Thursday, November 30, 2006

Soriano Contract With Cubs Almost Reasonable

It was a slow day on the baseball front. But that didn’t stop several posters in blogdom from continuing to complain about Alfonso Soriano’s contract. These complaints center around 1) Soriano being paid too much, and 2) the contract being too long.

There’s no disputing that Soriano is being paid a lot of money. It’s also self-evident that in the baseball world, an eight year contract is a long contract. Even so, I absolutely do not agree with those complaining about Soriano’s contract. Here’s why:

If the Cubs wanted to be a legitimate, competitive team in 2007, they had to make some major changes. Tweaking the 2006 version of the team wasn’t going to cut the mustard. So they went out and signed the two top FA position players (ARam & Soriano) available. Even before they did that, they hired Lou Piniella to lead the team. The hiring of Piniella and signing of ARam and Soriano signaled two things. First, the Cubs want to win and they want to win now. Second, the culture at Wrigley Field is changing.

If it had been possible, I would have liked to see the Cubs sign Soriano for five years and closer to $70 million. But that’s not what the going rate was. If the Cubs top offer had been 5/$70 million, some other team would have snatched up Soriano for more money and/or years. And that’s the bottom line point I’m trying to make. The market determines a player’s value, not the team that signs him.

I can assure you that Jim Hendry would have preferred to sign Soriano for fewer years and less money. But that just wasn’t in the cards. And if you look at the contracts of Juan Pierre with the Dodgers, Gary Matthews, Jr. with the Angels, Carlos Lee with the Astros and the contract J.D. Drew will be signing shortly with the Red Sox, Alfonso Soriano’s contract doesn’t look so bad. In fact, if it is possible, it almost looks reasonable.

The Cubs could have sat on the sidelines and allowed other teams to sign all of the free agents. Naturally, there would have been a lot of complaining by Cubs fans, but the Cubs would have avoided these big contracts. They also would have been relegated to the ranks of the Royals, Pirates and Drays. And 2006 was enough of a taste of that comparison for me.

Those are the alternatives. Either compete for the free agents even though the contracts are big, or throw in the towel in the off-season and join the ranks of the back markers. I’m glad the Cubs chose the former.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Everybody Loves Jason (Schmidt)

Reports out today indicate that just about every team in MLB and a few Mexican League teams are interested in Jason Schmidt. From my reading, the following teams (in no particular order) seem to have an interest:

Chicago Cubs
Seattle Mariners
St. Louis Cardinals
Los Angeles Dodgers
Houston Astros
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Los Angeles Angels

According to published reports, Schmidt’s agent has told the two New York teams that Schmidt does not want to play on the East Coast. Yesterday, I indicated that the Mariners might not have the money to compete with the Cubs offer of 3 years/$45 million and that the Dodgers might not be interested after signing Randy Wolf and pursuing Greg Maddux. However, today’s Chicago Tribune lists the Dodgers and Mariners as the front runners in the Schmidt derby.

By the way, the Cubs denied reports that they offered a 3 year/$45 million contract to Schmidt. Actually, they denied offering Schmidt a 3 year/$44 million contract, but confirmed that they are interested in the right handed pitcher.

I don’t know if they are saying that they didn’t make an offer to Schmidt or if they are saying that they did make an offer but the numbers are wrong. In either case, I don’t believe Schmidt is worth more than $15 million per year nor do I think it makes sense to offer him more than 3 years. Even so, some team will probably cave in to the pressure and offer Schmidt more than he is worth. That’s how the free agent market works.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cubs Make Offer to Schmidt

Sports Illustrated is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have made an offer to FA pitcher Jason Schmidt. According to the article, the offer is for 3 years/$45 million.

Schmidt is the top FA pitcher available this off season and will likely garner offers from several teams. However, if the Cubs did make this offer, it is pretty generous. It would be difficult (although not impossible) for any team to justify offering more money. And with Schmidt’s injury history and age (he’s 38), it would be difficult justifying more years. That doesn’t mean that Schmidt won’t receive a higher offer or an offer involving more years. It just means that in my opinion, the Cubs offer is probably as high as they should go.

One thing working in the Cubs favor is that the Seattle Mariners, who it was believed had the inside track on Schmidt, probably don’t have the money to match the Cubs offer. It has been speculated that Schmidt, a native of the Seattle area, would like to stay on the West Coast. If true, that could mean that the Mets and Yankees, two likely suitors, could be out of the running. Having said that, Chicago isn’t exactly on the West Coast either.

