By Dave Wischnowsky–
(CBS) Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan wrote that “the best thing that could happen for baseball this offseason is Albert Pujols signing with the Chicago Cubs.”
Now, I’m not so sure that would be the best thing for the Chicago Cubs, although I do agree that Albert pulling a “LeBron” and taking his talents to North Avenue Beach would indeed be a boon for Major League Baseball.
Rather, though, when it comes to the Cubs, I’m more in favor of Theo & Co. rolling the dice on Prince Fielder and offering the 27-year-old portly powerhouse a long-term contract. As long as it’s, you know, not too long.
That’s because far more than megabucks, length was – and is – the problem with that 8-year, $136 million pact that a 31-year-old Alfonso Soriano inked with the Chicago back in 2007 and which still has the team committed to him through 2014.
Only 486 games to go!
For the Cubs’ money thus far, they’ve gotten season averages of .266, 27 home runs and 74 RBI from Soriano. Those kinds of so-so numbers – and the fact that there may be three more seasons of them still coming – have made Soriano the ongoing target of much of Cubs Nation’s never-ending angst.
It’s also made fans of the North Siders extremely gun-shy when it comes to signing another player – any player – to a deal lasting eight years or more, which both Pujols and Fielder are rumored to be seeking.
Well, I’m gun-shy, too. But, I will say this: if signing either Fielder or Pujols to a long-term deal guaranteed that the Cubs would win a World Series championship, I’d do it in a heartbeat – even if it meant vastly overpaying for production during the latter years of the contract. I imagine that most Cubs fans would wholeheartedly agree.
That brings up this interesting question today: Would Cubs fans have so much anger toward Soriano and his diminishing skills if the left fielder had helped lead the team vanquish “The Curse” and win a World Series title in either 2007 or ’08?
I don’t think so.
Let’s use Cubs history as an example: Back in 1984, Chicago traded a 24-year-old rising star in Joe Carter to the Cleveland Indians (along with Mel Hall) for right-handed hurler Rick Sutcliffe.
After leaving Chicago, Carter went on to hit 396 home runs and drive in 1,445 RBI during his stellar career. However, I don’t think most Cubs fans have ever regretted that trade because Sutcliffe went 16-1 for the Cubs in ’84, won the Cy Young Award and helped Chicago reach the NLCS. In 1989, the Red Baron helped the Cubs get to the playoffs once again.
Because of those postseason appearances – no small thing in Chicago during the 1980s – the Carter-for-Sutcliffe trade was worth it.
For an actual World Series title – and not just playoff berths – even several years of a mediocre-to-bad Soriano would have been worth the price. Alas, that championship never happened, whereas Soriano’s struggles and foibles continue to do so.
With MLB’s new collective-bargaining agreement limiting opportunities to stockpile talent through the draft and throwing a monkey wrench in Theo Epstein’s master plans, the Cubs are now reportedly weighing the cost-benefit of locking up Pujols or Fielder.
A long-term deal is indeed a scary prospect for aging and/or overweight superstars. But if the Cubs’ brass truly believes that one of those guys is the piece that will finally put Chicago over the top and win that long-elusive World Series title, I’ll get on board with the plan.
Albeit, very gingerly and with a heavy dose of caution.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.