Chicago Cubs

Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

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Will Soriano run into walls for the Cubs?

Sunday, March, 6, 2011
Posted: 6:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano hasnt felt this good since 2007, when he reported to Arizona with a new 136 million contract.

The Cubs knew that they would be getting diminishing returns by the end of the deal, and part of it was written off as a Tribune Co. indulgence before selling the team.

Halfway through that eight-year commitment, Soriano says he is completely healthy, free to concentrate on his swing and his defense and not nagging injuries. Hed even consider playing beyond 2014.

I said to myself just for my family (that I) want to play (out) this contract and thats it, Soriano said. Well see if my body feels good and I can play one or two more years (after that).

Sorianos oldest son is eight years old and the first consideration for him and his wife is where to send their kids to school, either keep them in the Dominican Republic or bring them to the United States.

That speaks to someone who does not view himself in decline. Soriano does not expect to be hanging onto a job, nor does he want to transition into being a designated hitter.

Last season marked the first time as a Cub that Soriano went the entire year without going on the disabled list. Its a spring-training clich to say that hes in great shape, but hes always been diligent about his conditioning.

Hes cut, manager Mike Quade said. Hes ready to go from Day 1.
Getting defensive

Everyone loves to go hit in the cage, but Soriano wasnt nearly as attentive to his defense. It is one reason why Cubs fans booed him last season during pregame introductions at the home opener.

We had to push him to really get him to work in the outfield, Quade said. Hell, I ran him into a wall and hurt him.

Quade pointed toward the RA Sushi advertisement in left field at HoHoKam Park and recalled the time Soriano injured his hand during one drill and was sidelined for a few Cactus League games in 2008.

When youre a young outfield coach for Lou (Piniella), youre going, Oh, man, now Im looking for work. Hes going to miss a week and I might miss the rest of the year.

Quade raised his arms into the air and joked: The good news is I survived.

So has Soriano, who needed to sharpen his defensive instincts out there after spending so much time around the middle infield.

I never thought he was afraid of the wall, Quade said. Its just getting comfortable in understanding judgment of the warning track.

In 2009 Soriano committed 11 errors in 117 games. Last year he had seven errors in 147 games. During that time, his Ultimate Zone Rating has gone from -3.1 to 5.2. It looks like hes covering more ground this spring. He wants to be a nine-inning player.

The left-field thing it was weird, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. He was always an infielder and everyones like, Oh, hes a bad leftfielder. Ok, well, he never played the outfield, so hes really, really been working hard at it. And hes gotten better.

Thats sometimes the things people dont see every day hes out there working on it and trying to get better.

Love of the game

Soriano doesnt have an innate sense around the left-field wall. But he does have a natural feel for the clubhouse, where he was spotted dancing the other day. He is not just cashing checks.

A smile on his face every day, Dempster said. He brings a great energy.

Last September Soriano sat by himself in the clubhouse in St. Louis, glued to the television watching MLB Network highlights while eating his postgame meal. He looked like a little kid, and maintains that kind of enthusiasm.

The passion for the game (doesnt) make me old, Soriano said. I know that (Im 35), but I dont feel like Im 35.

When I dont have that in me, its over. I think thats the most important thing right now for me I still love the game.

During the offseason Soriano worked out five times a week at the Cubs academy in the Dominican Republic. Those 16- and 17-year-old prospects kept him young. He brought their faraway dreams right up close.

You can boo him all you want, point out the speed hes lost and complain about all the money thats left on his contract. Soriano doesnt care he keeps it simple between the lines. That's what he tells them back home in the Dominican Republic.

I used to be like those guys, Soriano said. Now what I give to them is confidence. (I say) to them: The big leagues is the same game, nothing changes."

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

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USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

The Cubs may be in some trouble, with the injury bug hitting them at an inopportune time.

First it was Addison Russell (strained right foot), then it was Willson Contreras, arguably the best catcher in baseball and one of the hottest hitters on the planet before going down with a hamstring injury, and now it's Jon Lester who may be on his way to the disabled list after suffering a strained left lat muscle in Thursday's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati.

All of this occurring during a time Joe Maddon's club is looking to pull away from the pack in the National League Central and capture their second straight division crown, which appears to be the only way the North Siders can control their own destiny.

So what should the Cubs do if Lester is sidelined for an extended period of time?

One option could be re-opening trade discussions surrounding Justin Verlander, who cleared revocable waivers in early August. But what would it take to get him, and how much salary would they have to take on for it to happen?

The SportsTalk Live panel weighed in on that possibility in the video above.