The Dodgers are also probably not in the running for Schmidt. Earlier this week they signed former Phillies starter Randy Wolf and they are negotiating to re-sign Greg Maddux. Schmidt is too expensive for Oakland’s taste. That leaves San Francisco and San Diego (and maybe the Angels) as the only West Coast teams with the money and interest in Schmidt.

I have mixed emotions about the Cubs signing Schmidt. Being the most sought after FA pitcher, he’s going to cost a lot of money. I think I would prefer signing a second tier starter (e.g., Ted Lilly, Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla, etc.) and trade for another starter (e.g., Jason Jennings or Jake Westbrook). With the money the club saves, they can find a good bench bat and have some left over to extend Zambrano’s contract. Of course, if money is no object, sign Schmidt, Padilla, and make the trade.

I’ve expounded on some of the players I would like to see patrolling CF next year for the Cubs. Tops on the list were Vernon Wells with Andruw Jones a close second. I don’t think the Cubs are going to make a move for a center fielder. Instead, I expect Alfonso Soriano to be in RF and Jacque Jones to move over to CF. This solution makes a lot of sense.

First, Jones arm is better suited for CF than RF. Soriano has a cannon, so is a good fit for right. Second, Jones is relatively inexpensive. At $5.5 million per year, that almost qualifies as a bargain in this market. Third, if Felix Pie is ready to take over CF duties in the middle of next year, Jones would be a good trading chip the Cubs can use at the trade deadline to get more pitching. If Pie isn’t ready, Jones can finish out the year in center.

Bringing in a new, possibly more expensive player for CF could tie the Cubs hands once Felix Pie is ready for primetime. Vernon Wells or Andruw Jones could both turn in to high priced rentals, and someone like Kenny Lofton could cause tension in the clubhouse if he doesn’t see as much playing time as he thinks he deserves. I think the better move at this point is to move J. Jones over to CF and see how things work out.

The Cubs were in on the bidding for Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa, but they were beat out by the Yankees. It was announced today that the Yankees bid of $25 million just for the right to negotiate a contract with Igawa had been accepted by the Hanshin Tigers. The Yanks now have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Igawa.

Personally, I think the Yankees were nuts to bid $25 million. Igawa is projected to be a #4 or #5 starter. It seems to me the $25 million would have been better used to sign Barry Zito, Andy Pettitte or Ted Lilly. Left handed pitchers are always in demand, but I still think it was far too much to pay for a pitcher with Igawa’s credentials. I’m glad the Cubs didn’t win the “privilege” to negotiate with Kei.

There’s one other rumor out there that I hesitate to comment on only because it seems so unlikely. A popular blog is reporting that the Cubs are considering trading Matt Murton, Bob Howry, Sean Gallagher and Donald Veal to the Red Sox for left fielder and perennial headache, Manny Ramirez. One thing that seems certain is that the Red Sox are borderline desperate to get rid of ManRam and that they have to know that they are not going to get equal value if they trade him. Even so, I just don’t see the Cubs making this move, although I have to say that ManRam’s contract looks a little more friendly now considering what Soriano, CLee, Matthews, Jr., Pierre, etc. have signed for. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Soriano Better Than Lee

The Astros landed their big bopper this week when they signed Carlos Lee to a 6 year, $100 million contract. In my mind, Lee’s contract makes Soriano’s contract look much more reasonable.

Although Soriano and Lee are the same age, you can already see that Soriano is aging much better than Lee. Lee has lost a step and his body has become much thinker than it was just a few years ago. Soriano, on the other hand, has remained very quick and athletic. I can’t promise that Soriano will still be at the top of his game in 6-8 years, but I much prefer Soriano over Lee for the next few years.

The Astros also signed Woody Williams to join their pitching staff. Williams pitched for the Padres last year and is 40 years old. Although Williams is not a bad pitcher, he tends to give up a lot of fly balls which could be very dangerous in Minute Maid Park. What the Crawford Boxes in left field will give to Carlos Lee, they will take away from Woody Williams.

Getting back to Soriano, he has requested that the Cubs allow him to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. The Cubs haven’t responded, but Soriano’s desire to get into shape and improve his game is refreshing. It would have been easy for Soriano to sit at home and lay on the couch. I don’t know if the Cubs will let him play, but I like his enthusiasm.

The GM Winter Meetings are just a week away. If a deal is going to get done for someone like Jake Westbrook or Jason Jennings, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens at the Winter Meetings.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Soriano is a Cub! What's Next?

