When the Cubs initially inked Soriano to an 8 year, 136 million dollar deal, I thought it was a mistake of unusual size. However, the events that have occured over the rest of the offseason have lead me to change my view.
First, Carlos Lee signed a 6 year, 100 million dollar deal. Not only is Soriano a much better player right now (20 run differential just on defense), he is a much better player going forward. Lee hits for power, and that is about it; no speed, no defense, and a weak average on balls put into play (Abs-strikeouts-homers). He is also huge. Players who have this skill set and buffet attendance frequency tend to lose value quite a bit more quickly as they age then most players. Soriano, on the other hand, has the classic skill set and and size of a player who ages gracefully. He is very thin for a modern slugger, and has very good speed, babip, and solid outfield defense. (cf. the article “Why was Kevin Maas a Bust” in “Baseball Between the Numbers” for more on how different player types age differently).
Add in the fact that Soriano moved from a more demanding to a less demanding defensive position last season, which generally leads to improvements in offensive stats, and it is probable that his performance over the next three-four years will be closer to his performance in his 06 than his 04-05.
Later on, a player who has added less value to his teams during his career than Soriano has in his best two seasons (or 2nd and 3rd best seasons), namely Gil Meche, signed a 5 year, 55 million dollar deal. Barry Zito, who is not only not as valuable as Soriano but a far worse bet going forward because of warning signs (pitcher abuse points and declining peripherals), got a 7 year deal at a higher annual cost then the Soriano deal with a vesting option. Mediocre players such as Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews got huge deals.
The end of the deal will probably not be very be pretty, but that is true of most long term deals to 30 year olds. Furthermore, with increased fitness, health and medical technology, this aging factor will become less and less important.
I hope that it is clear to all that the Cubs also made the best long term deal this offseason: Aramis Ramirez’s deal is only 3 million a year away from the one Meche signed.
Cliffs: Amazingly, the Soriano deal is perhaps the 2nd best long term deals a team made this offseason. More amazingly, the best long term deal was also made by the Cubs: 5 years, 70 million dollars to Aramis Ramirez.