By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Is Jon Lester really worth $155 million? Probably not.
Was Alfonso Soriano really worth $136 million? Definitely not.
But would a Cubs World Series championship be worth either price?
Oh, you bet it would.
Since last week when the Cubs signed ace left-hander Lester to the richest deal in club history and the second-wealthiest pitching contract in the game, the move by Theo Epstein & Co. has been widely celebrated – and for good reason, considering the relative dearth of impact arms in the Cubs’ organization.
But as ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield pointed out last week in a blog entry, “$155 million is a lot for a pitcher who hasn’t necessarily proved himself to be a consistent No. 1 starter, let alone the second-best starter in the game.”
It’s a great deal of coin that comes with a good deal of risk. Even if he stays healthy, the reality is that with Lester turning 31 on Jan. 7, it’s almost certain that due to age he won’t be worth his average annual salary of $25.8 million during the latter seasons of his record deal.
The same was true back in November 2006 when the Cubs signed Soriano to an eight-year contract, coincidentally just weeks before he too would turn 31 on Jan. 7. At that time, everyone knew there was no chance that Soriano would still be a $17-million-per-year player into his late 30s, if he even ever really was one in his early 30s.
But then again, Soriano’s contract was never really about eight years. And Lester’s contract isn’t really about six. Rather, with both players – and any other big-ticket free agents that the Cubs might sign in the future – the contracts are all about just one year.
One world championship year.
If the Cubs ever can win their first World Series in more than a century of trying, it simply would be impossible to put a price tag on it. And no matter the cost of the Cubs players who would win it – even if they’re ultimately wildly overpaid in the end – their contracts would undoubtedly be worthwhile.
As his time in Chicago wore on, Soriano was derided almost daily by fans for the size of his monster contract. He simply never was a $136-million player, although he also wasn’t as bad of a player as his reputation seemed to indicate.
Regardless of Soriano’s overall skills and salary, I’ve long believed that if the Cubs hadn’t flopped in the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008 – seasons during which Soriano hit .299 and .280 with 33 and 29 homers, respectively – and won a World Series in either year, no one would have made a peep about Soriano’s hefty paycheck, even if he never did hit above .262 again as a Cub.
Every penny would have been worth it, just for that one season.
While discussing Lester’s record deal last week, Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel – who spent part of last season with Lester in Oakland – said of the southpaw, “His proven consistency over eight or nine years of dominance, there is no reason why he shouldn’t get the money. They probably got him pretty cheap.
“I know Theo (Epstein, president of baseball operations) did not want to hear me say that, but the guy is a winner. He is a proven winner, and for a young team, you need guys like that who know how to come around and know how to go about their business.”
And if the Cubs do end up winning a World Series during the length of Lester’s deal, Hammel will absolutely be right – the team will have gotten him cheap.
Even if the $155 million they paid is for just one season.