Sosa expected to stay with Cubs

Friday, October 31st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ It looks as if Sammy Sosa is going to make Chicago Cubs fans very happy. And he won't even have to pick up a bat.

Sosa has until midnight CST Saturday to tell the Cubs if he's going to opt out of the final two years of his four-year contract and explore free agency. But it appears almost certain he'll stay in Chicago.

``The market is different now than it was in 1998 and 1997,'' Adam Katz, one of Sosa's agents, said Thursday. ``Sammy is a bright, pragmatic guy. He also has indicated to everyone that he'd like to stay in Chicago and retire with the Cubs. That being said, we're going to let people know probably tomorrow.''

Sosa signed a four-year extension worth $72 million during spring training in 2001. Under the deal, Sosa got the right to terminate the contract after this season or exercise player options for $16 million next season and $17 million in 2005.

But the free agent market has tightened up because of the luxury tax and debt rules, and Sosa might not find a better deal anywhere else. He also enjoys playing for new manager Dusty Baker, and sees loads of potential in the Cubs, who were within one game of the World Series this year.

Sosa also has said repeatedly that he wants to retire with the Cubs, his team since 1992.

``I always said I wanted to finish my career here. But I don't think this is the time to talk about it,'' Sosa said after the Cubs were eliminated by Florida in the NL championship series earlier this month.

Sosa, a fan favorite worldwide since his home run race with Mark McGwire in 1998, had perhaps the toughest season of his career this year. He was suspended for seven games in June after he was found to be using a corked bat. Sosa apologized and said it was a mistake, but he heard occasional taunts from fans the rest of the season.

He rebounded, though, finishing with 40 homers and 103 RBIs to become the first NL player with six straight 40-homer seasons. He hit .262 in the playoffs, including a .308 average with two homers and six RBIs in the NLCS.

Also Thursday, Cubs left-hander Shawn Estes and center fielder Kenny Lofton filed for free agency. Right-hander Mark Guthrie filed after the club declined a $2.2 million option for next season.

Acquired from Pittsburgh after Corey Patterson injured his knee, Lofton played a big role in the Cubs advancing to the NLCS. He hit .327 with 20 RBIs after joining the Cubs on July 22, and had 12 stolen bases.

Estes went 8-11 with a 5.73 ERA after signing a one-year deal with the Cubs, and was demoted to the bullpen in early September. He pitched his eighth career shutout against Cincinnati when the Cubs were in the thick of the playoff race, but was on the disabled list for the postseason.

Guthrie was 2-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 65 appearances with the Cubs this year.