Cubs hitting all their marks in offseason

Cubs hitting all their marks

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Suddenly, the Chicago Cubs are like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- they always get their man.

The Cubs continued their offseason march of spending and acquisition on Wednesday night, signing left-handed starting pitcher Ted Lilly.

Lilly came at no discount price, receiving a four-year, $40 million deal. But the signing kept the Cubs' free-agent winning streak alive. They have now signed seven free agents in this offseason, most prominently, and most expensively, Alfonso Soriano with an eight-year, $136 million package, and Aramis Ramirez, for five years and $75 million.

The Cubs have basically hit all their targets so far, although they are still in the market for one more established starter. But when you are willing to spend $251 million for an outfielder, a third baseman and a pitcher, this is the kind of thing that can happen. It does not matter how long it has been since you have won the World Series. Your money is as good as the next franchise's money, and in these cases, more plentiful than the next franchise's money.

The signing of Lilly at these prices will raise some eyebrows. He is 59-58 in his career, while pitching for teams that were almost invariably contenders. He did have a career-high 15 victories for Toronto in 2006, but his career ERA of 4.60 does not shout "$40 million!" at the objective observer.

Nevertheless, in the current fiscal climate and with the current crop of free-agent pitchers available, Lilly was well-positioned for a windfall contract. And he got it.

Earlier Wednesday, before the signing, the Cubs' new manager, Lou Piniella, had met the Winter Meetings media. Asked about the possibility of adding Lilly to the Cubs rotation, he had made Lilly seem very much like Whitey Ford, or, closer to home for Cubs fans, at least Ken Holtzman.

"We are looking for starting pitching," Piniella said. "We've added some offense and some versatility. Now we are looking for starting pitching. And Ted is certainly one of the pitchers that we made a really nice offer to and somebody we'd like to see pitching in Chicago.

"He is a competitive guy. He likes to pitch. Left-hander, you know, he's got a good breaking ball, but the good thing about him is that he gives you innings, he gives you a chance to win, and we think that he would be a fine addition to our pitching staff."

And a few hours later, there was Lilly, added to the Cubs pitching staff. The Cubs, this offseason, have gone from perennial also-ran to dominant player in the free-agent market. How? They're paying the going rates and then some. And, they have Piniella's credibility on their side. He has been working the phones on behalf of the Cubs' cause with the free agents, and apparently he has been very persuasive.

"Part of my job since I've been here in Orlando is I've been a little bit like a college recruiter calling these guys," Piniella said with a smile. "But I enjoy that."

The Cubs of early December are a much more formidable crew than the sixth-place, 96-loss bunch that finished the season. They have aimed high in the free-agent market and they have not missed. In the race for Lilly's services, they outlasted the reigning kings of spending, the New York Yankees. The Cubs, in this offseason, are more like the Yankees than the Yankees are.

This is, of course, still a long way from winning anything in the 2007 regular season. But the Cubs are playing the free-agent game, spending the money, winning the offseason. If the Cubs are faulted in some quarters for over-spending, well, that beats the alternative charge of penny-pinching.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.