Soriano wants a winner, and hopes it's with Cubs
In seventh year of eight-year mega deal, outfielder feeling urge to win now
MESA, Ariz. -- When Alfonso Soriano signed his eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs in November 2006, it was with the intent of helping the team win a World Series. They made the playoffs in '07 and '08, but since then, the Cubs have changed ownership, changed managers three times, and changed direction. In 2008, the Cubs won 97 games; last year, they lost 101.
Entering Year No. 7 with the Cubs, Soriano has the same goal as when he first signed, and the 37-year-old outfielder is hoping he can stick around to see it happen before his deal runs out.
"At my age, I don't want to be part of a losing team," Soriano said Monday. "I hope we start good and everybody stays healthy and we send a message, because I believe in this team and the people we've got. My point is, I signed here to win the World Series, I don't want to go somewhere else and win. If we have a bad start, I have to think about moving somewhere else. I only have two years left in my career."
He's hinted his baseball life will end after this contract. What will he do when he retires?
"Not baseball, that's for sure," he said, smiling. "No baseball, not golf."
The Giants were interested in Soriano last season, but the outfielder, who has veto power, said no, and he missed a chance at a World Series ring. Any regrets?
"At that point, because of the problem I have with my knee, I decided to not go over there just because of the cold weather," Soriano said. "I didn't want to go to a place where I didn't feel comfortable. I'm very happy they won a World Series, but I want to go to someplace I feel comfortable."
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, know which teams Soriano will approve. They know what he did last season, too. At 36, Soriano hit 32 home runs, drove in 108 runs, and was a clubhouse leader. He made one error in left field and posted his highest fielding percentage (.996) in his career.
"I think most important for me last season was to improve my defense," Soriano said. "I saw the difference, everybody saw the difference with my defense last year. I'm very proud of the way I played last year with my defense."
Coach Dave McKay deserves the credit. He asked the outfielder to simplify how he fielded balls. Soriano's legs may not let him catch up to everything hit his way, but better positioning meant fewer balls got by him.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum didn't know what to expect when he first met Soriano one year ago.
"I was completely blown away by the kind of person he is and the work ethic he puts in," Sveum said. "I rank him as one of the top five people I've ever been around in the game as far as work ethic, people and everything.
"We have a great relationship now. I consider him a friend now as much as somebody I manage. A year with anybody will be completely different than the first day you meet him."
When Sveum met Sunday at Fitch Park with Soriano for their pre-Spring Training session, did he give the same message?
"Guys like him, we didn't have to say too much," Sveum said. "Hopefully, everything goes good and he's as healthy as he was last year. The legs are a year older, and the knee and everything, but he keeps himself in great shape, he works out constantly over the year, and I think if he stays healthy, he'll do fine."
Soriano also might draw interest from other teams. The Cubs are still in rebuilding mode.
"I don't control that situation, I don't even think about it," Soriano said. "If they want to go somewhere else, I'm just day by day and try to focus on Spring Training and get ready for the season."
He followed the same offseason workout routine, which included workouts at the Cubs' academy in the Dominican Republic. Soriano is not a prima donna; he trains in the same cramped weight room as the young prospects tutored there.
"He's a leader, he's a great example for the young players, he tries to be a good mentor and he hit 30 homers and drove in 100," Hoyer said. "From my perspective, from Theo's perspective, it was all positive last year."
The two years remaining on his contract are valued at $18 million each. Soriano's critics focus on the dollars.
"I never think about the money, I just think about myself," Soriano said. "I like to play the game, and I still love to play the game. Money is important, but, like I've said, I never think about the money, I just think about the game. I love the game.
"This is my 15th year in the big leagues, and I say, 'Wow, time flies.' When I signed that contract with the Cubs, I said, 'When is that contract going to be over?' This is [year] No. 7. Time flies."
He's hoping the Cubs get off to a good start.
"These owners are different, they want to win," he said of the Ricketts family. "That's why I want to stay here, because I want to be part of the group that wins a World Series. The owner and the coaches and the general manager and the manager, they want to win."
As most Cubs fans know, they have not won a World Series since 1908, the longest drought in professional sports.
"I believe in this team," Soriano said. "I didn't expect the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series with the team they had. We have to have a good start and play good at the right time. It's not the best team to win the World Series, it's the best team that's playing at that moment. I think we have a very good team, and if everybody stays healthy and we have a good start, we have a chance."
Would it help if Soriano knew the Cubs weren't trying to trade him?
"We need his 30 home runs and 108 RBIs in our lineup," Sveum said.
Will the talk bother Soriano?
"It didn't affect him too much last year," Sveum said. "That kind of answers that itself."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.