Cubs: Alfonso Soriano turns up the volume

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Cubs: Alfonso Soriano turns up the volume

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011Posted: 4:05 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
ST. LOUIS Alfonso Soriano entered the clubhouse on Saturday morning still wearing sunglasses. He heard his teammates start cheering for him and a big smile crossed his face. It seems like this whenever he walks into the room.

HEY BABE!

The night before, Soriano had blasted the go-ahead, three-run homer in a game the St. Louis Cardinals absolutely had to have to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. He also watched with pride as Starlin Castro notched his 200th hit of the season.

To Cubs fans, Soriano will always be the guy who hasnt lived up to his 136 million contract.

Ask Castro and the 21-year-old shortstop will tell you how much Soriano has meant to his rapid development. One by one, Castros crossing off the goals Soriano set for him at the beginning of the season: Hit .300, get 200 hits and make the All-Star team.

My first spring training with the Yankees, I was very shy, Soriano recalled. (Derek) Jeter, Mariano (Rivera), Bernie Williams, all those guys treated me like: Hey, Sori, youre part of the team.

They gave me confidence in myself and I learned a lot from them. I just try to do the same with him. Because when those guys gave me confidence, I changed my game.

Time has changed Sorianos game. Injuries to his lower half quad, calf, knee slowed down an athlete who was once a 4040 threat. Defense was never his first priority. Hes a free-swinger (.288 on-base percentage) who wont star in Moneyball.

This isnt an 18 million player. Yet by the last weekend of the season, Sorianos streakiness had settled at this point 25 home runs and 85 RBI.

Soriano hasnt hit this many homers since 2008. This also marks the most runs hes driven in during his five seasons on the North Side. He has 44 RBI in 60 games since the All-Star break.

Yes, 10 of those homers came in April, and Soriano hit .186 in July. He disappears at times. But the final line could make some American League team think hes worth a shot as a designated hitter if the Cubs pay most of the 54 million remaining through 2014.

Ownership already seems prepared to write off almost all of the 18 million Carlos Zambrano is due next season. The next general manager will have to figure out what to do with Soriano, whos repeatedly made it known that hed be willing to waive his no-trade clause if hes not wanted anymore.

Whatever happens, it wont be because of the corrosive effect Soriano has on a team. While Zambrano and Milton Bradley were islands in the clubhouse, everyone seems to be drawn to Soriano.

There (are different) qualities of leadership, manager Mike Quade said. Some guys (are) willing to look somebody in the eye and say, Lets go (expletive)! (Others) keep guys loose.

Sori has always shown up to work hard and have fun playing. Like all of us, there are days where youre irritated with him. But he comes back with the same outlook and the same smile every day. And that matters.

After a last-place finish in 2006 and with a push from the Tribune Tower the Cubs went on a huge spending spree. They re-signed Aramis Ramirez, hired Lou Piniella and brought in Soriano, Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. They won back-to-back division titles.

It seems unlikely that a new ownership group will respond to another lost season by handing out megadeals. Tom Ricketts has repeatedly said that he wants to build a team from within. The chairman doesnt sound eager to try to buy his way into first place on the free-agent market.

If the Cubs truly commit to a youth movement in 2012, Soriano could in his own unique way have a positive impact on those inexperienced players. Castro will be forever grateful for his friendship.

Hes as loose and as much fun to be around right now as anybody on this club, Quade said. Hes always been that kind of guy. But hes louder now.

In the end, there arent many in Chicago better at blocking out all the noise.

Id take 10 homers, 20 RBI, whatever, if we make the playoffs, Soriano said. Thats why Im here, to make the team better and try to make the playoffs. (It) didnt happen (this season). But I hope next year everybody puts up good numbers and we get one more chance to go to the playoffs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

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“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”

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