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Given to Fly

December 1, 2006

Given to Fly: Talking Cubs during hot stove league season

TERRE HAUTE — The Chicago Cubs won eight out of 10 games at Wrigley Field against the world champion St. Louis Cardinals this past season. They won the overall season series 11-8.

That’s definitely as good as it got for Cub nation in 2006. Until the signing of Alfonso Soriano, of course.

Wrigley became a pretty desolate place late in the season. When attending a game in September, one fan was asleep in the front row of the sparsely populated bleachers.

With the Cubs’ two biggest rivals winning the last two world titles, an impatient fan base has become as frustrated as fantasy owners are with Bears quarterback Rex Grossman.

A Scarborough Research poll has shown that the White Sox’s success has made them the most popular team in Chicago, edging the Bears and the Cubs, a fact that will change if the Bears can make a deep playoff run.

Ownership has supplied general manager Jim Hendry free reign to spend, putting the Cubs in position to win the National League Central and regain that competitive edge with the fans in its own city.

Those critical of the $136 million spent on Soriano need only look at the market value of similar talents: New York Mets’ center fielder Carlos Beltran and his $17 per-year deal and incapable defender but big-time run producer Manny Ramirez’s $20 million a year, for example.

The Cubs paid market value for a five-tool player that may still improve. Soriano’s 167 Ks last year were a career-worst, making many say he’s not an ideal lead-off hitter. Well, was Juan Pierre? JP’s on-base percentage was .325 last year compared to Soriano’s .351.

Runs and RBI are the most important numbers. If Soriano can score 119 runs with the Nationals, he should help produce many more at the top of a Cubs’ order with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez behind him.

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