THE CHICAGO Cubs, it appears, have a severe case of buyer's remorse. When they signed free-agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano before the 2007 season, they thought they were getting a 40-40 player for their $136 million investment.
Well, it hasn't turned out that way. He's been hurt. He's become a defensive liability. He seems comfortable only batting leadoff. In short, he hasn't come close to living up to the gigantic expectations that his equally gigantic contract created.
Which takes us back to a series of balmy November days in 2006. At the general managers' meetings in Naples, Fla., a handful of teams had serious, active interest in making Soriano wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
And the Phillies were one of them.
This, remember, was before the 2007 finish that broke a 14-year playoff drought, before last year's exhilarating run to the world championship. This was back at a point when they weren't known for big, bold offers to free agents.
The rumor was that the Phillies might be willing to consider a deal in the $100 million range. And, yes, they were disappointed when the Cubs blew everybody out of the water.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see how lucky they were.
While there's no way of knowing exactly how the script might have played out had Soriano chosen red pinstripes, one thing can be said with absolute certainty: The money that would have been funneled to him would not have been available to spend elsewhere.
Since then, they've tied up Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels with multiyear deals. They made midseason trades that added significant contracts for Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton and Kyle Lohse. They increased the payroll when they acquired Brad Lidge.
They've signed free agents (Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz, Chan Ho Park) to plug holes. They've been able to keep virtually every potential free agent and arbitration-eligible player they've wanted to. And now they're well on their way to their third straight division title.
It's not a stretch to suggest that, had they signed Soriano, they wouldn't have been able to do much of that. And that, as a result, things wouldn't have worked out nearly as well.
Once again, all together now: Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make.
*If Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez denies Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols the Triple Crown by winning the batting title this year, Pujols might have only himself to blame. Ramirez wrote in his blog that, during an encounter at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., last spring, Pujols gave him some tips on improving his situational hitting that have really paid off.
* Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is peeved that general manager Bill Smith hasn't taken advantage of expanded rosters to provide replacements for injured players as Minnesota tries to keep its playoff hopes alive. "Was there any talk? Yes. Was there any talk squelched? Yes. End of story. Squelched," he said.
* About 30,000 Derek Jeter T-shirts were sold at Yankee Stadium Friday night when he broke Lou Gehrig's franchise record for hits.
* Going into last night's game, former Phillie Pat Burrell was batting .228 with 14 homers and 62 RBI in his first season for the Rays. And he's not happy about it. He told the St. Petersburg Times it's been "frustrating and embarrassing." He added, "It's just plain and simple not good enough, that's the way I look at it. You can get creative with other words and stuff, but at the end of the day, you just haven't done good enough . . . And that's a [rotten] feeling."
For Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. His 3-year, $42 million contract extension kicks in next season, but Jones said he'll walk at the end of 2010 if he has another down year.
"I'm certainly not going to stick around for a big contract if I'm not having fun and producing," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'm not going to hamstring the club with the money I'm making, and I'm not going to be happy being a mediocre player.
"Contract status is not going to dictate how long I play. The day I become mediocre on a regular basis, I'm probably going to ride off into the sunset. Because I don't have fun playing at the level I'm playing right now."
We'll see what happens, but the sentiment, at least, is refreshing.
To the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano. Alfonso Soriano isn't the only big-ticket item who has come up small for the North Siders. Zambrano and Milton Bradley also have been expensive disappointments.
For the first time, GM Jim Hendry isn't denying that he'd like to trade Zambrano, who is squandering some of the best talent in baseball. But a trade might be impossible, since he's still owed $54 million through 2012 plus a vesting option for 2013.
Big Z said he doesn't care about the speculation, adding, "If the Cubs want to trade me, it's because they don't like me anymore."
This from a guy who skipped a team charter on his birthday, was suspended six games for "inappropriate and violent actions" and spent time on the disabled list with a chronic back condition that he acknowledged was a result of being lazy ... and then was spotted playing softball while still on the DL.
Gee, what's not to like?
BY THE NUMBERS
17: Straight games in which Pirates pitching has allowed at least one HR.
38,214: Attendance for the Marlins game at Land Shark Stadium Saturday on University of Miami Night. It was Florida's third largest crowd of the season ... which is still more than 6,000 fewer than the Phillies' average attendance.
Beginning tonight in Atlanta, the Phillies have 17 games left. And for the last two seasons, they've gone 13-4 in that portion of the schedule. Since their next two series are against the Braves and Marlins, a similar spurt this season would eliminate any longshot possibility that their two closest division pursuers might catch them.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Former Twins star Kent Hrbek, on why he won't be in attendance for every game at the bar that will be named after him at new Target Field next year, unlike Boog Powell who is always at Boog's Barbecue for Orioles games in Baltimore: "He [Powell] doesn't have 10,000 lakes he needs to fish."
DILEMMA OF THE WEEK: New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro posed an interesting proposition recently, comparing the Mets' collapses in 2007 and 2008 with a season in which they were out of the running early.
"The Mets are spending this weekend playing the Phillies down at Citizens Bank Park, an event you recognize only if you happen to be a) Jerry Manuel; b) Charlie Manuel; c) authoring a manual on how to endure brain-numbingly irrelevant baseball games on the opening weekend of the football season and the closing weekend of the U.S. Open," he wrote.
"And it certainly begs a question. Which is worse:
"Having your heart stomped on, trampled by muddy spikes and battered by nerve-racking angst?
"Or being invisible, indifferent and irrelevant?"
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Rockies are winless in their last 10 games when facing a lefthanded starter. Is it any wonder they'd rather play the Cardinals than the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs?
TRADE REVIEW OF THE WEEK: It takes years to fully evaluate a trade, of course, but Indians fans aren't happy about the early returns of the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Phillies 2 days before the deadline.
To recap, going into last night's game at Oakland: Righthander Carlos Carrasco was 0-2, 9.64 and had allowed six homers in 14 innings, catcher Lou Marson was batting .154 in four starts, infielder Jason Donald ended the year on the disabled list at Triple A Columbus and Jason Knapp had shoulder surgery this week.
Late last season, the Dodgers started playing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " at home games when they trailed going into the bottom of the eighth. And while the band's former lead singer, Steve Perry, thinks that's a totally appropriate use for the song, it still bugs him so much that he has to leave games at Dodger Stadium before it comes on.
Why? Because he's a huge Giants fan.