Cubs give Soriano richest contract in club history

CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano seemed surprised Monday when
informed he'd agreed to the fifth-richest contract in baseball

"Thank you for telling me," the newest member of the Cubs
said. "Like I said before, I'm not even thinking about the money.
I'm happy to be here in Chicago. ... Everybody wants to win, so
that's the most important for me."

Soriano, the most sought-after free agent on the market, passed
a physical Monday and the Cubs announced they had agreed to a $136
million, eight-year contract. It's the first deal of eight years or
more in the major leagues since Scott Rolen's $90 million,
eight-year extension with St. Louis in September 2002.

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

The deal came together quickly when Cubs general manager Jim
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.

"This was my first experience as a free agent. It surprised me
a little bit this quick, but I think it works out for me and the
team because I think they have now a chance to make another deal
and other teams have chance to make a deal, too," Soriano said.

Chicago had been dealing before the Cubs latched onto Soriano.
Earlier they'd re-signed Aramis Ramirez to a $75 million, five-year
contract -- the biggest in club history until Soriano's deal trumped

"Once we re-signed Aramis, he was our target guy. We clearly
felt he was the best free agent on the market," Hendry said. "I
think we're all surprised and happy that the player and his
representatives wanted to act so quickly. Usually these type
players end up being high stress and high-stakes poker right down
to the end."

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).

Hendry said 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 isn't worried that Soriano, who turns 31 in January, will
tail off drastically by the end of the 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 RBI. He became
the fourth member of the 40-homer, 40-steal club in major league

Hendry said reports that the Cubs' parent company, Tribune Co.,
is entertaining offers to sell part or all of its holdings has had
no bearing on his offseason spending.

"We're here to win, try to win quickly, and all things that are
way above me with the company certainly I'm certainly not privy to
or would I expect to be," Hendry said. "I just want to go out and
get the best team we can together, and he certainly was the best
player available."

Hendry said the Cubs will continue to be busy as they try to add
pitching to turn around a nearly century-long 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.

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

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.

"He can play anywhere out there and play it above average,"
Hendry said.