The Cubs broke the proverbial bank when they signed pitcher Jon Lester on Tuesday.
What jumps out — after the fact that the 30-year-old Lester is a pretty good player (career 116 wins, 67 losses, 1,457 strikeouts, 2.46 ERA in 2014) — is, yes, his monstrous contract.
To wit: $155 million over six years, with a $30 million signing bonus, a no-trade clause and the possibility to vest into $25 million more in his seventh year. It is, the baseball experts tell us, the largest contract ever given to a free agent pitcher on a multiyear deal.
How many NBA-quality basketballs and bottles of High West double-rye whiskey a fellow could buy! But that’s just me. I’m sure you’re doing your own wish-list math in your head.
But beyond the funny-money part of big-bonus free agency for star athletes coming to Chicago lurks the critical question: Was the guy worth it?
You never really know for years, and as the market changes, crazy-sick money slowly becomes sort of, kind of, normal. Do you think the Cubs should have blown the Braves and everybody else out of the water back in 1992 and offered Greg Maddux — gasp! — $6 million a year for, say, four years?
So on we go with some other big-time free agents.
◆ Alfonso Soriano to the Cubs in 2007, with an eight-year deal worth almost $136 million. Maybe that amount trumps Lester’s deal, if you adjust for inflation. But I guess not because the Great Recession started right about then.
Soriano started out like wild fire. He hit three homers off the same Braves pitcher in June 2007 and made the All-Star team that year. He would go through wild streaks of productivity and then almost disappear. His hopping to catch fly balls was fun and ridiculous.
But was he what then-Cubs president John McDonough called a “six-tool player’’ (hammer, pliers, saw, screwdriver, etc.) — mmm, no. Soriano, now retired, has 412 career home runs and six kids by the same wife: Alisis, Angeline, Alisha, Allen, Angel and Alfonso Jr. We’ll give him an A-plus for home life. But the rest? Not really.
◆ Carlos Boozer to the Bulls from the Jazz in 2010, five years, about $80 million.
Booz never really hit it off in Chicago, although there were stretches when he was the only player who could score. His Rube Goldberg shot could be deadly, and he was a solid rebounder.
But his defense existed on another planet. Nobody was sad when he left town for the Lakers.
◆ Ben Wallace to the Bulls in 2006 for $60 million over four years.
The wild-haired center played hard, but he was never a scorer, and like so many big-time free agents, he was living off the rep he established elsewhere — for him, with the Detroit Pistons. He averaged 6.4 and 5.1 points per game in his two years with the Bulls, before being sent off to the hell hole known as Cleveland. He couldn’t get it done with LeBron James, either.
◆ Albert Belle to the White Sox in 1996 for $55 million.
Jerry Reinsdorf could never quite explain that deal, which made the wacky Belle the highest-paid player in baseball. Did I say wacky? No, it was worse. The guy showed signs of true antisocial dysfunction and even criminal danger.
“I’ll continue to be Albert Belle,” he said at the time. “I’m not going to change my personality because someone wants me to change.’’ Of course not.
He hit 79 home runs in his two years in Chicago and had an astounding 268 RBI, but the Sox went nowhere. His arrests for stalking his girlfriend and running down a Halloween trick-or-treater who had egged his house made the point about his alienated persona. The dude was troubled.
◆ Andre Dawson to the Cubs for a mere $500,000, plus incentives, in 1987. The outfielder gave everything he had on ruined knees, made the All-Star team and was voted the National League MVP. He was the first MVP from a last-place team. When the Cubs finally were good in 1989, Dawson was bad, hitting just .105 in the playoffs. A Hall of Famer, we’ll call him a nice value.
◆ Eddie Robinson to the Bulls in 2001 for $32 million over five years.
A waste, a slug, a (bleep), Robinson will go on GM Jerry (the Sleuth) Krause’s permanent record as an F-minus.
◆ Pau Gasol, to the Bulls for three years and $17 million.
Pau will be priceless, if he keeps his old body healthy and leads the Bulls to success.