Like a lot of teams this winter, the Chicago Cubs had a mountain of cash to spend, and not much to spend it on. So it didn't come as a complete surprise that they'd land the best free agent on the market; after all, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets weren't all that interested, so they had as good a shot as anyone. But the scope of the deal is staggering, considering the relatively tame recent history of contracts. Eight years and $136M works out to roughly $17M a year through 2014. Soriano will be 38 by the end of the contract.
Is Soriano worth $17M a year in today's market? Obviously the Cubs thought so, because they wouldn't have offered him the contract otherwise. And all it takes is one GM overrating a player to make a contract like this reality. Even assuming contract inflation, I certainly don't think Soriano is worth that much. He does have some things going for him: he's durable, he's finally an asset on defense, and he has the body type to age well. I'd certainly take him over any other position player currently on the market.
But being the best of a free agent class doesn't make you by proxy among the game's elite. Soriano finished 2006 with 48.2 VORP, just ahead of Ray Durham and just behind Robinson Cano. There were 32 players better than Soriano based soley on offense, which is Alfonso's calling card. Yes, he was hurt by the higher replacement value of left field, but he should never have been a second baseman in the first place. And 2006 was in many ways his best offensive season.
This contract signifies a couple things. One, the sport is flush with cash. The Cubs weren't the only teams with a serious interest in Soriano: the Angels and Astros also were in on him. And two, Soriano had everything fall into place. He became a plus on defense thanks to a position change, he had a very good offensive season in a pitcher's park, removing the questions about being a product of Yankee Stadium and Ameriquest Field. And he was the best position player on the market just in time for a drastic sea-change in baseball economics.