CHICAGO – Wouldn't you know, on the day the Chicago Cubs signed outfielder Alfonso Soriano to a blockbuster eight-year, $136 million deal, the Ghosts of Wrigley Past happened to hold their weekly poker game. Suffice to say, they gossiped plenty about the Cubs' offseason.
Ernie Banks: This is the year! I can feel it!
Harry Caray: I need a beer. I can feel that. Mind fetching me one?
Billy Sianis: Just because I put the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Cubs doesn't mean I'm your errand boy. This guy isn't doing anything right now. Make him get it.
Sammy Sosa: No comprendo.
Banks: Sammy, we're not in front of Congress!
Sosa: I can speak English again?
Joe Tinker: Yes.
Johnny Evers: You.
Frank Chance: Can.
Sosa: The only liquid I like is juice. Someone else grab Harry his beer. Hey, you're closest to the cooler. You get it.
Steve Bartman: Anyone else want one? OK. So, how about this Soriano guy, huh? I heard he plays left field.
Everyone stares at Bartman.
Faceless Tribune Suit: Actually, he probably is going to play center field, even though he hasn't spent a single inning of his 961-game career there. While he fumbled around in left field most of last season, he did lead outfielders with 22 assists and covered as much ground as anyone in baseball. Then again, for $136 million, he should play all three outfield positions at once.
Caray: Anyone got his number? I'd love to take some of that money.
Jim Hendry: I'll give him a ring.
Caray: About time you showed up.
Hendry: No, I meant I'll give him a ring. A World Series ring. Get it?
Sosa: Er, yes.
Hendry: I am the smartest general manager ever.
Faceless Tribune Suit: You'd better be. In the past week, you've handed out $232.5 million in guaranteed contracts. You signed Mark DeRosa, a career utilityman, to a three-year, $13 million deal. You brought back your backup catcher, Henry Blanco, for $5.25 million over two years. Does the $1.75 million deal for Kerry Wood include injury incentive clauses – say, $100,000 for each disabled-list appearance, just because getting injured so often is such a feat?
Caray: Couldn't you have saved that cash for tonight? Hold 'em is the game, by the way. That work for everyone?
Banks: Let's play two!
Caray: Ernie, we're playing poker.
Banks: Let's play two!
Hendry: I'll raise $463 million.
Sianis: He hasn't even dealt the cards yet.
Bartman: It's OK to make a mistake, Jim.
Sianis: Get me a beer.
Bartman: Yes, sir.
Sianis: One mistake is fine. What about re-signing Aramis Ramirez to a five-year, $75 million deal, then bringing on Soriano, without considering that two players with career on-base percentages around .330 do not jibe with potent run-scoring? What about relying on a pitching rotation with Carlos Zambrano, whatever is left of Mark Prior's arm, an anomaly in Rich Hill, maybe an overpriced free agent like Gil Meche and Glendon Rusch, Sean Marshall, Wade Miller, Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol or Angel Guzman at the back end? What about stacking a lineup with so many righties its flagship ought to change from WGN to Fox News?
Caray: Holy cow!
Sianis: That's right!
Caray: No, Sosa just stuck a needle in his arm!
Sosa: All in!
Faceless Tribune Suit: Flay the GM if you please, but just know that Soriano's VORP this season ranked 33rd among major leaguers, and his EQA was .306, and his WARP3 was 10.2, and his …
Caray: Have you, um … you know … you and a woman … ever …
Bartman: I know the feeling, man.
Banks: Come on, guys! I thought everyone here bleeds blue!
Sosa pulls the needle out of his arm.
Sosa: Sorry, Ernie, I bleed red.
Banks: These signings are a good thing! There were empty seats at Wrigley toward the end of last season! Fans grew disenchanted!
Caray: The only reason people go to Wrigley is to drink.
Banks: That's not the point! The Cubs need to be good! If they finish in last place again, I might just stop using all these exclamation points! And Jim here – well, he just wants to save his job!
Hendry: I'll raise the gross national product of Akron.
Sianis: Akron is a city. I swear, if I have to spend one more minute around this guy …
Faceless Tribune Suit: We have as much confidence in Jim as we do in the last two editors of the Los Angeles Times.
Faceless Tribune Suit: Look, this is the climate of baseball today. Big money comes in, big money gets spent. Our payroll is at $112 million. If we sign a starting pitcher, it will jump into the $120 million range. If we go after Cliff Floyd, too, it could get to $130 million. It's not like we're the only ones. The Yankees are there. So are the Red Sox. The Mets, Angels and White Sox topped $100 million last year, and by the end of the winter, the Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Mariners and Orioles could exceed nine figures. That's 11 teams that could be over $100 million.
There's a knock at the door.
Soriano: Did someone say there was a poker game tonight?
Caray: Holy cow!
Sosa: No hablo inglés, Alfonso.
Hendry: Last chance, Sammy: I'll bring you back for two years, $326 billion.
Bartman: And people wonder why I haven't gone back to Wrigley.