Where to Bat Soriano Still a Hot Topic

As predictable as night following day, the talk of where Alfonso Soriano will bat in the Cubs' lineup has reared its head again this off-season.

"If I didn't get asked that question," manager Lou Piniella said at the annual Cubs Convention earlier this month, "I didn't think I'd be in Chicago."

Soriano batted .280 with 29 home runs and 75 RBIs in 109 games a season ago. That was with Soriano missing over a month of playing time with a broken left hand, which he sustained in a game against the Atlanta Braves on June 11.

With Soriano batting in the leadoff spot, the Cubs have won consecutive NL Central Division titles. Last season, they amassed 97 wins – the most by any Cubs team since 1945.

Yet the subject of where to bat Soriano remains a persistent one, in part because of his power and how much run-support he could generate further down the lineup.

Soriano himself professes indifference about his spot in the batting order. All he asks is that the Cubs tell him in advance of their plans so that he'll have ample time to prepare.

"I want to take time because I have to learn how they want to pitch me in different [lineup situations]," the Cubs' $136 million left fielder said.

"If they want to change me, do that in spring training and I can learn my new batting position in the lineup and I can be ready for the season."

The Cubs were 69-36 when Soriano batted leadoff a season ago and 28-28 in other games.

"Streaky type players like that, you get hot, you get cold," said Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.

"If we had won those three playoff games … we probably wouldn't be having this chat," he said.


--RHPs Kevin Gregg and Michael Wuertz have agreed to terms on one-year deals, avoiding salary arbitration. The Cubs have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 1993, when they faced off with 1B Mark Grace. Gregg will battle with RHP Carlos Marmol for the closer's job, with the "loser" working the eighth inning. Wuertz, who spent two months in the minor leagues last year, will battle for a sixth- or seventh-inning role.

--The Cubs say they expect RHP Rich Harden to be healthy and to have a better season in 2009 than he had in 2008, when he pitched effectively despite battling chronic shoulder woes. The club played it coy on a report that said Harden had a slight tear in the shoulder. The only word was that Harden has worked hard at the team's facility in Arizona and that he'll be ready to go on Day 1, even though he will skip the World Baseball Classic and not pitch for Team Canada.

--INFs Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot will battle for time at second base, but the situation isn't a pure competition. The Cubs want to get the left-handed-hitting Fontenot more at-bats this year. The versatile Miles, a switch hitter, will play some second base and also will spell Ryan Theriot at shortstop.

--The trade of CF Felix Pie to the Orioles for LHP Garrett Olson and a minor league pitcher deepens the pitching inventory. That can either lead to greater competition and a deeper pool of pitching in Chicago and at Class AAA, or it can give the Cubs more bargaining chips for a possible trade. Olson and LHP Sean Marshall both are seen by the Cubs as possible starters or swing men. It's also possible the Cubs could dangle one as trade bait.

--LHP Mike Stanton, 41, and OF So Taguchi, 39, are two of the more interesting names the Cubs invited to spring training as non-roster men. Stanton has not pitched since 2007, but he trails only Jesse Orosco in appearances by a left-handed pitcher. Taguchi was a disappointment with the Phillies last year. The Cubs know him well, having seen him many times while Taguchi was with the Cardinals. He's a long shot to make the team, but he provides depth.

--RHP Jose Ascanio, who got a cup of coffee with the Cubs last year while spending most of the season at Iowa, still figures into Chicago's plans. If Ascanio doesn't win a bullpen spot, the Cubs may have him work as a starter at Iowa. They say his slider has come back to where it was when they traded for him at the 2007 winter meetings, and that starting may help him develop a full repertoire.

Information from the SPORTS XCHANGE was used in this report.

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