The Chicago Cubs pulled Alfonso Soriano from the lineup before Thursday night's game and manager Dale Sveum says a trade to send the outfielder to the New York Yankees is about "99 percent done."
Soriano was replaced in left field by Cole Gillespie for Thursday night's game at Arizona.
Soriano is hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs. He is a seven-time All-Star and made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1999.
The deal, which is still pending approval from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, was initially reported as being "close" this afternoon by several outlets, with Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago providing the most detailed explanation:
Sveum was told an hour ago to pull Soriano from lineup because deal is close . That was at 3:45 PST
— Bruce Levine (@ESPNBruceLevine) July 25, 2013
Sveum also had this to say to media questions about what he was told when asked to remove Soriano from the lineup:
Sveum's understanding is Soriano deal with Yankees is 99 percent done.
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) July 25, 2013
Over the course of the next few hours, reports continued to come across that the deal was nearing completion. Carrie Muskat of MLB.com said that "players were visibly upset at the news that Soriano was leaving."
According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney, should the deal be finalized, the Cubs will also pick up between $17-20 million of the $25 million remaining on the 8-year, $136 million contract that Soriano signed before the 2007 season.
The fact that Soriano was still a Cub for so long into Hoyer and Epstein's regime was a bit of a surprise. At first, the duo seemed eager to shed Soriano's contract, much like they did with fire-breathing pitcher Carlos Zambrano, but after getting to know the outfielder better, they decided to hold onto him for a while longer.
The team's shift in attitude was perfectly summed up by Sveum, who had this to say about Soriano after news of his departure broke:
#Cubs Sveum on Sori: "There's no doubt, he's one of the top five ultimate professionals I've been around in this game"
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 26, 2013
Even with that deep appreciation for Soriano as a player, his departure comes as little surprise to observers of the North Siders, as Soriano told the media Wednesday that the Yankees were one of the teams that he would accept a trade to. In those comments, Soriano admitted that his aspirations for one last chance at a World Series ring was the ultimate decider.
"I wanted to stay here for the rest of my contract, but at the same time I want another chance to get into the playoffs and the World Series," Soriano said. "I would have been very happy if we were playing better here with the chance to go to the playoffs, but it's not. I am 37, so I'd like one mor echance to go to the World Series. I've tried to be a champion here, but now it seems I have to do that for another team."
Soriano was on the verge of being traded twice last season, at one point vetoing a trade that would have sent him to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. As a player with 10 years of MLB experience and five years of tenure with his current club, Soriano has veto power over any trade, and he finally agreed to waive it to facilitate a return trip to the Bronx Bombers, the team that he started his career with.
In New York, he joins a team that has seen better days. Their current roster of players on the disabled list is an All-Star caliber bunch, with shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Curtis Granderson, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez headlining the group. Add to that the impending retirement of closer Mariano Rivera at season’s end, as well as the impressive performances being churned out by the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, and it’s pretty clear that the Yankees’ window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
Soriano is looking to get in before that happens, and he will be looked at to provide an offensive spark in a lineup that hasn’t seen much of one. After all, this is a Yankees team that hasn’t hit a single home run since the All-Star Break, and is currently sitting six and a half games out of first place in the AL East.
As for the Cubs, they are clearly building toward the future with this move. Outfielder Junior Lake has been playing solid baseball since his call-up from Triple-A Iowa last week, and will likely slide into the everyday starter’s role in left field, and could switch to center field if David DeJesus is moved prior to the July 31st trade deadline.
The Cubs also will be looking to move several other pieces, including outfielder Nate Schierholtz, closer Kevin Gregg, and reliever James Russell.