Cubs complete blockbuster with Soriano
Eight-year, $136 million contract richest in team history
CHICAGO -- For Alfonso Soriano, a 40-40-40 season equals $136 million.
The Cubs, who have been signing players at a dizzying pace, locked in the free-agent outfielder on Monday to an eight-year deal worth $136 million. It's the richest deal in Cubs history, topping the five-year, $73 million contract that third baseman Aramis Ramirez inked one week ago.
"Anytime you get one of the best players in the game, it's exciting," Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee said Monday. "They're being aggressive this offseason, and it's promising. They had to do something after last season. Signing Aramis was a good start. We still need some pitching."
That's probably next on general manager Jim Hendry's list. Soriano's package is the fifth largest given to a Major League player, behind Alex Rodriguez ($252 million for 10 years), Derek Jeter ($189 million for 10 years), Manny Ramirez ($160 million for eight years) and Todd Helton ($141.5 million for 11 years).
"It's a big contract, but that's not my goal," Soriano said Monday. "My goal is to play hard and give you a championship. It's not about the contract, it's about the city and the fans here."
The power has definitely shifted in the National League.
"They [Cubs] are stacking it," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "You look at Soriano, Ramirez and Lee, and they're going to have quite a team. We're not going to be able to match their thump, so we're going to have to have good pitching and defense to compete. They're looking pretty good right now."
You can pre-order the Cubs' lineup cards for 2007 and print Soriano's name in ink at the top.
"We basically told him we wanted him to be our leadoff hitter," Hendry said. "We feel he can do the most damage in that role. Very few guys bring to the table what he does."
When Hendry named Lou Piniella the new Cubs manager on Oct. 17, he promised the team would provide the resources to turn things around after a 66-96 season and last-place finish in the National League. He's done just that.
So far, the Cubs have re-signed Ramirez, pitcher Kerry Wood (one year, $1.75 million), catcher Henry Blanco (two years, $5.25 million), and pitcher Wade Miller (one year, $1.5 million). The Cubs also have signed free-agent infielder Mark DeRosa to a three-year, $13 million deal, and traded for left-handed reliever Neal Cotts.
The spending spree is a change for Piniella, whose total payroll in his first season with the Devil Rays in 2003 was $19.6 million, and reached $29.7 million in 2005. Piniella and Hendry met with Soriano last week in Florida and made a convincing sales pitch.
"The first thing is, [Piniella] wants to win. I want to win, too," Soriano said. "A lot of players said good things about him."
The 40-40 Club
A five-time All-Star coming off his first 40-40-40 season, Soriano was one of the top outfielders on the market after hitting .277 with 46 homers, 41 doubles and 41 stolen bases for the Washington Nationals.
"Obviously, you want to keep a guy who brings that much to a team, but I understand the free-agent market," Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. "He is a free agent and he is entitled to get as much money to play for whatever team he wants. I'm happy for him. The Cubs are getting a great ballplayer. They are a lucky team."
According to Soriano, he didn't consider returning to the Nationals because they never talked to him or his agent after a brief meeting shortly after the regular season ended.
"I waited for those guys to call me. They never called me," Soriano said. "Now I'm part of the Chicago team. I think I can do the best I can here."
Most 30-30 seasons
Soriano's 2006 season didn't start well. The Nationals acquired him from the Texas Rangers for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and right-hander Armando Galarraga, then said they wanted him to switch from second to left field. Soriano balked, but consented after he was faced with the possibility of being put on the disqualified list. Smart move. He led the Major Leagues in outfield assists (22) and was named the National League's starting left fielder for the All-Star Game.
"He wasn't concerned about what spot in the outfield he would be playing," Hendry said. "He was concerned about finding one spot and staying there."
"I think I did a great job in the outfield," Soriano said. "It's not my decision now. Whatever the manager wants to do with me is fine."
This year, Soriano, 30, became the fourth player in Major League history to record 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in the same season. Jose Canseco (Oakland 1988), Barry Bonds (San Francisco 1996) and Rodriguez (Seattle 1998) are the others.
Soriano has a career .280 average, 208 home runs and 560 RBIs. He has 210 stolen bases, and has played for the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Nationals. Last season, he was fourth in the league in strikeouts with 160, but did double his walk total from the 2005 season and improve his on-base percentage (.351).
The Nationals will get the Cubs' second-round and sandwich picks in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. They will not get Chicago's first-round pick because the Cubs finished in the bottom 15 of the Major League standings.
When the deal is completed, Soriano will be 38. Hendry wasn't worried that the outfielder would wear down.
"Those of us who know him and have watched him play, he's got a great body and takes tremendous care of himself," Hendry said. "Look at how our game has changed. There are a lot of guys 40 years old who are still playing. He's lean -- he's like a greyhound. He's some kind of athlete. That's a very young body for his age. Who knows if he'll be as productive at 38 as he is at 31?"
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. Adam McCalvy and Bill Ladson contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.