Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano just might be indispensable
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com March 25, 2013 10:41PM
Updated: April 27, 2013 6:25AM
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano heard about the Angels’ proposed trade of Vernon Wells to the injury-ravaged Yankees on Sunday night, then some friends made sure to tell him about it Monday morning.
“He’s a great player,” said Soriano, pointing out how much more playing time Wells would get in New York. “It’s good for him.”
A month ago, it was Soriano who supposedly was headed to the Yankees when Curtis Granderson got hurt. Except Soriano has full no-trade rights, and he didn’t want to go there. And nobody asked him anyway.
Nobody asked him in recent days, either, as the Yankees finally got serious about spending big money to make sure they had a veteran bat in their outfield.
In fact, here’s one for fan and media critics to wrap their minds around when it comes to the veteran with $36 million left on his eight-year contract:
The way this lineup looks with less than a week before the opening bell, the Cubs can’t afford to trade the guy who has been considered eminently available since the day Theo Epstein took over baseball operations.
Not if they want a chance to do much of anything offensively.
With a light-hitting former middle infielder (Luis Valbuena) starting at third, a career part-time player (Nate Schierholtz) playing every day in right and a first-year starter (Welington Castillo) behind the plate, it’s hard to tell how the Cubs plan to squeeze more than the 3.8 runs a game they managed last year out of the lineup.
“I don’t put that pressure on me,” said the Cubs’ cleanup hitter, who led the team with 32 home runs, 108 RBI and an .821 OPS last year. “I just want to be the same guy as the last few years. I’m working hard to have a good season, and I’m healthy. That’s the most important thing.
“I always say, if I’m healthy, I know I can help the team win.”
Soriano’s renewed health last season led to a career high with the Cubs of 151 games at 36 and a defensive renaissance under new coach Dave McKay.
But a renewed sense of mental health — of confidence — became part of the equation, too, after Soriano met the new bosses for the first time.
“More important is this organization changed things around, and now I feel like part of the team, part of the organization,” he said. “Those guys talked to me, and they were honest with me.”
Between the front office and the field staff, they told him about the outside perceptions that made them doubt him from afar. And about the pleasant surprise they got when they watched him work, watched him relate to teammates and help younger players and play —and produce — through pain.
“The last few years, nobody talked to me, and they [treated me] like I’m the negative thing on the team,” he said of getting bounced around the lineup and eventually stuck in the 7-hole under previous managers. “When we won, it was fine. But when we lost, everybody pointed at me like it was my responsibility that we lost. . . . Now if we lost, we lost like a team; if we won, we won like a team.”
He still doesn’t know if he’ll get traded. At any given time, there are about a half-dozen teams he’d approve a trade to, though he has made it clear repeatedly that he wants to stay in Chicago.
“It depends on the president and the GM, what they want,” he said. “But I feel comfortable, and I hope that we have a good start. And if we have a good start, they’re going to look for help, not try to trade people.”
Is it possible he could last with the Cubs through his entire contract?
“I don’t think of the final year  of the contract,” he said. “It’s more like I hope that we do something good this year and surprise everybody. Because I signed here for eight years to try to be a champion. Not to try to be traded.
“I hope that this year we have a good start, and we don’t have to talk about trades.”
GIANTS 9, CUBS 3
WOOD CHUCKS: Ten days shy of his season debut in Pittsburgh, Travis Wood walked four in a seven-hit, four-run start that lasted only four innings. “It was one of those days where it was a grind at its best,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t have anywhere close to my best stuff. I was battling all day with location and everything. . . . It’s nice knowing you have one more instead of just straight into the season. But even having a day like this, it’s kind of nice because going into the season, you know how it felt and what you felt like you needed to work on. [It’s better than] having that in the second start [during the season], and you haven’t had to deal with it.”
SON TIMES: The cool moment of the game took place before it started, when ex-Cubs All-Star shortstop Shawon Dunston, a coach for the Giants, and Cubs prospect Shawon Dunston Jr., invited to join the big-league roster for the day, represented their teams for the lineup-card exchange at home plate. After shaking umpires’ hands, and each other’s hands, they shared a hug. Dunston Jr. entered the game defensively in center field in the sixth and singled past the shortstop in the ninth.
POWER CLOUTAGE: Catcher Dioner Navarro has shown as much power as anybody in camp, including a towering two-run homer to right in the sixth with two out, his fourth homer and second in four days.
BIG CROWD: Monday’s 13,374 official attendance was the third-highest mark for a HoHoKam home game in Cubs spring-training history.
ON DECK: Reds at Cubs, HoHoKam Stadium, 9:05 p.m., cubs.com audio, Jeff Samardzija vs. Johnny Cueto. Gordon Wittenmyer