Next season, the Chicago Cubs will send $13 million to the New York Yankees to cover the final portion of Alfonso Soriano’s eight-year, $136 million contract. Then they will be done with it.
For some of you, such a statement causes latent relief, as though a sickly elder finally moved on to a better place. Indeed, for most in the mainstream media, Soriano’s time with the Cubs will stand for nothing more than the dollars he collected, and the dollars he purportedly didn’t earn.
The legend of how horrible Alfonso Soriano’s contract was for the Cubs continues to grow, even as he’s long gone from the Cubs, and the payments enter their final year. Example: in discussing the largess of the Shin-Soo Choo deal, the Dallas Morning News compares it, in terms of dollars committed, to the “semi-disastrous deal Alfonso Soriano signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2007.” The Rangers recently signed Choo, who turns 32 in July, to a seven-year, $130 million contract.
The Soriano deal, eight years and $136 million, is frequently held up as among the worst contracts handed out during the spending boom of 2007 and 2008. But the truth is, it looks to some like a disaster only because of the Cubs’ rebuilding-driven desire in recent years to move the aging star. Soriano was 35/36/37, making $18 million per year, and playing for terrible teams. The Cubs were desperate to move him for any number of reasons.
Of course his contract looks semi-disastrous at that point. Guess what? All mega contracts do!
You sign guys like Soriano (or Choo) primarily for the value they provide in the first years of the deal, not the last. In the first two years of his deal with the Cubs, when they made the playoffs, Soriano posted WARs of 6.6 and 3.9 – the Cubs got exactly what they wanted in those two years, at least.
Hell, in the most recent two years of the deal, Soriano has actually earned his paycheck by WAR/$ (6.5 WAR over the last two years). To act as though the Cubs were being crushed by the weight of a disastrous deal (at least the Dallas Morning News had the good sense to soften it as “semi” disastrous) is to ignore the fruits of the early years, the success of the later years, and the very nature of mega contracts.
So, please, stop with this legend. The Cubs mostly got what they were hoping for from Soriano, whose megadeal arguably worked out better than most of those types of contracts do. Soriano’s is not a scary story to be told to future generations to justify clutching tightly to the pursestrings.
If there’s any cautionary tale, it’s simply this: teams go through many cycles over the course of an eight-year deal. If you’re going to pay tomorrow for a hamburger today, you better make sure your team is sufficiently good today to justify it. And you should make sure you’ve built up a sustainable base of farm depth to weather the later years of these kinds of contracts, when they necessarily don’t generate as much value as they once did.
Oh, and be sure to choose your hamburgers very carefully.