Soriano eager to get going with Cubs

Friday, December 1st 2006, 5:57 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Alfonso Soriano grew up in the Dominican Republic hoping to be a professional baseball player, maybe even a major leaguer someday.

At 31, with the fifth-largest contract in the history of the game, he's gone ``a little bit farther'' than he imagined.

Soriano was introduced at Wrigley Field on Thursday as the newest member of the Chicago Cubs. His eight-year, $136 million contract has the sport buzzing the week before the winter meetings began.

Soriano said that while some people might see him in terms of money, he doesn't.

``I see a guy who loves the game,'' he said. ``I loved it when I played in my little town. I think I have the same love now. I think more than in the past.''

The Cubs' new leadoff hitter became the fourth member of baseball's prestigious 40-homer, 40-steal club last season with the Washington Nationals.

It's a been a busy offseason on Chicago's north side. They've also re-upped with third baseman Aramis Ramirez on a five-year, $75 million deal.

Earlier they hired Lou Piniella as their manager, they've added a new second baseman in Mark DeRosa, traded for reliever Neal Cotts and re-signed pitchers Kerry Wood and Wade Miller and backup catcher Henry Blanco.

General manager Jim Hendry isn't finished. He takes off for the winter meetings in Florida looking to add pitching and a left-handed bat. Speculation is that right-hander Jason Schmidt is in his sights, but Hendry said no offer has been made.

``I've had some dialogue with his people but at this point I have not,'' he said.

Hendry said when the offseason began, the Cubs decided to go after the best player available and that was free agent Soriano, who made the switch to the outfield last season and can be one of the game's most exciting players with his power and speed.

Soriano is prone to strikeouts, too, and had 160 last season.

There is also one issue to resolve and that's whether Soriano will play winter baseball for his hometown team from San Pedro de Macoris. It's a source of pride and the local teams like to have their local stars, but there is also an injury risk.

``I told him that I would prefer he not play and he was agreeable to that,'' Hendry said. ``Obviously in his country a lot of people always play. I've asked him not to and he certainly didn't object to that.''

Soriano didn't seem so sure, but said he would do what the Cubs wanted. He said the Dominican winter league gives fans in his country who can't come to the U.S. a chance to see good players.

``I feel part of this organization and I think they want to do the best thing for me,'' he said.

Soriano's agent, Pat Rooney, said his client would abide by whatever the Cubs decide.

``I think Jim and Alfonso will work it,'' Rooney said. ``I don't know if it's going to happen or not, to be honest with you.''

But if the Cubs don't want Soriano to play ``that's fine,'' Rooney said. ``He recognizes his responsibility for the Cubs.''

Soriano reiterated he was drawn to the Cubs by the way Hendry and Piniella expressed their plan for winning in the future and for a chance to be part of a lineup that includes Ramirez and Derrek Lee. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908.

The Cubs aren't sure where Soriano will play in the outfield. He played left for the Nationals after initially being reluctant to leave second base, where he'd developed into a star with the Yankees and Rangers.

``When I played a different position I tried to make an adjustment and here I have to do the same if they move me to a different position,'' he said.

Soriano had 46 homers and 41 stolen bases last season. So, is 50-50 a possibility?

That brought a big smile from Soriano.

``I don't know, man,'' he said. ``I did 40-40 this year and it's not easy.''

How he's used will be Piniella's call, at least somewhat.

``It depends on what they want. If they do want me to run, I'll do it if I think I'm healthy and have my speed,'' Soriano said. ``If they want me to not run, he's the manager, So I'll do whatever he wants.''