MESA, Ariz. – More than five years later, is it finally time to get over Alfonso Soriano’s contract?
The last of the megabucks Cubs would like to think so.
‘‘We’ve got to see when the season starts,” said Soriano, whose eight-year, $136 million contract has made him a lightning rod since he signed it 63 months, 132 homers, 54 stolen bases, 36 errors, five injuries and three managers ago.
‘‘We don’t know what [the fans] are thinking. I know what I’m thinking, and I control myself and what I can do. But I cannot control that.”
The largest contract in Cubs history might be more conspicuous with big-ticket items Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez moving on during a winter of pre-prime bargain hunting.
It’s reinforced with every question about performing up to the contract or about the team’s failed attempts to find a taker in trade talks. It was stressed last month when Soriano was the only player booed at the Cubs Convention.
“They don’t see the human. They just see the contract,” said Soriano, who has rarely dropped his smile while handling the extra-heavy load of criticism. ‘‘If they know how I think, if they know how I act, they would not boo.
‘‘They just see the contract. It’s very hard. But it’s part of the game. It’s not anything that bothers me. I just want to play my game and do my best.”
Soriano said he doesn’t regret signing with the Cubs, even though two of the other teams that wooed him at the time – the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals – have won World Series since then.
‘‘No, not really,” he said. ‘‘I feel comfortable here, and I like the challenges. I liked the challenge of coming here to try to win the World Series because there’s nothing bigger in Chicago than if we win the World Series.”
Of course, he could have had his parade with the Phillies or Cardinals.
‘‘Yeah, yeah, but we got a few more years,” he said. ‘‘See what happens in three more years.”
Soriano, 36, said that knowing he could be gone by this time next year if the Cubs find someone to take on a two-year commitment. Soriano has $18 million left on each remaining year.
His performance, and the team’s, could affect that. So could his full no-trade rights, though his long-standing position is that he wouldn’t stand in the way of a trade if the team doesn’t want him.
Soriano reiterated Tuesday that he wants to finish his contract in a Cubs uniform. He also wants, seemingly as much as anyone in the clubhouse, to win that elusive championship.
‘‘I think fans have to understand he’s probably the hardest working guy in the clubhouse,” said Dale Sveum, the no-nonsense, effort-minded new manager. ‘‘And players love him to death.”
Sveum also said he thought ÂSoriano had a ‘‘young” look to him.
‘‘I feel young,” Soriano said. ‘‘Every day I put this uniform on, I feel young. I love the game. I cannot believe that I have 11 years in the game. Or that I’m 36 years. When I put the uniform on, I feel like I’m 25 years old.”
His smile and his bounce in practice say the same thing. So does his optimism.
‘‘I believe in this team. It’s better than last year,” he said, referring to deeper pitching and a better vibe with the departures of Zambrano and others. ‘‘Everybody loves each other and backs each other so far. Everybody here is focused on one thing.”