Soriano, Cubs agree to $136 million, 8-year deal

Tuesday, November 21st 2006, 5:32 am

By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) Alfonso Soriano likes the electric atmosphere of Wrigley Field and says that was a major reason he chose to join the Chicago Cubs.

There were certainly other factors, seemingly 136 million of them, although baseball's most coveted free agent insists he's not playing for the money.

"It's a big contract, but that's not my goal,'' Soriano said Monday after the Cubs announced he'd agreed to an eight-year, $136 million deal, the fifth richest in major league history.

"My goal is to play hard and give you a championship for the city. That's my goal. It's not about the contract.''

If the Cubs are as aggressive on the field next season as they have been in stocking their roster the last two weeks, maybe they can reverse a long pattern of losing.

Landing Soriano is by far their biggest catch, a five-time All-Star and one of just four players in major league history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the same season, something he accomplished in 2006 during his only season with the Washington Nationals.

One of his new teammates will be Aramis Ramirez, who agreed to a five-year, $75 million deal on Nov. 12 that had been the largest in team history before Soriano trumped it a week later.

"Once we re-signed Aramis, he was our target guy. We clearly felt he was the best free agent on the market,'' general manager Jim Hendry said.

The deal came together quickly when Hendry and manager Lou Piniella met with Soriano during the general managers meetings last week in Naples, Fla. Soriano's agent, Pat Rooney, told Hendry on Saturday that he would sign with Chicago if a contract could be worked out.

Soriano's deal trails only those of 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).

Soriano will bat leadoff, but his outfield position has not been determined. But once he's put in either center, right or left, that's where he'll stay. He played left last season for the Nationals.

Hendry said isn't worried that Soriano, who turns 31 in January, will tail off drastically by the end of the long deal.

"He's lean. He's like a greyhound, this guy. He's some kind of an athlete, and that's a very, very young body for his age,'' Hendry said. "Who knows if somebody is going to be as productive at 38 as they are at 30 or 31. But, like I said, there's a lot of guys in this game right now swinging the bat at a very high level in their late 30s or even early 40s.''

Several other teams were interested in Soriano, including the Phillies. Soriano said he met Washington officials after his one standout season with the Nationals but said he didn't receive a later phone call to discuss a deal.

"I was waiting for those guys to call me, but they never did. They never called. I had a good time in Washington. Now, I'm part of the Chicago Cubs,'' he said.

Soriano had 46 homers, 41 stolen bases and 41 doubles last season with Washington, while batting .277 with 95 RBIs. He became the fourth member of the 40-homer, 40-steal club in major league history.

Hendry said the Cubs will continue to be busy as they try to add pitching to turn around a nearly centurylong drought without a championship. They haven't won the World Series since 1908 and finished last in the NL last season with a 66-96 record.

In addition to hiring Piniella to replace Dusty Baker and re-signing Ramirez, the Cubs acquired lefty reliever Neal Cotts in a trade with the White Sox, added second baseman Mark DeRosa ($13 million over three years) and re-signed pitchers Kerry Wood ($1.75 million) and Wade Miller ($1.5 million), and backup catcher Henry Blanco ($5.25 million over two years).

Putting Soriano in the same lineup with Ramirez and Derrek Lee should make the Cubs a quick contender in the NL Central.

"I think the GM and the manager talked and they know what they want. I said, 'I think that's the team because those guys want to win and they're working hard to win.' I want to be a little piece of this group. That's why I'm coming to Chicago,'' Soriano said.

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