Editor's note: As the countdown continues toward the April 6 opener for the Cubs, Daily Herald Sports Writer Bruce Miles will offer his analysis of each position on the team and the key issues facing the club this season.
Q. Let's start with something positive. Evidently Alfonso Soriano came into camp in tiptop condition. Do you sense it'll be a "new" Soriano this season?
Miles: Actually, I don't think the "old" Soriano was so bad. He looks to be in great shape, but he's always been one of the harder workers in the game.
I was around Sammy Sosa all those years, and I think it's grossly unfair when people compare Soriano to Sammy in a disparaging way.
Soriano, along with Aramis Ramirez, worked out with a bunch of young players in the Dominican this winter and made sure to talk to them about having pride and so forth. I've never seen him without a smile.
Q. Can he finally make it through an entire year - in a Cubs uniform - without getting injured?
Miles: We'll find out. Although he had the leg issues the last couple of years, there wasn't much he could do about getting hit on the hand with a pitched ball.
At 33, he's got to pay attention to his conditioning, and it looks like he did that this winter.
Q. What kind of numbers can we expect from him if he actually does stay healthy?
Miles: If Soriano stays healthy, you'd see 40 home runs and maybe 25 stolen bases. Let's remember that this guy carried the Cubs to the playoffs in September of '07 with 14 home runs and 27 RBI.
Of course, nobody will be completely happy until the Cubs win a playoff series and then the World Series with Soriano in the lineup. And that's as it should be.
Q. How do his teammates really view some of his "idiosyncracies?"
Miles: Well, he doesn't have a boombox, so that's in his favor. With whatever team he's been with, Soriano has been one of the more popular players in the clubhouse.
If his biggest "idiosyncracy" is feeling most comfortable batting first, his teammates haven't said much about it, largely because they have quirks and preferences of their own.
And, yes, I do expect Soriano to be the first Cubs batter of the season on Opening Day. And unless the Cubs' offense flops completely, I also expect him to be the leadoff hitter most of the season.
Q. Ever hear any remorse from insiders over that expensive long-term contract?
Miles: No, those things pretty much are what they are. The Cubs were coming off an embarrassing 2006 season, with empty seats all over Wrigley Field, before they signed Soriano.
In one way, they viewed his signing as giving them a little credibility by signing a marquee player. They also wanted to show that they were breaking ties with the MacPhail regime by giving a player an eight-year, $136 million contract.
The closest Andy ever came was offering Mike Hampton about $105 million in the fall of 2000, when the entire industry acted like it was playing with Monopoly money. And it was all Andy could do to get that figure out of his mouth.
If the Cubs get one World Series title and Soriano plays a part in it, they'll feel that every dime was worth it.
• Got a question about the Cubs for Bruce Miles? Visit his blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, at dailyherald.com to share your questions and comments.