Baseball Owners and GMs Opening Their Checkbooks

Mamas don’t let you babies grow up to be cowboys!

When they are born, put a baseball glove in the crib and have them wearing it before they turn one… then make sure they are gripping a baseball for three hours every day by the time they are three. If you do that, maybe—just maybe!—your babies will grow up to be major league baseball players. At worst they’ll probably grow up to be left-handed pitchers—because even a below-par lefty specialist can pitch into his 40s making a few million dollars annually (right, Mike Stanton?).

Baseball’s annual right of passage (from former team to the highest bidder), aka free agency, continued today as several players found new homes for 2007 and beyond… the most notable player among this group being 2B/LF Alfonso Soriano—formerly of Washington (via NY and Texas) and soon to be marking his territory in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Soriano, coveted by upwards of a dozen major league clubs and coming off a MONSTER season in the nation’s capitol, has reportedly agreed to an 8-year, $136 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. According to reports coming out of the Windy City, the only thing holding up finalization of the deal is the perfunctory physical examination.

Cubs GM Jim Hendry is in the process of re-vamping half of his team—and with good cause since they won only 66 games in 2006 despite a $95 million payroll… soon enough they will be in the Red Sox / Mets payroll stratosphere. The signing of Soriano by the woeful Cubbies comes on the heals of inking five players to new deals—3B Aramis Ramirez (5 years, $73 m), OF / INF Mark Derosa (3 years, $13 m), C Henry Blanco (2 years, $5.25 m), P Kerry Wood (1 year, $1.75 m + incentives) and P Wade Miller ($1.5 m + incentives). And the Cubs arent done yet, as they are said to be hot in pursuit of OF Cliff Floyd and P Gil Meche.

On the west coast, the Los Angeles Dogers were busy today as they agreed to contracts with free agent OF Juan Pierre (reportedly 5 years at $44 – $45 million) and 1B Nomar Garciaparra (2 years, $18.5 m). Pierre, who played for the Cubs in 2006, is a career .303 hitter who led the NL with 204 hits in 2006. Garciaparra, the NL Comeback Player of the Year who resides in southern California with his wife (soccer star Mia Hamm) year-round, played in LA in 2006 and will remain with the Dodgers after hitting .303, with 20 HR and 93 RBI last season in spite of playing in only 122 games. [It had been reported that the Dodgers were planning to go with 2006 rookie sensation James Loney at 1B in 2007, but after OF J D Drew surprisingly opted for free agency last month the Dodgers decided they needed a veteran bat at 1B… so they decided to retain Garciaparra’s services].

Elsewhere, the NY Mets have acquired the services of Moises Alou—reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal with the former Giants outfielder worth in the vicinity of $7.5 million (with a club option for 2008)… while the Texas Rangers agree to a three-year, $13 million contract with former Blue Jays OF / DH Frank Catalanotto.

What does all the spending mean?

Well, first of all, it means that the price of talent is going up again.

Secondly, it means LA outfielder J D Drew made the right decision in eschewing the three years remaining on his Dodgers contract and placing himself into the free agent market this winter (as Nomar Garciaparra learned, timing is EVERYTHING).

Third, it means the market for Manny Ramirez just got a LOT bigger—not only because several teams hoping to get him failed to do so, but also because the Soriano money makes Ramirez’ salary seem reasonable in comparison.

Fourth, it means that the Red Sox will have to spend a bit more money to bring Daisuke Matsuzaka into the fold… so if Soriano is worth $18 million annually playing every day, then Matsuzaka—although an unknown quantity in the US —will likely be able to get $11 -$12 million annually playing every fifth day… because really good outfielders are valuable but stud pitchers win world championships.

One last thought: the events of the last couple of days also means that life for the Red Sox just got a little tougher—five or six years down the road. Believe it or not, the immortal Frank Catalanotto and the mediocre Justin Speier were both Type A free agents—meaning that AL East rival Toronto will receive two first round / supplemental round draft picks in return for each of them. If Toronto’s scouting department is up to the task, those could be HUGE draft picks in the forthcoming years…

…and we had to lose Keith Foulke when his value couldn’t possibly be any lower.

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