The Hot Stove is really heating up. The Dodgers signed Juan Pierre and Nomar, the Angels signed Gary Matthews, Jr., The Yankees re-signed Mussina, and Boston is negotiating to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka after posting a whopping $51 million bid just to talk to him. The only thing that would make this time of year better is if they were actually playing baseball.

What do the weeks ahead hold for the Cubs? Rumors are that Julio Lugo and Cliff Floyd are on the Cubs radar. Lugo has apparently indicated that he would be willing to play CF for the Cubs, which gives the team a lot of options. Lugo is a SS by trade, but could be counted on to do an adequate (or better) job in CF. He would also make an excellent #2 hitter behind Soriano. Once Felix Pie is ready to come up to the big club, Lugo could become trade bait or could become the everyday SS with Izturis either becoming a bench player or trade bait. Lugo provides a lot of flexibility. Plus, Piniella already knows and likes him.

The Cliff Floyd rumors have me a bit puzzled. Floyd would be an excellent left handed bat off the bench, but I doubt that he would agree to such a role. Floyd’s injury history makes him questionable as a starter, but some team will probably risk signing him to be their starting LF. Some have suggested that Floyd could platoon with Murton. That’s not a good idea. Murton is coming into his own and has earned an everyday job. True, Murton and Floyd could make a good righty/lefty platoon (especially considering that the Cubs could use another lefty bat in the lineup), but Murton has shown that he can hit well against both left-handed and right-handed pitching.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Cubs didn’t add any more position players. Jacque Jones is fully capable of playing CF (assuming Soriano is in RF) and his arm is much better suited to CF. Putting Jones in CF would keep a reasonably priced hitter in the line up and will provide the only lefty bat the Cubs have at the moment. Of course, Jones may also be one of the most valuable trading chips the Cubs have and they may need to trade him to get a starting pitcher. Colorado in particular is looking for a CF and may be willing to part with Jason Jennings if the Cubs throw in a sweetener.

There’s also a rumor floating around that the Cubs have offered Jason Schmidt a 3/$45 million deal. Schmidt is likely looking for four years, but his age and injury history make that a bit risky. Schmidt is the most sought after FA pitcher on the market, but I just have a feeling that the Cubs would be better off signing two second tier pitchers (or sign one, trade for one) rather than commit a bunch of money to Schmidt. I think I’m probably in the minority on that, but I’m not as high on Schmidt as some others are.

I’d like to see the Cubs sign one of Jeff Suppan/Gil Meche/Ted Lilly/Randy Wolf and then trade for either Jake Westbrook or Jason Jennings. The Cubs have also taken a look at Jason Marquis and rumors have it that Larry Rothschild has given Marquis his stamp of approval. Marquis apparently had a mechanical flaw in his delivery in 2006 that significantly hampered his effectiveness. Supposedly, the flaw has been corrected. However, if Dave Duncan couldn’t fix the flaw in St. Louis, I don’t trust Rothschild to be able to correct/maintain Marquis’ delivery with the Cubs.

Also, keep in mind that the Cubs have Mark Prior, Wade Miller and Neal Cotts as all potential starters in 2007. Personally, I’d like to see Cotts stay in the bullpen, but a healthy and effective Prior and/or Miller would be a Godsend to the Cubs. The club could end up with 7 potential starting pitchers. That would be interesting.

How would you like this starting rotation:


I know I’m treading on thin ice expecting Prior to be ready and able to pitch, but I figure it’s better to have false hope rather than no hope at all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Soriano to Become a Cub

Surprise, surprise, surprise…

The greatest GM in the history of baseball, Sir Jim Hendry, has reportedly signed Alfonso Soriano. The contract is rumored to be for 8 years and $136 million, although some sources claim it is a six year deal with years seven and eight as option years.

Okay, I’m being a bit hypocritical kissing up to Hendry, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Hendry ponied up the years/money he needed to bring Soriano to the Cubs and to keep him away from the Angels and Phillies who were both in hot pursuit of him. I know that some people will criticize Big Jim, but the guy did what he had to do.

In previous posts, I have stated that for the Cubs to ever turn into the perennial front runner that we want them to be, they are going to have to change their attitude and approach. When John McDonough became team president, he signaled a change in the organization’s attitude when he said that he was hired to build a winning ball club. Now Hendry is showing that the team’s approach is also changing. Rather than avoiding top free agents, Hendry has managed to sign the top two available free agent position players this off-season (ARam and Soriano). These changes bode well for the Cubs in the future.

