1) sign a top flight free agent to a monster contract
2) compete to re-sign their own star free agent players.
What they have done this off season is new and different. Could it mean that they want to win in '07? The glaring hole is still pitching, but the batting order seems to be coming around.
Below are five players who have signed to extend their status on the Cubs or have accepted terms as free agents to play for the Cubs:
Ramírez signed before really testing the market, for what is considered a hometown discount. Wood signed a small one-year deal with incentives that could make him a lot of money. I hope he makes a lot of money, which would mean that he actually produces up to his potential. Hank White is a solid backup catcher, and helped the Cubs when Michael Barrett went down. Mark DeRosa is an able major leaguer, and has been given the starting slot at 2B, even though he played more games in RF last year. Alfonso Soriano is the big signing, at 136 million for 8 years. He is a 40-40 man, and given the size of the Friendly Confines, could put up huge numbers. My concern about the players pictured above? Ramírez gave the Cubs a hometown discount, and the Cubs opened up the purse strings and rewarded Soriano with the fifth largest MLB contract of all times (behind Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, and Todd Helton). To compete, Aramis Ramirez needs to put up numbers all season long. If he pouts, and refuses to hustle, the team chemistry will be affected. Lou Piniella may have to motivate him. I'll be watching for what Lou will do if Aramis jogs down to 1st base!
Below is a photo of Soriano batting in a Cubs uniform, taken from the Bleed Cubbie Blue site. It was PhotoShopped by David Salgado.
How good can Soriano be? A couple graphics from MLB.com may put it into perspective:
As a 40-40 man, he has joined a pretty exclusive club. Though he is too old (in my opinion) to receive an 8-year contract, he's quite a bit younger than the Bonds guys ahead of him on the 30-30 list. At the end of his playing days, he will probably be the player with the most 30-30 seasons of all times! And notice that he's already quite a bit ahead of the the other former Cub on the list.
But what's up with the Cubs? Carol Slezak may have an idea. The Cubs may be for sale. I'll use Slezak's words:
Why now? Was the embarrassing 2006 season the catalyst? Did those 96 losses shame Tribune Co. into caring? But what makes last season any different than the many other miserable seasons that preceded it? The 95-loss 1999 season, for instance. Or the 97-loss 2000 season?She might just have it right. I've been waiting most of my life for the Cubs to win (or play in) a World Series. If they do it in '07, that would be heaven! Not really, but it would be sweet (heaven will be much better)! I would like them to do it, to avoid the 100-year with no championship jokes in 2008. We'll just have to wait, though. Just wait 'til next year!
Andy MacPhail, the guy everyone liked to beat up on, is gone. MacPhail served one good purpose, as a go-to guy for fan frustration. The only problem with the MacPhail-bashing -- and I took my share of swings -- is that it ignored the fact that MacPhail served at his bosses' discretion. So does John McDonough, MacPhail's replacement. And as you look up, up, up the Tower, you see that the top boss, CEO Dennis FitzSimons, still is running the show. Is it possible that FitzSimons has had a change of perspective, developed a competitive fire and a conscience? I don't see how. Tribune Co. never has cared about winning, and it never has cared about Cubs fans. Why would it start now?
Nope, if the Cubs actually are spending in an effort to be competitive, it must mean that Tribune Co. intends to sell the team, and probably before the bills become due. And for Cubs fans everywhere, that day can't possibly come too soon.