Baseball / Sports

Alfonso Soriano's only Cubs regret: Not winning

Alfonso Soriano sneaks back into town under the cover of Derek Jeter's farewell tour, just the way he prefers.

There will be no special acknowledgment of Soriano's return to Wrigley Field with the Yankees, a Cubs spokesman said last week, though the Cubs will pay tribute to Jeter before Tuesday night's game.

While the White Sox welcomed back former players Mark Buehrle and A.J. Pierzynski with video tributes when they returned to U.S. Cellular Field for the first time as opposing players, the Cubs have neither a video screen nor the inclination to do so.

The unflappable Soriano said he doesn't care. He says he has no regrets about anything except not winning during his seven-year stint with the Cubs, and doesn't feel the need to apologize for his club record eight-year, $136 million deal.

"I'd just go out every day and have fun, that's what I like to do," Soriano said. "I know they paid me a lot of money, but I played with pain and just tried to win."

The arrival of Jeter and Soriano comes at an opportune time for the Cubs, who expect Yankees fans to help sell out the two-game series. They've been designated as "marquee" games, the highest-priced tier, and are the only such games between the home opener and July 12 against the Braves.

It's already been a Crane Wreck of a season for the Cubs, who've floundered with a 15-27 record while Crane Kenney, the Cubs' president of business operations, lets the tail wag the dog, ordering the marketing department to sell the ballpark's centennial instead of the product on the field.

The Cubs have come full circle since the fall of 2006, when Soriano was signed to his mega-deal to try to resuscitate a last-place team.

The contract drew criticism around baseball because of its length and his age (31 in the first year). Nationals President Stan Kasten, now with the Dodgers, complained "there is no precedent for a player at that age getting anything close to that (kind of deal)," while Padres CEO Sandy Alderson, now with the Mets, said he didn't know "what justifies that contract, other than a lousy won-loss record over the last several years."

Both Kasten and Alderson have signed off on some questionable deals since their criticism of the Cubs.

While defending the deal, Soriano's agent, Pat Rooney, said his client "wanted to finish his career with whoever he signed with, and the Cubs were at the top of his list."

Of course, that didn't happen. After general manager Jim Hendry was fired in 2011, Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, tried to dump Soriano's contract on the Giants in 2012, but Soriano declined to waive his no-trade rights. After another fruitless offseason of trying to deal Soriano, Epstein finally found a taker last July in Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

The Cubs received a Class A pitcher in Corey Black and had to pay $17.7 million of the remaining $24.5 million on Soriano's deal, including $15 million this season.

In essence, Soriano will be paid around $93,000 per game the next two days for trying to help the Yankees beat them, just as they did when the Yankees swept them in a doubleheader in New York last month.

When eating a hot dog or drinking a beer Tuesday or Wednesday at Wrigley, remember you're doing your part to pay off Soriano's contract.

Black is 2-4 with a 3.96 ERA at Double-A Tennessee, but he does have 202 strikeouts in 1962/3 innings over three minor league seasons. He's due to arrive in the majors in time for the Cubs' "100 years of actually playing in Wrigley Field" celebration, set for 2016.

How Cubs fans will respond to him is unknown, but Soriano will be warmly greeted by his former teammates Tuesday, including Starlin Castro, who referred to him as a "father figure."

"He still helps me," Castro said. "We are not together anymore, but we talk on the phone."

Soriano said he believes he can play two more years after 2014, especially now that he can be a designated hitter. While he never took the Cubs to the promised land, Soriano helped make the team a ton of cash in 2007, when they drew a record 3.25 million to Wrigley, and again in '08, when they drew 3.3 million, a record that stands.

"When I got here to the Yankees I said to myself, 'I tried the best I could to try to make the team better and try to win,'" he said. "It didn't happen, so there's nothing you can say. But I'm happy because I know I did my all and I feel like it's not my fault."

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