Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement from the Major Leagues. The 38-year-old outfielder was a seven-time All-Star, and ranks 50th on the all-time home run list with 412.
“I’ve lost the love and passion to play the game,” Soriano said in a radio interview Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. “Right now, my family is the most important thing. … Although I consider myself in great shape, my mind is not focused on baseball.”
Soriano spent seven seasons with the Cubs before he was traded to the Yankees in 2013.
— Carrie Muskat
This and that …
* Travis Wood will be making his 100th career start Wednesday. He has a 2.92 ERA (20 ER/61 2/3 IP) in 10 Interleague starts for the Cubs, going 3-3 in those outings. He’s given up three or fewer earned runs in all 10 starts and two or fewer earned runs in seven of those, including each of his last four. Wood has a 2.19 ERA (6 ER/24 2/3 IP) in his last four starts against the AL dating to June 28 of last season.
* Wood’s 2.92 Interleague ERA as a Cub is third-best all-time in franchise history. Matt Garza’s 2.60 ERA ranks first amongst Cubs hurlers.
* Cubs designated hitters have batted .280 (142-for-508) with 23 home runs and 89 RBIs in 128 games at AL ballparks. The 23 homers have been hit by 13 players, including a franchise-record six by Alfonso Soriano.
The 2013 season was another step in the Cubs’ rebuilding process. For the second straight year, the Cubs dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation. They seemed to set a record for most deals in July as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston also were traded. In August, David DeJesus was sent to the Nationals.
In return, the Cubs felt they strengthened the organization with players such as third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. It’s all part of Theo Epstein’s plan since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations.
All the transactions didn’t solve the 2013 team’s problems, and the Cubs finished last in the tough National League Central at 66-96, the fourth straight year they’ve posted a sub .500 season.
As 2013 comes to a close, here are five storylines from the Cubs’ season:
5. Hot prospects
Every time Javier Baez hit a home run, or first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant won another award, there were questions about where the Cubs top prospects would fit in the big league lineup. Baez, the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Bryant, who was the second overall selection in June, stole some of the headlines from the big league team. The Cubs front office’s mantra is that the kids need time to develop but fans are eager for someone to cheer for. Baez, who belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs combined at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and Bryant, the college player of the year who was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, aren’t the only super kids. The list of potential impact players in the Cubs system also includes Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, and Jorge Soler. Now, the question is when.
4. Marmol, Fujikawa and Gregg
Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s job one week into the regular season, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over but he was limited because of elbow problems. The Japanese pitcher eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs had to scramble. They signed Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers April 3, and he proceeded to reclaim the job, finishing with 33 saves. Marmol was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, and didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the season. The Cubs bullpen was a problem most of the season, ranking on the bottom of the National League in ERA, walks, and home runs allowed.
3. Alfonso Soriano is traded to Yankees
For the second straight year, the Cubs were busy at the Trade Deadline, but none of the moves affected the players the way the departure of Alfonso Soriano did. The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, where he began his U.S. pro career in 1999. He has one year remaining on the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in November 2006. While fans were critical of Soriano’s defensive ability, he was revered in the Cubs clubhouse. Soriano topped the Cubs in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and they struggled to fill his spot in the lineup after he left. The Cubs may have been the only team to use a backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, in the No. 4 spot.
2. Manager Dale Sveum is dismissed
Sveum was a no nonsense kind of guy. He held players accountable. He believed in face to face communication. In Spring Training, he organized a bunting tournament, and included himself in the bracket. When Sveum was hired in November 2011, Epstein trusted the manager and his coaching staff to compile “The Cubs Way” handbook, to be used throughout the organization.
The Cubs lost 197 games in two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer said the record wasn’t the reason the manager was dismissed. There were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and Sveum got his signals crossed with a few players and the front office.
“There has to be a clear, unified message, and [players] can’t be getting different signals from different directions and collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that,” Epstein said.
Sveum wasn’t out of work for long. Royals manager Ned Yost waited one hour after Sveum was dismissed before calling to offer him a job on Kansas City’s coaching staff.
1. Starlin Castro takes a step backward
Castro was disappointed when he didn’t bat .300 for a third straight season in 2012, finishing at .283. But no one expected the shortstop to struggle as much as he did in 2013, batting .245 — including a .167 June. What happened? The shortstop lost his aggressive approach, struck out a career-high 129 times, and often looked lost at the plate. He was dropped to eighth in the order in August.
“This year, it’s too many things to think about [and] I’m not supposed to think [up there],” Castro said. “Sometimes you have a tough season, and you want to please everybody. But it’s not right. You have to listen to the things that can help you — not everything. When you come to home plate, you don’t have any idea, because you listen to too many things.”
Toward the end of the season, Castro announced he was just going to “be me.” The shortstop may be the Cubs’ new leadoff man in 2014 — he batted .263 there this past season — and the team can only hope he regains his approach, especially since this is Year 2 of his seven-year, $60 million contract.
— Carrie Muskat
Since Alfonso Soriano was traded July 26, he is batting .251 (46-for-183) with the Yankees with 15 homers, five doubles, 47 RBIs, eight stolen bases. When Soriano was on the Cubs, they posted a 45-55 record, and were batting .243 as a team with a .304 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage, plus they averaged 4.1 runs per game.
