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Cubs Sign Soriano

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Nov 21, 2006 12:28PM

2006_11_sports_cubs_soriano.jpgFor a company in financial trouble, the Cubs' parent company sure has been quick to open up the wallet this off season. Following last week's re-signing of Aramis Ramirez to a rich new deal, the Cubs made the biggest splash of baseball's free agency period by signing Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136 million deal on Monday.

Soriano batted .277 with 46 home runs, 95 RBIs, 41 doubles and 41 stolen bases -- becoming the first player in Major League history to hit 40 homers, 40 doubles and steal 40 bases in the same season. Having played second base for most of his career, Soriano played left field for the Washington Nationals last season. While he initially fought the move to the outfield, he seemed to settle into his new position and can expect to remain there with the Cubs.

While it's not yet known where in the outfield he'll play, Cubs GM Jim Hendry announced that the team intends to hat him in the leadoff spot -- vacated by Juan Pierre, who is expected to sign elsewhere.

While most of the city's sports media are beside themsleves with the news of the signing, Chicagoist is shaking our head. $136 million is a ton of cash, even for the Cubs. And to a player who'll be 31 when the eight year deal begins? Who they gave the no-trade clause other teams wouldn't? The Cubs will now be on the hook to pay him $17 million through 2014, when he's a 39 year old washed up has-been. And they can't trade him unless he wants to go someplace.

Some view the Cubs' recent moves as something akin to the $2000 "Designed to Sell" makeovers on HGTV -- something to prove to potential buyers that the Cubs are not going to be the 66-96 team they were in 2006. In the New York Times, Murray Chass noted, "If Tribune intended to hold onto the Chicago Cubs, the Cubs would not be signing Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year contract for $136 million." They only did so because they don't intend to actually have to pay for the contract -- the new ownership will as he further explained, "It seems that someone in the Cubs’ hierarchy has given Hendry the green light to offer uncharacteristically large sums of money, knowing that the Tribune Company won’t be paying the bills for much longer."

However, Chicagoist wonders if these signings will instead be viewed as "poison pills," like when corporations take on large sums of debt to fend off hostile takeovers. Is Hendry's new roster really more attractive to potential buyers? Sure, the team may win more games in 2007 than they did last year. But isn't baseball ownership usually more about profitability -- especially if a new ownership group pays the expected steep purchase price, and finances much of it? Haven't the Cubs been raking in the cash without winning? While any new owner is certainly going to give lip service to winning, they're also going to be focusing very much on the team's finances. Maybe they would rather build their roster around younger, more affordable players. Maybe they would rather build around pitching. Now, the Cubs need to hope any potential buyer agrees that these were the right moves. Or has deep enough pockets to add the needed pitching, as well. Because -- with a payroll already at $120 million and the pitching issue yet to be addressed -- the Cubs cannot compete with a rotation that looks much like last year's. Unless Hendry plans to continue to spending other people's money and leave a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt as a housewarming gift?