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Cubs agree to $136M deal with Soriano

CHICAGO -- Memo to the National League. The Chicago Cubs
mean business.

The team without a World Series title since 1908 has tackled the
offseason with a fury and landed Alfonso Soriano, one of the game's top offensive players, Monday.


Soriano agreed to an eight-year contract with Chicago. Multiple media outlets reported the deal is worth about $136
million.

General manager Jim Hendry earlier
had made it clear that the Cubs, who finished 66-96 last season for
last place in the NL, were going to be major players in the market.

"We won 66 ballgames. We darn sure better be aggressive,"
Hendry said.

The Soriano deal is the fifth-largest total
package given to a major league player, behind 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).

"I love playing the outfield and I love Chicago," Soriano told
the Chicago Tribune on Monday. "I think the money isn't that
important to me. I'm not looking for the money. I'm looking to be
happy, and I think this is a good place for me to play and be
happy."

But the money is a big deal.

"Suffice it to say a contract like that simply doesn't fit in
with trying to build a team from where we are," Nationals
president Stan Kasten said. "We wish Alfonso well. We have been
expecting it, and we're ready to move on."


Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he plans to bat Soriano leadoff.

"He likes the leadoff spot and there is none better," Piniella said in an interview with WGN Radio. He called
Soriano "a young man who can get on base and steal some bases and
hit the ball for extra base power and hit it for a homer. We are
talking about the best leadoff hitter in all of baseball."

Soriano, who might be considered to play center field, gives the Cubs a
hitter with a combination of speed and power. He had 46 homers and 41
stolen bases last season with the Washington Nationals. He batted
.277, had 95 RBI and had 41 doubles.

"We wish Alfonso nothing but success, and we congratulate him on his contract," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden told the Washington Post on Sunday night. "We just did not feel it was in the best interest of the team to go that many years and that many dollars. We felt those dollars were better utilized in other ways."

The Post's source indicated that the Cubs did something the Nationals would not do: grant Soriano a no-trade clause.

Landing Soriano is the biggest in a series of moves for
Hendry.

After hiring Lou Piniella as its new manager, Chicago re-signed
third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a five-year, $75 million deal. The
Cubs also added second baseman Mark DeRosa ($13 million over three
years) and re-signed pitcher Kerry Wood ($1.75 million), pitcher
Wade Miller (1.5 million) and backup catcher Henry Blanco ($5.25
million over two years).

The Cubs also acquired lefty reliever Neal Cotts in a trade with
the White Sox. Chicago has been looking for a center fielder after
Juan Pierre filed for free agency.

All this activity comes as the team's parent company, Tribune
Co., is weighing options to sell all or some of its holdings,
according to published reports.

And the Cubs may not be through. They've made no secret they'd
like to bolster their starting rotation behind ace Carlos Zambrano,
especially with the health of Mark Prior still a question mark.

But offensively, the addition of Soriano gives Chicago the
punch that could make the Cubs contenders in the NL Central as he
joins a lineup that includes Ramirez and Derrek Lee in
homer-friendly Wrigley Field.

"In that ballpark and in that city, they should be very
excited," New York Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel said while
attending the Spurs-Kings NBA game in Sacramento. "Because of the
lack of pitching in our industry, if there is a lack in this area
you have to load up on the other side -- and people are going to
load up on offense. He's a tremendous player."

Primarily a second baseman during a career that began with the
New York Yankees in 1999, the 30-year-old Soriano made the switch
to left field last season, his first and only one in Washington.

Soriano played his first five seasons in New York and then was
traded to the Texas Rangers in the 2004 deal that brought Rodriguez
to the Yankees. Soriano was dealt again two seasons later to the
Nationals in a trade that sent outfielders Brad Wilkerson and
Terrmel Sledge plus a minor league pitcher to the Rangers.

When he joined the Nationals, Soriano was switched to the
outfield because Washington already had Jose Vidro at second. It
was a move Soriano initially rejected. But gradually he became
comfortable with the switch and made an All-Star team for the fifth
straight season, this time at his new position. Soriano even led the league with 22 outfield assists.

Soriano is a .280 career hitter with 208 homers and 560 RBI. He
made $10 million last season after losing in salary arbitration. He
asked for $12 million.

In 2006, he became the fourth player to record 40 home runs and
40 stolen bases in a single season. Jose Canseco (Oakland 1988),
Barry Bonds (San Francisco 1996) and Rodriguez (Seattle 1998) are
the other members of the 40-40 club.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.