Since he left, the Cubs are 18-29, and as a team, batting .228 with a .300 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage. The team has hit 51 home runs, 67 doubles, three triples, and totaled 154 RBIs since Soriano was dealt. They’re averaging 3.4 runs per game.
With all the attention on Alex Rodriguez, what might have been missed is that Alfonso Soriano returned to Chicago on Monday for the first time since being traded by the Cubs to the Yankees.
“I love this city,” Soriano said. “It’s not a surprise for anybody. [But] now with the new [Yankees uniform], I’m happy.”
Soriano said he spoke with some of his former Cubs teammates when he got to town.
“On my way to the ballpark, I just spoke to [Cubs catcher Welington] Castillo — they had a day off in Philadelphia — and I just talked a little bit with him. They’re OK.”
He said he knows his former teammates miss him, but he’s happy to be in Yankees pinstripes.
“It’s part of the game,” Soriano said. “You know, sometimes you’ve got to move, do the best for me and for my family. I tried to do the best for the team in Chicago and the city, but it [didn’t] work, so now I’m with a new team.”
Soriano was asked for his take on the PED scandal.
“I’m very upset with the people who tried to do something wrong in baseball,” Soriano told reporters, including Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald. “I know myself I don’t like to talk too much about those problems because I’ve never been, and I don’t know about anything else.”
Was he surprised at the names of the players suspended?
“Not surprised at the names,” he siad. “It surprised me that people keep trying. That makes me surprised because they know that Major League [Baseball] put in those rules and they cannot keep trying. If you try to do something wrong, sooner or later, they’re going to get you.”
Players are competitive, but should compete on an even playing field.
“We like to compete, but compete clean,” Soriano said. “Just compete clean and see what happens. A lot of guys have too much talent, and they don’t know. They don’t need [PEDs] and they don’t have to try to do something wrong because God gave them the talent. Don’t try to be like a super hero or something like that. Just play with the talent God gave you.”
How should his time in Chicago be remembered?
“My answer is all the work that I put in myself to make the team better and try to win a championship,” he siad. “When I signed with the Cubs, that’s waht I had in my mind. I didn’t sign just because of the money. I signed to try to give a championship to the city, and that’s what I remember.”
When Soriano was traded to the Yankees, he met with Theo Epstein.
“He told me it was an honor to have me,” Soriano said of his conversation with Epstein. “He had a lot of respect for me, so I have a lot of respect for him, too.”
When Junior Lake arrived at Wrigley Field for his first home game on Monday, his gear was stowed in a prime space. Lake was given Alfonso Soriano’s locker in the Cubs’ clubhouse. Lake has been in Chicago before but never played at Wrigley until Monday. The young outfielder opened the season on fire, with 15 hits in his first 30 at-bats, but is 0-for-13 since an infield single in the sixth last Thursday. Manager Dale Sveum said they aren’t worried.
“No, we’re not going to panic over an 0-for-13 [stretch],” Sveum said. “He had to face [Tim] Lincecum, [Madison] Bumgarner and [Matt] Cain, so you’re facing Cy Young’s and guys that have done a lot of good things in their careers.
“Those are the things that, for a kid like him with the ability that he has, is the experience we talked about,” Sveum said. “That’s why you want some guys to be here a little bit earlier sometimes to get that taste and see Major League pitching on an everyday basis sometimes and have to make those adjustments.”
With the departure of Soriano via trade, Lake has taken over in left field, and will start in center against left-handed pitchers. Outfielder Brian Bogusevic is rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz., from a strained left hamstring. Will Lake stay the remainder of the season? Sveum said there’s been no discussion about sending Lake back to Triple-A Iowa.
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s going to be in there pretty much every day unless I feel he needs a day off,” Sveum said.
— Carrie Muskat
Travis Wood picked up another quality start and a quality at-bat. Wood notched his 18th quality start and belted his third home run to lift the Cubs to a 2-1 victory Sunday over the Giants and complete a sweep of the defending World Series champs. Welington Castillo smacked a tiebreaking home run with two outs in the seventh, his third of the year, to give Chicago its first series sweep in San Francisco since Sept. 13-15, 1993.
The Cubs concluded a 10-game West Coast swing through Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco 6-4, and picked up their 26th road win, three more than their total last season. Last year, the Cubs went 1-18 on the road against the NL West.
“I can’t remember ever as a player or anything having this kind of trip on the West Coast,” Dale Sveum said. “To win six out of 10 on the West Coast, no matter how good a team you are, it’s one of the harder things to do in baseball.”
They did it without Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, both traded during the trip. On Sunday, Soriano had four hits, including a two-run homer and walk-off RBI single for the Yankees, which prompted loud cheers in the Cubs clubhouse. The high socks on Starlin Castro, Junior Lake and Luis Valbuena on Sunday? That’s Soriano style.
“We said we wanted to do it for Sori,” Castillo said of the socks switch.
Wood was in the trainer’s room and heard all the ruckus. The lefty was on the Cubs last year when they also overhauled the roster, dealing Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto and others. This time, it’s different.
