Lake describes him as mentor; Epstein lauds cooperation with deal
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cubs didn't follow their normal work schedule Friday. Meetings, extra hitting and the pregame media session were all delayed so they could watch Alfonso Soriano's at-bats with the Yankees in the Eastern time zone.
Friday was Soriano's first day back with the team where he began his career following a trade that sent the 37-year-old outfielder to New York in exchange for Class A right-hander Corey Black.
Rookie Junior Lake started in left field in the Cubs' series opener against the Giants and will likely get the most playing time there, manager Dale Sveum said. For Lake and the other Latin players, it was difficult to say goodbye to their mentor.
"He's a good person, good people," Lake said. "He helped me a lot. He talked to me. I said, 'Thank you for everything.'"
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, said Soriano, who had a no-trade clause, made the transaction easier for them.
"He was very cooperative throughout the process," Epstein said. "That's what allowed the trade to be made.
"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."
Soriano leaves after nearly seven seasons with the Cubs. He led the team in home runs and stolen bases at the All-Star break and goes to the Yankees ranked seventh among active players with 389 home runs.
Sveum said Nate Schierholtz would take over the No. 4 spot in the lineup and Cody Ransom would likely be slotted there against left-handed pitchers.
Epstein said his impression of Soriano changed as he watched the seven-time All-Star play.
"When I came here, for some reason, I was under the impression he would be a negative in the clubhouse and someone who was out for himself and someone who didn't play the game hard all the time," Epstein said. "I was quickly disavowed of that notion. We asked him to work on his defense, we asked him to run the bases hard, we asked him to run balls out, we asked him to be a good example for younger players, and we asked him to always play the game hard and try to win the fans back over and be a leader in the clubhouse. He said, 'OK,' and he went out and did it.
"It was really remarkable to watch him go out and rehabilitate his reputation. I don't think he ever lost it, but at least with the new players, he was able to earn their respect. I'm glad that things ended well for him in Chicago. I think he really left with his head very much held high with a well-earned reputation, certainly as long as we've been here."
Black, 21, was selected by the Yankees in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft out of Faulkner University. This year, he was 3-8 with a 4.25 ERA in 19 starts with Class A Tampa. The right-hander has given up two home runs in 82 2/3 innings, while striking out 88.
Epstein said the young pitcher has a "big-time arm" and the Cubs scouts who watched him compared Black to White Sox All-Star reliever Jesse Crain. Black will start for Class A Daytona, but is projected as a reliever in the big leagues with a good slider and fastball that has touched 100 mph.
The right-hander is a few years away. The pace of Lake's career, on the other hand, has accelerated. He was injured in Spring Training, and this was his first season at Triple-A. Because of injuries to outfielders, he was promoted earlier than anticipated, playing just 40 games at Iowa.
Lake and Soriano worked out together in the offseason at the Cubs' academy in the Dominican Republic. When Lake talked about their sessions, he made it sound as if the veteran was more regular than he was.
"When I see a person like that, who has a lot of money, and he keeps trying to be better every day, it's a good example [for me]," Lake said.
Which may be the most significant contribution Soriano could make to the Cubs.