Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011Posted: 4:05 p.m.
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ST. LOUIS Alfonso Soriano entered the clubhouse on Saturday morning still wearing sunglasses. He heard his teammates start cheering for him and a big smile crossed his face. It seems like this whenever he walks into the room.
The night before, Soriano had blasted the go-ahead, three-run homer in a game the St. Louis Cardinals absolutely had to have to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. He also watched with pride as Starlin Castro notched his 200th hit of the season.
To Cubs fans, Soriano will always be the guy who hasnt lived up to his 136 million contract.
Ask Castro and the 21-year-old shortstop will tell you how much Soriano has meant to his rapid development. One by one, Castros crossing off the goals Soriano set for him at the beginning of the season: Hit .300, get 200 hits and make the All-Star team.
My first spring training with the Yankees, I was very shy, Soriano recalled. (Derek) Jeter, Mariano (Rivera), Bernie Williams, all those guys treated me like: Hey, Sori, youre part of the team.
They gave me confidence in myself and I learned a lot from them. I just try to do the same with him. Because when those guys gave me confidence, I changed my game.
Time has changed Sorianos game. Injuries to his lower half quad, calf, knee slowed down an athlete who was once a 4040 threat. Defense was never his first priority. Hes a free-swinger (.288 on-base percentage) who wont star in Moneyball.
This isnt an 18 million player. Yet by the last weekend of the season, Sorianos streakiness had settled at this point 25 home runs and 85 RBI.
Soriano hasnt hit this many homers since 2008. This also marks the most runs hes driven in during his five seasons on the North Side. He has 44 RBI in 60 games since the All-Star break.
Yes, 10 of those homers came in April, and Soriano hit .186 in July. He disappears at times. But the final line could make some American League team think hes worth a shot as a designated hitter if the Cubs pay most of the 54 million remaining through 2014.
Ownership already seems prepared to write off almost all of the 18 million Carlos Zambrano is due next season. The next general manager will have to figure out what to do with Soriano, whos repeatedly made it known that hed be willing to waive his no-trade clause if hes not wanted anymore.
Whatever happens, it wont be because of the corrosive effect Soriano has on a team. While Zambrano and Milton Bradley were islands in the clubhouse, everyone seems to be drawn to Soriano.
There (are different) qualities of leadership, manager Mike Quade said. Some guys (are) willing to look somebody in the eye and say, Lets go (expletive)! (Others) keep guys loose.
Sori has always shown up to work hard and have fun playing. Like all of us, there are days where youre irritated with him. But he comes back with the same outlook and the same smile every day. And that matters.
After a last-place finish in 2006 and with a push from the Tribune Tower the Cubs went on a huge spending spree. They re-signed Aramis Ramirez, hired Lou Piniella and brought in Soriano, Ted Lilly, Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. They won back-to-back division titles.
It seems unlikely that a new ownership group will respond to another lost season by handing out megadeals. Tom Ricketts has repeatedly said that he wants to build a team from within. The chairman doesnt sound eager to try to buy his way into first place on the free-agent market.
If the Cubs truly commit to a youth movement in 2012, Soriano could in his own unique way have a positive impact on those inexperienced players. Castro will be forever grateful for his friendship.
Hes as loose and as much fun to be around right now as anybody on this club, Quade said. Hes always been that kind of guy. But hes louder now.
In the end, there arent many in Chicago better at blocking out all the noise.
Id take 10 homers, 20 RBI, whatever, if we make the playoffs, Soriano said. Thats why Im here, to make the team better and try to make the playoffs. (It) didnt happen (this season). But I hope next year everybody puts up good numbers and we get one more chance to go to the playoffs.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.