Hendry’s work this off-season is not over yet, but he has started the winter in spectacular fashion. In a radio interview, Lou Piniella indicated that Soriano would likely lead-off and play one of the corner outfield positions. With CF being a gapping hole, Piniella’s comments would seem to indicate that more moves are planned. Could Andruw Jones or Vernon Wells be heading to the north side? Sweet Lou's comments also indicated that either Murton or Jones may have just become trade bait.

Of course, starting pitching is an area that needs significant attention. I’ve been reading that Jake Westbrook and/or Jason Jennings could be obtained via trades. Both would do well in Wrigley Field, but I think the point is that the Cubs will probably not be improving their starting rotation via free agency. Maybe one trade and one signing? Who knows for sure? Before I start worry about that tomorrow, I’m going to enjoy the Soriano signing right now.

This Week in Cubs Nation

This week the Cubs signed FA 2nd baseman Mark DeRosa to a three year contract and the criticism began immediately. DeRosa has been a “super sub” for the Rangers and he was reportedly signed by Jim Hendry to be the Cubs everyday 2nd baseman. Critics accused Hendry of again overpaying for a second tier FA and they reasoned that he should concentrate his efforts (and dollars) on filling the gapping holes on the roster rather than on overpaying role players who would likely be available late in the off-season after the top tier FAs are signed.

The critics have a point, but I’m going to withhold judgment. As readers of this blog will attest, I’m not a big Jim Hendry fan. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt this early in the off-season. I’m willing to accept, largely on blind faith, that Hendry has a plan and he is working that plan. I’m willing to accept that DeRosa is just one small piece of the larger puzzle that will become the 2007 Cubs. I’m mostly willing to accept all of this because the alternative is to pull out my hair and have a stroke.

As Cubs fans, we all want to know what the organization plans to do to build a winner next year. But obviously, the team can’t let everyone in on their plans. In the weeks ahead, the plan will be revealed. Hopefully it is a plan that we will all be happy with (although that’s doubtful). But my fear, along with a lot of other people’s, is that the Cubs don’t have a very well defined plan or that they aren’t committed to carry out their plan. But for now, I’m willing to accept that they have a plan and are committed to making it work. History isn’t on my side, but I’m a Cubs fan. And every off-season is the time to once again start believing that next year is the year.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Hendry Gets the Job Done

Just before midnight last night, Jim Hendry signed Aramis Ramirez to a five year contract worth in excess of $70 million. There is also a mutual option for 2012. The signing came just before ARam could have started negotiating with other teams.

A lot of Cubs fans through Cubs blogdom were convinced that not signing ARam would have meant the Cubs would have had no chance of competing in 2007. I didn't agree with that sentiment, but I did feel the Cubs would be a better team with ARam than without him, no matter who they would have replaced him with.

So congratulations, Jim. You got the job done (even though you did wait until the very last minute to get it done). Now it's time to start attracting some other free agents and start working on some trades. Signing ARam was the easy part. Now your job really gets interesting.

BTW, Big Jim also signed Kerry Wood to a one year, $1.75 million contract that includes lots of incentives. Wood will likely be part of the bullpen since his elbow problems don't allow him to throw enough pitches to be a starter. I'm okay with Wood returning to the Cubs. The poor guy has been an injury fest over the past few years, but I've never gotten the idea that he was just being lazy. He's a competitor and if he can stay healthy, his addition should improve the bullpen.

Finally, I wish someone could explain to me the posting process for Matsuzaka. Actually, I understand the process. What I don't understand is why a team would hesitate to bid on him. From all accounts, Matsuzaka is a top of the rotation pitcher that will improve any team he joins. Whoever wins the right to sign him will also be immediately increasing their presence in Japan, a country that loves American baseball and spends lots of money on merchandise.

The posting fee (no matter how large) is not a huge risk because the team that wins the bid gets their money back if they are unable to sign Matsuzaka to a contract. And since Matsuzaka is not interested in returning to Japan next year (as reports have indicated), he would likely accept a reasonable offer.

Signing Matsuzaka would also immediately give the team that signs him a huge trading chip if they decide they are interested in other players. For instance, if the Cubs win the bidding, sign Matsuzaka, and then decide it is in their best interest to trade him, The Yankees would probably be willing to give up a ton, including ARod and perhaps Robinson Cano.

Different reports have indicated that the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees were the top bidders. Obviously, not all of these reports can be correct. The winning bidder will be announced by Tuesday, November 14, assuming the Seibu Lions accept the bid. The winning team will have 30 days to negotiate a contract. If a contract can not be agreed upon, the team will get back their entire bid and Matsuzaka will return to play in Japan in 2007.