MESA, Ariz. You can ask Alfonso Soriano just about anything and hell say whatevers on his mind.
When the clubhouse opened on Friday, the media staked out the corner by his locker, shoulder to shoulder, oblivious to the two players stretching out on the floor, forcing them to get up and move.
On a Cubs team without many big names, and with so many new faces, there is still Soriano.
Soriano was at ease standing there in front of the waves of reporters, resting his arm against a locker. He insisted that Starlin Castro did nothing wrong. He said he was happy for Ryan Braun, glad the Milwaukee Brewers star overturned a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.
Carlos Zambrano? Soriano says: Nobody was happy. I think the team was happy they were able to trade him. I think Zs happy, too, now that hes in Miami, so it worked great for both (sides).
Zambrano is hanging with Ozzie Guillen, while Aramis Ramirez will protect Braun in the Brewers lineup. The sweeping changes at Clark and Addison didnt touch Soriano.
The past couple years we had a nice group, but some people (werent) giving 100 percent, Soriano said. Now this group is kind of young. Theyre hungry to play and were ready to compete.
The Cubs were coming off a last-place finish in 2006 when Soriano signed his 136 million contract. Hes a symbol of the old way of doing business, the win-one-for-the-Tribune mentality that overtook the organization.
Theo Epstein is supposed to build it the right way, for the long haul. A 36-year-old outfielder with creaky legs, no-trade rights and 54 million guaranteed through 2014 doesnt exactly fit the vision. But the new president of baseball operations expects Soriano to be a leader.
People respect me because of the way that I work Im not a lazy guy, Soriano said. Im the oldest guy (among the position players). People see me work. People see my attitude, so I think thats a leader.
Soriano believes he will get along fine with new manager Dale Sveum, whos promised to hold players accountable and call out anyone who doesnt hustle.
Its not a problem, Soriano said. We can play hard for him. I think if we play harder every day, well see a difference and I want to try to do my best to make him happy.
The bigger tension might be between the urge to win now and the patience it will take to build an annual contender. Its something Sveum mentioned in his first meeting with the whole team.
The biggest question (all) winter was rebuilding, (that) things are starting over, Sveum said. I just let them know (this is) a team that can compete Were not here to rebuild. Were here to try and win the World Series this year.
Chairman Tom Ricketts even corrected one reporter who used the word patience.
No, were not preaching patience, Ricketts said. Were preaching have expectations. Expect these guys to play hard. Expect them to compete every game. Expect them to have a great season. Its not about patience. We got a good team and were going to have a good year.
As much as the Cubs wanted someone to take on even a fraction of Sorianos contract, they need him now to generate 25 homers, 90 RBIs and anchor the middle of the lineup.
Theyve said nothing about a trade, Soriano said. Im here. I dont want to think about if I want to get traded in the future or tomorrow, whatever. I just got to concentrate and play baseball.
All these years later, and after a winter in which he was booed at the Cubs Convention and all over the trade rumors, Soriano has shown up for another rebuilding project.
I love this organization, he said. I signed here to try to make this team better and win. I think weve got a chance to win and thats my goal. I just want to stay here to see this team win one championship.