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Alfonso Soriano eyeing big 2nd half of his contract with Cubs

7-1-2010----Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano hits solo HR against Chicago White Sox---Sun-Times phoby Tom Cruze

7-1-2010----Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano hits a solo HR against the Chicago White Sox---Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze

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Here’s the deal . . .

The Cubs are hoping to get more value for their money in the remaining four years ($72 million, $18 million for each season)of Alfonso Soriano’s contract.A look at the first four years:

Yr. Salary G HR RBI Avg.

’07 $9M 135 33 70 .299

’08 $13M 109 29 75 .280

’09 $16M 117 20 55 .241

’10 $18M 147 24 79 .258

Updated: June 12, 2011 4:46AM



MESA, Ariz. — Alfonso Soriano walked into the clubhouse during a game late last week, and as soon as he spotted a group of reporters, he feigned a look of surprise and dread.

“Fight? Fight?’’ he said before breaking into a wide smile. “No? OK. . . .’’

OK?

It has been a lot more than OK this spring for Soriano, who not only avoided being anywhere near that Carlos Silva-Aramis Ramirez scrap last week, but who said he’s rediscovered a sense of youth and joy at 35 that has him envisioning the kind of season that will stop all the whining about his big contract.

That’s some serious vision, considering he’s only halfway through the eight-year, $136 million deal (which included an $8 million signing bonus) that has become one of the great cautionary arguments against the kind of contract Albert Pujols wants.

But there’s no denying that something is different about Soriano this spring — different than at least any of his last three Cubs springs.

Maybe it’s the more filled-out upper body after a heavier offseason lifting workload. Maybe it’s the renewed importance of the role baseball plays in his life since the sudden death of his mother in January.

Or maybe it’s the lower-body hitting-mechanics work he did over the winter at the urging of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Or the general sense of physical well-being he feels after putting a full year of baseball under his belt since knee surgery.

Whatever it is, he says his 7-for-15 start — including an opposite-field homer and a pair of singles to center on breaking balls — is the best first week of spring games in his career.

“The way I feel, I think I can be totally different than my first four years [in Chicago],’’ he said. “If I stay healthy, what I’ve shown in spring training so far makes me more confident that I can have a better year.’’

In fact, he said, he thinks he might be able to return to All-Star form and finish the last half of his big contract a lot better than the disappointing first half of it.

Maybe even get to the point where the numbers on the field start matching the numbers on the contract.

“I hope, I hope,’’ he said. “I see Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, how they started playing better when they got older.’’

Of course, they had help.

“Yeah,’’ Soriano said. “I hope I play better but with no help. That’s the difference.’’

If the microscopic sample size of this spring means anything, it might be more than wishful thinking.

“It’s more mental than anything,’’ he said. “For me, I come every day with a lot of energy to the ballpark. The love for the game makes me young.’’

“He’s headed in the right direction,’’ said Jaramillo, who said Soriano’s better balance and timing at the plate already are a vast improvement over what he looked like at the plate much of last season. “It tells me he worked at it [this winter].’’

Perhaps more impressive, Soriano continued the daily work in the field through the winter after bearing down on fielding practice last season for the first time in his career.

“Obviously, he’s swung the bat well,’’ manager Mike Quade said. “But he’s looked good moving around the outfield.’’

For all the early errors by Cubs fielders, Soriano has been perfect, and he made two long running catches in the gap along the way.

Of course, if he’s going to change any opinions on the North Side about his value, it will take some big hitting. And teammates said they see signs of that coming this year.

“Everyone forgets why Soriano signed a big contract,’’ center fielder Marlon Byrd said. “You have to remember that he’s Alfonso Soriano. You cannot forget the name. You have to understand he’s one of — what — four guys that’s gone 40-40.

“He’s still getting smarter as a hitter, and year No. 2 back with Rudy is going to shore some things up. I told him, ‘You keep using the field like that, there’s no reason MVP can’t be mentioned with your name in it.’  ’’

Or maybe at least remind a few doubters how good he can be.

“I want to prove not to the people, just myself,’’ he said. “I think what I’ve done in my career is not bad, but my last couple of years it’s not the numbers that people expect. I think I can do better than that.’’

And he’s pretty sure he’s rediscovered how.

“I love the game, and I want to play with my heart,” he said. “I think that’s what I’m doing now.’’



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