Hendry has done much, will do more

GM has done much, will do more

CHICAGO -- With the signing of Alfonso Soriano to a mega deal on Monday, the Cubs gave their lineup a huge boost and have three players who can hit at least 35 homers and could each drive in 90-plus runs. What's next?

"This is a head start," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Monday. "The flip side is we had a lot more to do than some other teams. We don't feel we can shut it down. I think it sends a good message to the organization and to the people of Chicago ... that we are going to get better quickly."

Soriano's signing caps a busy stretch for Hendry and the Cubs, who have inked Aramis Ramirez, Mark DeRosa, Kerry Wood, Wade Miller and Henry Blanco to new deals, and acquired Neal Cotts in a trade. The Cubs felt they had to do something after finishing with the worst record in the National League at 66-96.

"The general manager and the manager, they talked to me and they know what they want," Soriano said about a meeting he had with Hendry and new Cubs manager Lou Piniella last week in Florida. "Those guys, they want to win. I'm going to be a little piece of this group. That's what I'm going to do coming to Chicago."

The revamping began when the Cubs signed Piniella to a three-year deal on Oct. 17. One week ago, the Cubs inked Ramirez to a five-year, $73 million deal, and that started a spending spree. Including the Soriano deal, the Cubs have committed $230.5 million to six players and still have holes to fill, especially in the rotation.

"We will have to add some pitching, whether it's through free agency or potential trades," Hendry said. "We'll be looking at different options in role players and try to get stronger from the left side."

The Cubs are expected to focus on the second tier of available free-agent pitchers, which includes Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Vicente Padilla.

Once Ramirez's deal was done, Soriano was the Cubs' "target guy," Hendry said. The outfielder's agents met with Hendry during the GM Meetings last week in Naples, Fla., and then Hendry, Piniella and Soriano met. The Cubs got the call Saturday that Soriano wanted to call Wrigley Field home.

"Lou and I spent quite a bit of time with him one day in Florida," Hendry said. "The ballpark is one he'd love to play in, he told us. I think he had a good session with Lou, and I think he believed in what we're trying to accomplish. I think he was pleased with some of the things we'd done since the end of the season. We gave him a very honest evaluation of where we're at and where we want to go. It seemed to click."

Even so, Hendry admitted he was surprised the deal was done so quickly.

"Usually, these kind of players are high-stress, high-stakes poker right down to the end of the Winter Meetings," he said.

"This is my first experience as a free agent," Soriano said. "It surprised me a little bit [that it happened] so quick. It worked out with the team. Now they have a chance to make another deal, and it helps other teams to make a deal."

One player who won't be back with the Cubs is Juan Pierre, acquired last December from the Florida Marlins. Soriano will take over the leadoff job but is not expected to start in center field. He's better suited to left or right, and all he asked was to be given one position. Can Jacque Jones play center field?

"It's way too early," Hendry said about the starting outfield. "It's Nov. 20, and you can't say this is the ballclub we'll line up with on Opening Day. A lot of things can happen before Christmas. A lot of things can happen before Opening Day. To start saying, 'This guy may move here, this guy may move there' is pure speculation."

Hendry said his motives are to improve on last year's record and are not related to speculation regarding the possible sale of the Cubs.

"Nobody's ever talked to me at all about that," he said of the parent Tribune Co. possibly selling the ballclub. "I'm just trying to put together the best baseball team we can and move forward. It was made real clear that we're going to try to win and try to win quickly."

The Cubs' payroll will be bumped up from the $94.4 million figure of 2006. Hendry would not reveal how much higher he will or can go.

"I'm not here to confirm or deny payroll numbers," he said. "I'm just here to get better."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.