Cubs' Soriano era ends with whimper
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The setting was the Meadowlands press box while monitoring a bad Bears-Jets game when the phone rang in November 2006 with one of those hysterical calls, the kind you always remember for the most ridiculous reasons.
On the other end was a very excited voice from Chicago, with the news that the Cubs had signed Alfonso Soriano.
It only got worse with the revelation that the deal was for eight years.
And $136 million.
Back-loaded. With full no-trade protection.
This, for a man with no position he could play on the field and no spot in the batting order in which he was comfortable.
He was signed to play right field — a laughable notion at the time — but started his first game as a Cub in center field, eventually moving to left. His spot in the order moved as frequently as the rats under the visitor's clubhouse.
It is precisely why Soriano was on four teams in five years.
But in the process of preparing the team for sale, the Cubs were trying to increase their value by spending wildly in an attempt to win quickly, at the very least a backward approach. Soriano was just part of a checkbook spree that involved many long-term contracts for big money and no-trade clauses certain to create problems down the road.
This isn't hindsight. Some of us knew the ramifications and forecast on that day the misery that was sure to follow.
And none of that was the fault of Alfonso Soriano.
He was a free agent coming off a huge year and he received more from the Cubs than any other team was willing to consider, so he cashed in for large dollars and a deal that would take him to the age of 38.
Soriano was just playing by the CBA rules and he loved it here in Chicago. He was cheered frequently and smothered in adoration by fans and media, regardless of how he played — even when he stood in the box to admire a home run that was really a double, and wound up a single.
So comfortable was Soriano in Chicago that he turned down chances to win in favor of 90- and 100-loss seasons. Why, after all, leave a place with day games and no pressure to win when your salary is unaffected?
"I will say this," Theo Epstein told us on Hit and Run last August, "to the extent that the Cubs culture has been really comfortable for players, and the way they're received around town and their status around town has made it appealing for them to stay, we'd almost like to turn that on its head and make winning and competitiveness the reason why players want to be here and want to stay here.
"I think we'll have accomplished a lot when we get to that point.''
Epstein is making progress, and with Soriano's departure to New York the Cubs have not a single player with a no-trade clause.
As for what to make of the Soriano era in Chicago, he did pretty much what the Cubs should have expected. After a good year in 2007, which helped the Cubs make the playoffs, he was awful in the postseason and his play began to drop from there.
In the 2007-08 postseasons, he went 3-for-28 (.107) with ...
•Zero home runs.
•And zero extra basehits
Oh, and the Cubs were swept twice.
The Cubs suffered a precipitous drop the following three years, management was dumped and Epstein came in and began rebuilding.
Not a bit of that is on Soriano. He is what he is. A streaky home run hitter who can get hot and carry a team from time to time. One would guess the Cubs knew that when they paid him all that money.
After a 40-40 season in 2006, his contract year in Washington, he averaged 10 stolen bases for the Cubs and 26 home runs. He never in his career tried to get better in the field until 2012, his 13th year in the big leagues at the age of 36.
The Cubs were aware of who he was and what he was when they got him, so it's ridiculous to blame him for any of what he did while here, or the Cubs' fortunes with him as the focal point of the roster.
But the crying over his departure is commensurate with a Hall of Famer who leaves behind a fandom that will forever remember with fondness the tremendous exploits of a spectacular performer.
That is simply absurd — nearly as absurd as the contract he signed seven years ago.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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