Alfonso Soriano: No trade as long as Cubs are contending
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org February 18, 2013 11:07PM
Alfonso Soriano fields a ground ball as the Chicago Cubs get ready for the 2013 season during their spring training at Fitch park in Mesa, AZ on Monday, February 18, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:43AM
MESA, Ariz. — Monday afternoon, in a grassy spot between a baseball field and the Cubs’ row of spring bullpen mounds, a few young Cubs players set up a series of platforms ranging from a foot high to about 3 feet high.
Then they took turns jumping from a standstill onto the platforms, each working his way to the highest one.
Alfonso Soriano watched for a minute, smiled and shook his head.
‘‘Not even the first one,’’ he said, pointing at the short step. ‘‘Not for me.’’
Not on this day. Not anymore.
As Soriano begins his seventh spring training with the Cubs, the veteran left fielder has no idea where he’ll finish the season.
What he does know is that those hops are gone from his 37-year-old knees, the days of 40-40 seasons long gone from the twice-blown quads and hamstrings.
And long gone is every teammate he shared the clubhouse with on his first Opening Day with the Cubs in 2007.
‘‘Unbelievable,’’ the Cubs’ top returning run producer says, specks of gray apparent in his close-cropped hair. ‘‘I see myself and it’s like, ‘Wow, time flies.’ ’’
Soriano has two years left on his eight-year, $136 million contract, and to many it’s a surprise he’s even still in a Cubs uniform — surviving the decline from the 2007-08 playoff runs, two manager changes, an overhaul of the front office and the possibility of a trade to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants last summer.
Soriano used his no-trade rights to nix that deal before it got close enough to even involve other specific players.
‘‘It was more of a general discussion,’’ Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. ‘‘It never got close.’’
Even if the teams had been able to make a match happen, Soriano says he still would have declined the trade — possible ring and all — because he still doesn’t like the idea of taking his achy knees into that ‘‘cold’’ weather.
“Apparently not,’’ Sabean said.
But a different destination could be on his horizon if the Cubs don’t get off to a great start this season, and maybe even if they do — if Soriano can carry over last year’s 32-homer, 108-RBI pace and keep his value high toward the July trade deadline.
‘‘I don’t control that situation,’’ said the guy whose full no-trade rights say otherwise. ‘‘I don’t even think about it. If they want [me] to go somewhere else . .. I’m just going day-by-day and see what happens and try to focus on my spring training to get ready for my season.’’
Soriano continues to say he wants to stay in Chicago, especially if the Cubs start strong.
‘‘My point is I signed here to win the World Series,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t want to go somewhere else and win.
‘‘But,’’ he added, ‘‘at my age, I don’t want to be part of a losing team. . . . If we have a bad start, I have to think about moving somewhere else.’’
Soriano and Cubs officials have maintained an open and candid dialogue about the possibility of him being traded at any point during the remainder of his contract, even as he sold a skeptical new front office and field staff with a career rebirth last year both in the field and as a middle-of-the-order hitter.
‘‘I was completely blown away by the kind of person he is and the work ethic,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the seven-time All-Star he had never met before last spring. ‘‘I rank him among the top five people I’ve ever been around in the game as far as work ethic, [clubhouse presence], everything.’’
But that doesn’t mean Soriano fits the big-picture plans of a front office that’s keeping an eye on getting a prospect and/or payroll relief if Soriano’s value stays high.
Trade feelers over the winter went nowhere, but Soriano says he has given the Cubs about ‘‘six or seven’’ teams to which he’d consider being traded.
They include both New York teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies and the White Sox, sources say.
But all of that comes with one big caveat: Soriano said if the Cubs are playing well this season, he’s not going anywhere.
‘‘No,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s why I signed here, to see the team playing good and have a chance to win the World Series.’’