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McGRATH: Alfonso Soriano was good but couldn’t meet expectations of contract

Alfonso Soriano provided reliable bwas positive clubhuose presence during his time with Cubs but some fans proved impossible for him

Alfonso Soriano provided a reliable bat and was a positive clubhuose presence during his time with the Cubs, but some fans proved impossible for him to win over. | AP

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Updated: August 29, 2013 7:50PM



Unless Junior Lake stays hot and gets people excited, we might be headed for some of the doggiest dog days in the
history of Chicago baseball.

The Bears going to training camp with a new coach and without their franchise player is a headline-grabbing development, granted.

The Blackhawks made sure their fan convention/Stanley Cup celebration made news by rewarding their coach with a new contract. You think Joel Quenneville is deserving? Of the 164 head coaches and managers who have worked in Chicago pro sports since 1900, only Phil Jackson and George Halas (six apiece) won more titles than the two Quenneville has collected in five seasons on the job.

The Bulls haven’t played in two months, and drafting Tony Snell generated more quizzical looks than discernible excitement. Derrick Rose, though, reminds us that they’re still around, first by promising to be in the opening-night lineup, then by declaring himself the best player in basketball.

It must be nice in the 15 or so cities where baseball retains a foothold, thanks to the enticing possibility of postseason play. Not here. The Cubs’ and White Sox’ shared response to being chased out of the news in the prime of their season is to off-load their
best players.

Maybe these prospects they’re amassing — these ‘‘fungible assets,’’ in Cubs president Theo Epstein’s words — will help to ensure a better tomorrow. Neither team, after all, was going anywhere with Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Thornton and possibly Jake Peavy in its lineup. For the moment, though, it’s look out below.

Though hardly unexpected and long overdue by some reckoning, Soriano’s departure is significant in that it represents a final break with the previous regime and its haphazard way of doing things. The Cubs never had been big plungers into free agency, but a desire to hike the value of the franchise before its sale prompted an unprecedented spending spree after a 96-loss season in 2006.

Big contracts for Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. A huge deal — eight years and
$136 million — for Soriano. It probably was two years and
$40 million more than any other team was offering, and the contract was likely to be an albatross by the time it expired. But the Cubs had decided that no price was too high for one of the most dynamic offensive players in baseball, a hitter so talented that his defensive shortcomings didn’t seem to matter.

Listed as 31 when he signed, Soriano had averaged .281 with 181 hits, 103 runs scored, 76 extra-base hits, 93 RBI and 35 steals in his first six seasons. He was coming off the fourth 40-homer/40-steal season in big-league history as a member of the Washington Nationals in 2006. Durable? He had played in 155 games a season and had dipped below 150 only once.

But the Cubs never quite got what they were paying for. Soriano tore a hamstring while running out a triple against the Mets in August 2007, and his legs effectively left him. With the speed element gone from his game, he settled in as a good player, not a great one.

He’d pop an occasional long one — Soriano hit 20 or more homers during each of his six full seasons with the Cubs — and was capable of some club-carrying hot streaks, though he offset many of them by getting himself out swinging at anything. His tendency to stand and admire drives that didn’t quite leave the yard suggested a nonchalance that was maddening to fans already inclined to hold his salary against him, as though he somehow had dragooned the Cubs into paying him so much. Throw in his 3-for-28, RBI-less showing in the 2007-08 playoffs, and it’s understandable — though not necessarily fair — why Soriano never was embraced here.

Well into his 30s, Soriano worked at becoming a decent left fielder. He was a positive presence in the clubhouse, mentoring younger players and even trying to calm the storm that was Milton Bradley. He never complained about booing and comported himself as a pro at all times.

He leaves with career numbers that aren’t all that different from Sox favorite Paul Konerko’s. Paulie, when it’s time, will ride into the sunset a hero. Soriano, not so much.

He was good here. He just wasn’t great, and neither was his team.



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