Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer were to meet with Soriano after reports that the Yankees were interested in the 37-year-old veteran.
"They're not the first team to call," Epstein said about the Yankees' interest. "They're the first team to show up in the paper in their home city right away."
There were reports late Monday that the Yankees were "close" to acquiring Soriano, and that the Cubs would pay the bulk of money remaining on his contract. Cubs officials said those reports were premature.
"I saw the news and got surprised," Soriano said Tuesday. "My agent told me the Yankees just called, but it's nothing serious and it's nothing close. When I saw it on TV, I got a little surprised. I didn't know it was coming -- they put a lot of pressure on me, because a lot of friends called me and family when they saw the rumor on TV. My agent and me, we have the control. We talked, and I think if something happens, I want to be the first one to know."
The Yankees have been shut out eight times this season and could add a blast from the past to put some punch to their lineup. Soriano began his big league career with the Yankees in 1999 and played there for five seasons.
Soriano, who has a no-trade clause, is making $18 million this year and is owed $18 million in 2014. According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the key in the negotiations will be the amount of money the Cubs include in the deal. Both Rosenthal and the New York Post's George King reported the Yankees want to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold next season.
Soriano entered Tuesday night's game batting .256 for the season but has hit 10 home runs in his last 20 games and was hitting .296 in that stretch with six doubles and 21 RBIs. He leads the Cubs with 17 home runs and 10 stolen bases, and ranks 57th on the all-time home run list with 389. Next up is the Yankees' Graig Nettles at 390.
A move to an American League team would be a plus for Soriano, who has improved defensively over his career. He has a lifetime .379 average in 26 games as a designated hitter. He went 8-for-17 with two home runs in four games as the DH in Interleague Play this season. Would he consider playing for the Yankees again?
"I just focus, play baseball, play the game today," Soriano said. "If it happens, if I'm getting closer, I'll think about it. Now, there's nothing there. If [Epstein and Hoyer] don't call my agent, it's because nothing happened, nothing's close. If it gets close, I want time to think about it. Now, there's nothing to think about."
Soriano played in two World Series with the Yankees in 2001 and '03, and speaks reverently of players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
"That's my first organization, and I enjoyed my time with the Yankees," he said. "They have a very good team. They are the Yankees. They always make the playoffs, no matter what team they have, no matter what pitching they've got. They always find a way. It's one of the best organizations in baseball."
Cubs manager Dale Sveum would not only lose his No. 4 hitter if Soriano is dealt but also someone who has been a role model to young players like Starlin Castro and Junior Lake.
"You'd lose one of the more professional, hard-working veteran players I've ever been around," Sveum said Tuesday. "He's someone the players can always look up to, see how a guy works. He prepares and tries to get better every day. There aren't too many 37-year-olds who make $19 million who I've ever seen work that hard and try to make themselves a better player every day."
Trading Soriano is not simply a way to get rid of his salary. Epstein praised the veteran for not only his performance on the field but in the clubhouse.
"If he stays, great, we'll value those things," Epstein said. "If there's a trade that helps the future of the organization and he can get into a pennant race, there's also value in that. The opportunity in playing time that might be created for someone else the rest of this year, and next year -- there's a balance. He brings a lot to the table. This type of trade isn't exactly unprecedented. We'll see where we go."
The Cubs have been busy this month, making five trades, including a deal with the Rangers on Monday that sent right-hander Matt Garza to Texas for four prospects. Even if Soriano isn't dealt, there are other names being discussed, Epstein said. There's still time with the Trade Deadline coming July 31.
"We're in that position where we can improve the organization by continuing to build a strong farm system," Epstein said. "It comes at the expense of a win or two the rest of the season, unfortunately, that's the position we're in. I'm not pleased that we're in this position, but I'm really pleased with the talent we've been able to bring into this organization."
Last year, the Cubs were active at the Trade Deadline, dealing two of their starting pitchers, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, among others, and the team struggled to a 101-loss season. Besides Garza, the Cubs have dealt Scott Feldman, Scott Hairston and Carlos Marmol.