The Chicago Cubs are making headlines this offseason - there's no doubt about that. The hoopla started when they signed Lou Pinella to manage the club, and peaked with the recent signing of Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million contract.
The Cubs have yet to sign a new starting pitcher and have yet to play a game under Pinella with their newly revamped lineup, but already they are being called contenders.
Anyone else think this is just a tad premature?
What the Cubs have successfully done this offseason is convince everyone in baseball that they don't want to be losers anymore. Soriano could have a great season, or he could flop - but the Cubs aren't afraid to spend the money it takes to get the big names, and this method is what lures other talented players. Toronto did this last winter - then they finished better than the Red Sox and have since added Frank Thomas to the lineup in an attempt to prove once again that they want to win.
Someone was going to sign Soriano and someone was going to pay big for it; so why not the Cubs?
But if we've learned anything from the 2006 season, it is that a potent lineup composed of million-dollar bats can't carry an entire team. The Yankees had the "best lineup in baseball" last season, as every single announcer felt compelled to remind viewers at every possible opportunity. Jim Leyland was openly terrified of the kind of offensive damage that the Bronx Bombers were likely to unleash on to his Tigers - and look what happened:
All those all-stars, all those big bats... and all those zeros.
Even if the Cubs do sign a solid starting pitcher, they still won't have the kind of rotation depth that wins World Series rings. Even more alarming is that Soriano was signed to play center field - and there is a chance that he may not be good there.
So, to get things straight: A team that won 66 games last season, a team with a solid lineup and one outstanding pitcher - this team signs a star player to play an unfamiliar position and is suddenly a contender? Sure, they would only need to win 21 more games in 2007 to equal the Cardinals' total from last season, and so maybe they will come a little closer to being division champs. But rarely does one offseason provide the kind of total turnaround that a team like the Cubs needs, and I think this year is no exception.
The Cubs have made things interesting; they have given their division a little more competition, and they have assured that they will be better than they were last year. But with so many teams and so few spots in the postseason, I think we should let the games begin before we bestow the title of contender upon this team...no matter how hard they try to buy it.