Over the past couple of season, there have been some head scratching contracts in baseball. The Brewers have been the victim of one of those in Jeff Suppan, but in actuality it could be much worse. Many other teams have fallen victim to longer contracts worth more money, setting themselves back even further. One of those teams is certainly the Chicago Cubs.
I have really never understood why Jim Hendry has been given such a pass in Chicago. He continues to make bad signing after bad signing. His streak was extended today when he resigned John Grabow to a two year contract worth $7 million. This contract really makes no sense. Grabow, 31, is only declining in his career. He has seen his walk total rise consistently and his strikeouts drop. He was able to keep his ERA under 4 again this season, but that was only due to his extremely low BABIP. His production over the next two season could easily be equaled by a much cheaper left handed pitcher. Sure $7 million isn't going to kill the franchise, but this money could be spent in a much better fashion.
This is just the tip of the iceberg with Hendry's contracts. The Cubs current roster is riddled with overpayed players locked into long term deals.
After his career year in 2006, Alfonso Soriano received plenty of attention in the offseason when he became a free agent. Soriano posted a .351 OBP, which was 33 points higher than his career average of .318. A lot of signs pointed to a fluke season, but teams had money and Soriano was going to get paid. Lucky for the Brewers, the Cubs and Hendry came calling. The Cubs signed Soriano to an 8yr/$136 million deal. When this contract was signed, I couldn't have been happier. I realized the Cubs would be a better team in the first couple of seasons, but the final years of the deal were going to be brutal. Why sign a below average LF to an eight year deal that will pay him until he turns 39? It just doesn't make sense. After a solid 2007 and 2008, Soriano was awful this season. He posted a .241/.303/.423 line to the tune of a .726 OPS. A .726 OPS is awful, but it is even worse considering he plays LF and is one of the highest paid players in baseball. This contract is only going to get worse. Soriano has five years left on his deal and will be payed $19 million in each of those seasons. He is only getting older and will be a huge drain on the Cubs for the remainder of his deal.
Hendry has shown a pattern of bad contracts in the past.
Before the raises in arbitration, the Cubs currently have $123 million committed to the 2010 team. All but $4 of that $123 million is locked up in just eight players: Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Milton Bradley. Each of those players will make more than $10 million this season. Let me repeat that, the Cubs have eight players making more than $10 million this season! In contrast, the Yankees have seven and the Brewers have just two (Suppan and Fielder).
If this doesn't prove the value of building a farm system, I don't know what does. The Brewers have one of the best players in baseball locked up cheaply by doing this. In 2008, the Brewers signed Ryan Braun to an eight year deal worth $45 million, locking him up until 2015. Braun signed the deal to buy out his arbitration years and receive financial security in the future. So, let's compare what building a farm system can get you. The Brewers drafted Braun and watched him rise through the minor leagues. After success at the big league level, Braun signed the same length deal Alfonso Soriano received from the Cubs. However, over the length of their contracts, the Brewers will net $91 million more than the Cubs. Also, Braun is entering the prime of his career, while Soriano will only decline.
I really can't stress enough how important saving money is in baseball. While it may look very attracting to sign John Lackey long term this offseason, the Brewers need to be careful. The Brewers have more than $20 million coming off the books in 2011 when Suppan and Hall's contracts are off the board. Will that money be spent to put together an extenstion for Fielder, or sign a pitcher like Lackey? It's really tough to say, but this franchise is in dire need of arms. Lackey has been consistent throughout his career, but is getting older. There are cheaper options out there that can be explored. Lackey would require a long term deal worth a boatload of cash. Could that deal work well in Milwaukee? Yes, but if it were to fail the Brewers would be crippled financially. Our young players are going to be hitting the market soon and cash will be needed to lock them up. Just use the Cubs as an example of what can happen if too much money is spent on expensive free agents.