 spot.
Delmon Young and his .700 OPS just haven't provided the production the Tigers were hoping for when they brought him back for this season. And while there was hope that Victor Martinez might recover from his torn ACL injury in time to rejoin the team in September, his progress has reportedly slowed down.
MLB.com's Jason Beck reported that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski insisted he never spoke with the Cubs about Soriano. But there aren't too many other hitters available who could provide the home-run threat that Soriano can. With 19 home runs, 61 RBI and an .821 OPS, he would be the run producer that the Tigers are supposedly looking for.
Detroit gave up top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to the Marlins in the trade for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. But the minor league system still has several players—some of whom have appeared in the majors—that likely interest Epstein, such as pitchers Drew Smyly, Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver and Bruce Rondon.
If the Tigers were willing to part with one of those top prospects or one of the promising outfielders also in the system, like Avisail Garcia or Daniel Fields, the Cubs would likely agree to pay more of Soriano's contract.
There might be other teams somewhat interested in getting Soriano, such as the Baltimore Orioles or perhaps the Cincinnati Reds. But the Tigers are surely the most motivated to get him. They have the need and have essentially gone all in for a run at the World Series with their recent acquisitions of Fielder, Infante and Sanchez.
Epstein should check in with Dombrowski every couple of days to see if he wants to talk about a deal.
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