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Wow - Now With 1614.9% More Words
by Derek Smart
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that my initial, gut reaction to the signing of Alfonso Soriano was unbridled elation. It was, to put it bluntly, a logic-free response, inspired not by any objective analysis, but by the joy that comes from identifying the one available part you think is a must-have and seeing your club, for once, come up with the scratch.
It is, I think, a sort of loser's reaction, and when I say loser I don't mean it in the standard, derogatory, epithetical fashion - ie: "You're a loser!" I don't mean to imply that my reaction was one had by an individual who lacks character and is destined to a life of finishing at the back of the pack due to their inherent personality flaws. Rather, I mean it was the reaction of someone who, while not necessarily destined to lose, has nonetheless experienced a ton of defeat - a response born of long-term victory starvation, if you will.
"Victory?" you ask, "Doesn't victory come during the season from playing games and such?" True, that's the tradition, but understand where we come from here. The Chicago Cubs are a team that has had the resources in recent years to be players for any number of top-flight free agents, men who could potentially change the direction of the franchise, and every time they've come up short. Well short. So short, that you begin to wonder why they even try.
So, while inking the man who is arguably the biggest free agent on the market guarantees nothing on the field, when even that little bit of theoretical success has eluded you, the mere culmination of the deal is a victory in itself. So for that, I did a little jig.
Eight years is a damn long time, though, and while I don't have an issue with the average yearly dollars, that time commitment is not just a potential problem, it's nearly certain to blow up in the team's face. Of course, if the Cubs end their string of futility sometime during the first four years of the contract, no one will care about the last four years. A truism, if a lousy reason to do a deal.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons this deal got done in this way this year, versus something like this getting done, say, when Carlos Beltran was on the market, likely has more to do with Jim Hendry's personal status than that of the Cubs or the Trib or anything else.
"Duh," say you all. Of course, we know that Hendry feels the need to win now because, if we're all facing facts, this team has to have a damn good showing next season for him to see year two of his extension. The difference, though, isn't the immediate pressure to win so much as it is the lack of pressure to win three or four years from now.
In other words, any past offers Hendry might have made to free agents, or trades he might have considered making, were likely mitigated by concerns for the team's future, if such a thing can be gleaned from the execution (although, those moderating influences could have just been Andy MacPhail). With the way Hendry is spending this offseason, those mitigating factors have clearly been throttled in their sleep.
What I'm seeing is a man who is no longer willing to settle for anything but Plan A for the season to come. Where in the past he might have felt concern for the effect on the club from around 2012 forward of a contract of Soriano's magnitude, this is no longer a worry - if the club doesn't win now, he won't be around for any bad effects anyway, and if they do win, in a World Series to boot, well, he'll trade any problems down the line for the title today.
The result is contracts that, even as we all brace ourselves for a winter of prosperity induced insanity, seem well out of line with expectations. This, I believe, is because when Jim Hendry wants a free agent on his team this offseason he's asking himself one question: What's an offer that no one else will match?
Then he tacks on a year and 25% more cash and signs the fella.
If I'm reading this new tendency of Hendry's correctly, there's not a single player in the minor league system who should count on being in the organization next year. He's been ultra conservative in holding onto his prospects in the past, something which I think has been a fault. I'd be more than happy to see him willing to make some deals, but if he spends personnel the way he's been spending money, I'm worried about an already thin system getting gutted.
That said, if you're placing bets on the most likely guy to get shipped, now that Soriano's on board I'd start thinking about laying money on Felix Pie. If, indeed, Soriano's going to play center for the next eight years or so (and there are reports that put him in any of the three outfield spots at this point), then the need for Pie becomes considerably reduced, at least in the near term (he still needs another year in the minors, after all, and Jacque Jones, thankfully, won't be around forever).
What isn't reduced is the immediate need for some Major League pitching, which is why I could see Pie getting moved. I'd imagine that a truly useful starter would require other components to get the job done, but Pie would make a fine centerpiece for such a deal. Not that I'm necessarily advocating the move, I just see some writing on the wall.
I don't really have a 'final word' on this deal. There's some work I want to do examining Soriano's record, and I think there's a need to see what else comes to pass so that we can see what the entire plan is - and, yes, contrary to last season, I do think there's a plan.
I'm pleased to have Soriano on the club, and I'm concerned about the length of the deal, but mostly I've got this strange tingling that I'm pretty sure is excitement, because for once, it looks like the Cubs are out for blood. I'm not sure they're going about it the right way, but for now, I'm happy they're going about it at all.