“It’s always a little different, especially when you lose a guy like Soriano,” Wood said. “He was one of our hottest bats, probably the hottest bat at the time. He’s the leader on the team and he’s been here the longest. It was sad to see him go, but I think he had a pretty solid day today. We just have to pull together and string some wins.”
The pitchers ruled. Wood singled to lead off the third and then homered off Tim Lincecum with two outs in the fifth, his third of the year, and the most by a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano hit four in 2009. It’s the first time Lincecum has ever served up a home run to a pitcher.
“I’m always surprised,” Wood said of his power. “I’m not up there trying to hit homers. I’m just trying to put good swings on it. I was able to get two hits today and fortunately one of them went over the fence. Unfortunately, I gave it up the next inning.”
Lincecum got a little payback with two hits off Wood, both singles.
The Giants loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth, and Buster Posey hit into a bizarre double play, forcing the runners at third and at home. But Pablo Sandoval delivered an RBI double to tie the game. Castillo’s home run was all Wood needed, and ticked Lincecum off.
All three games were decided by one run. Winning those close games in front of sellout crowds can only help, Sveum said.
“A lot of these young guys have to get a feeling for that in the big leagues, and the feeling of the last three games here, how close every out was and how every pitch here meant everything, and the situations [Saturday night],” Sveum said. “These guys, some of them anyway, that multiplies by 10 when you’re in a pennant race, those kind of games. It’s always a learning process.”
— Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein said Alfonso Soriano helped make the trade go smoothly.
“As far as these things go, this was relatively seamless to where we were able to monitor the market, give him an idea of what teams might be interested,” Epstein said. “When we explained why we thought it was the right time, and why it would be good for him, and good for the Cubs, he listened and took it to his family and made a decision that I think in the end was the right one.”
The Cubs dealt Soriano to the Yankees on Friday for Class A right-hander Corey Black.
Now, the Cubs do not have a player with a no-trade clause in their contract.
“I don’t look at this as a watershed moment, or a transformative moment at all,” Epstein said. “It was simply the right time for Sori to move on and open up some at-bats for Junior Lake and when [Ryan] Sweeney and [Brian] Bogusevic come back from injury, now that [David] DeJesus is back from injury, we have a chance to find out about left-handed bats and some on-base skills and see who might be in the mix for next year. It was just the right time for this particular move.”
Soriano’s eight-year, $136 million contract was the largest ever given to a Cubs player. Could they do another one? It depends on the player
“I’m of the belief that you’re never one player away,” Epstein said. “The single biggest factor in whether or not you have a chance to legitimately contend is the overall health of the organization.”
“We’re focused on building a healthy, productive, effective organization with a robust farm system, getting those players through the farm system to the big league level and gaining competitiveness that way rather than chasing one player who might make a difference.”
That doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t acquire impact players through free agency; they just won’t build their plans around that.
“We’ll know when the timing is right,” Epstein said.
— Carrie Muskat
Alfonso Soriano could be in the Yankees lineup Friday night. Soriano was pulled from the Cubs’ starting lineup on Thursday after Theo Epstein called manager Dale Sveum, saying a deal was “99 percent” complete. The 37-year-old outfielder took a red-eye flight to New York after the Cubs’ game Thursday. There were reports Friday that the Cubs will receive right-handed pitcher Corey Black, 21, a fourth-round pick in 2012, in exchange, and that the Yankees will pay a portion of the $24.7 remaining on Soriano’s contract. Major League Baseball had to review the financial terms of the deal.
Note: I will be traveling from Phoenix to San Francisco Friday. Check Cubs.com and MLB.com for updates
The deal between the Cubs and Yankees has not been finalized, but Alfonso Soriano took a red eye flight from Phoenix to New York after Thursday’s game so he would be there in case it was done. The Yankees are home Friday against the Rays.
“I’m happy, and I think they’re happy, too,” Soriano said of the Cubs. “I’m happy to go back to New York where I started my career. I think both sides are happy.”
Is he glad the rumors are over?
“Thank God, it happened, so now I have to just concentrate and finish strong, and try to help my new team now to win,” he said. “That’s what I like to do, and everybody knows I like to play this game and I love it.”
Soriano talked to his agent a few hours before the Cubs’ game against the Diamondbacks ended. He then addressed his teammates to say goodbye.
“I just talked to my family and they said they support me and they’re happy I’m back where I started my career,” Soriano said. “I’m happy to go back to New York. … It’s a little uncomfortable, but this is baseball. Sometimes you have to do what’s best for the team, best for me and best for the other organization, too. I’ve been traded before. Now I have to keep moving and do my job in New York.”
What will he remember most about being a Cub?
“The fans,” he said. “They always want to win, they love to win. More important, being with the Cubs, they appreciate when the team wins and the team plays good.”
The fans could be harsh when Soriano made a bad play in the field.
“I respect the fans, I always play hard for the fans,” he said. “They love the team and they like to see the team do well. I always tried to do the best when I play for the Cubs and tried to be a champion here. It didn’t happen, so I hope it happens in the future. Now, I have to think about my new team.”
— Carrie Muskat