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Soriano-to-Yankees deal close

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Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano is on the verge of rejoining the New York Yankees, where his big league career started.

Although Soriano initially was in the lineup for Thursday’s game at Arizona, he was scratched after a deal to trade him to the Yankees reportedly was 99 percent finished. The apparent move – although not yet official late Thursday – required Soriano, who spent five seasons with the Yankees, to approve going to New York because he holds 10-5 rights as well as a no-trade clause. Although Soriano’s eight-year, $136 million contract he signed in 2006 became a dark cloud hovering over the organization the past few years, the 37-year-old has been an important presence in a young Cubs clubhouse, especially during this rebuilding phase.

Over the past two seasons, Soriano won over his new bosses, manager Dale Sveum and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, in particular.

“Coming in here, I actually had a little trepidation of how we would handle [Soriano] and the contract, and if his skills declined how we would handle playing time,” Epstein said last year. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something that I was really looking forward to. Those concerns proved to be completely baseless. What a pleasant surprise he turned out to be.”

Soriano’s massive contract can be – and should be – picked apart with how willing the Cubs’ former owner and management was willing to fork over to a player who was about to turn 31 when he signed the deal. But Soriano doesn’t deserve ire from fans for perceived lack of hustle and effort. Soriano consistently was one of the Cubs’ hardest working players and a leader. More times than not, Soriano could be found sitting at his locker before games watching video of his previous at-bats or video of that day’s pitcher. He also frequently spent time working on his defense with coach Dave McKay and working to strengthen his knee, which has bothered him most of Cubs career.

“I tell people often that I’m glad I’ve seen Soriano from this side of the fence,” McKay said last year. “I didn’t realize what a hard worker he was and what a super teammate he was.”

The Cubs are expected to take on a good portion of the nearly $25 million Soriano is owed through next season. By doing so, the Cubs should receive a lower-level prospect from the Yankees. But perhaps most importantly, Soriano’s departure creates an opening in the outfield and at-bats for younger players such as Junior Lake.

In seven seasons with the Cubs, Soriano hit .264 with 181 home runs and 526 RBIs in 889 games.

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