Cubs give Soriano richest contract in club history

Updated: November 20, 2006, 9:08 PM ET
Associated Press

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

"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 Blogs
With Alfonso Soriano agreeing to an 8-year, $136M deal with the Chicago Cubs, ESPN senior baseball writers Peter Gammons and Buster Olney weigh in:

• Gammons: Cubs making splash
• Olney: Soriano ripple effects

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 it.

"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).

On The Up And Up
Alfonso Soriano

Alfonso Soriano has ascended offensively the last three years. A look at some of the categories in which the five-tool player, who this year posted only the fourth 40-40 season in Major League Baseball history, has climbed since 2004:

  2004 2005 2006
Hits 170 171 179
Runs 77 102 119
HRs 28 38 46
Steals 18 30 41
OPS .808 .821 .911

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 history.

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 Nationals.

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press