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Funny money (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday November 21, 2006 1:07PM; Updated: Tuesday November 21, 2006 1:23PM
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Aramis Ramirez signed a $73 million deal to stay with the Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez signed a $73 million deal to stay with the Cubs.
John Biever/SI

I say this with authority, since I grew up in Chicago and since most of my childhood friends are stupidly loyal Cubs fans. They blindly cheer the team down every dark alley it leads them. They don't boycott the Cubs. They don't boycott WGN. They don't boycott the Chicago Tribune, despite having a perfectly decent alternative in the Chicago Sun-Times. They don't switch allegiance to the White Sox, who won the 2005 World Series and were in the hunt in 2006 until the final week. Cubs fans are enablers. They show up, win or lose, shell out their dollars, and enable the team to be bad and the Tribune Company to be a bad caretaker of their dreams.

Now, finally, the team is shelling out dollars of its own. Mind you, the Tribune Company won't still be in the picture when Soriano, at age 39, is collecting his last $17 mill. It probably won't even be around to pay the last year of Piniella's salary. They're painting the house before selling it. Or, to put it in a slightly more cynical way, they're putting very expensive lipstick on a pig.

Soriano put up some great numbers last year with the Washington Nationals (46 homers, 41 stolen bases, 41 doubles, 95 RBIs) but he's not without flaws. A natural second baseman, he committed a league-leading 11 errors in left field last year and struck out 160 times. The Cubs are talking about playing Soriano in center, where he's never played, and batting him leadoff despite a weak lifetime .325 on-base-percentage.

DeRosa, who's penciled in to bat second, struck out 102 times last season in 520 at-bats -- not exactly a textbook hit-and-run guy. Ramirez and cleanup hitter Derrek Lee will give the Cubs plenty of pop, but the real problem that Hendry has yet to address is pitching.

The starting rotation is Carlos Zambrano and a series of question marks. Wood pitched 19 innings last year. Mark Prior, once viewed as a Hall of Fame prospect, was 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA in just 43 innings. Rich Hill might develop into a legitimate lefty starter, but he hasn't proved himself yet, with a lifetime 6-9 record at age 26. Wade Miller? Glendon Rusch? Sean Marshall? Angel Guzman? This is a rotation capable of making it to the postseason? Please.

Here are my predictions. Cubs fans will again buy more than three million tickets in 2007. The Tribune Company will sell itself, which will mean a new owner for the Chicago Cubs and a real reason for Cubs fans to hope. Soriano will not stick in center field. And the team, struggling to break .500, will make it 99 years without a World Series championship.

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