As the Chicago Cubs’ 2012 season limps to a close, players such as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have given fans good reason to look forward to the team’s future. If Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office want to maximize that future potential, though, they’ll make every effort to have Alfonso Soriano off the roster by Opening Day 2013.

As ESPN notes, the once-untradeable outfielder is finally far enough along in his exorbitant contract that the Cubs could pick up enough money to convince another team to acquire him. The network speculates that the Rays, Indians, Orioles and Athletics might all have an interest in adding Soriano if the price were right.

Obviously, if the Cubs do absorb a large chunk of Soriano’s contract, there won’t be much financial gain from shipping him out. However, his departure would free up a full-time spot in the outfield that could be used to develop a younger player—or more than one—whose impact on the Cubs’ long-term success would be vastly greater than that of the 36-year-old Soriano.

In addition, there’s likely never going to be a better time to find a buyer for Soriano than this offseason. In the first place, the veteran is coming off a strong year, with 30 homers, 103 runs batted in (despite a weak lineup around him), and a .497 slugging percentage.

On top of that, as ESPN’s analysts also observe, this year’s free agent crop offers few good solutions to clubs in need of a power bat. No team on a budget will be bidding on David Ortiz or Josh Hamilton, and the rest of the available hitters slant toward leadoff types (Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan) rather than sluggers.

With all that in mind, the Cubs should work hard to make a deal happen now, when there’s still a chance (albeit a slim one) of getting some kind of legitimate talent in return for Soriano. Waiting even as long as the 2013 regular season gives Soriano a chance to get hurt or to see his production drop off, at which point the Cubs won’t be able to give him away.

As a side note, this situation gives the Cubs more than a passing interest in the outcome of the American League playoffs. Should either the Orioles or the A’s see their offense flame out, they might become far more interested in adding a veteran slugger.

Of course, if the Cubs have to hold onto Soriano, it’s not exactly the end of the world, as it will help them be a bit more competitive in the next two seasons. But, when “a bit more competitive” is the difference between fifth place and fourth place, the potential gain from moving Soriano far outweighs any consolation prize from keeping him on the roster.