MacPhail's Patience Could Pay off for Cubs

Article excerpt

Byline: Bruce Miles

The most accurate word that anyone could use to describe Cubs general manager Andy MacPhail is "deliberate."

Anyone who throws out the phrase "due diligence" as much as MacPhail does isn't about to rush into anything. One can easily picture MacPhail at the grocery store checkout line mulling the choice between paper or plastic.

MacPhail's deliberate nature gets him into trouble with impatient Cubs fans, who want bold action and want it now.

But that same deliberateness may serve MacPhail well when it comes to dealing with superstar right fielder Sammy Sosa.

True, Sosa is heading into his free-agent season with the Cubs, and it looks as if a contract extension is nowhere in sight.

It's also true Sosa turned 32 years old Sunday, which means the clock is ticking on his career, not to mention his prime value. MacPhail knows it. So do Sosa's agents, who can hardly contain themselves in wanting a six-year, $120 million deal for their client.

Believe it or not, MacPhail can afford to play the waiting game, and he doesn't have to be pressured into trading Sosa right away if the two sides decide to scrap the contract talks once and for all.

MacPhail is attempting to put together a competitive team for 2001, and he needs Sosa's bat in the middle of the lineup. Remember, MacPhail's neck is on the line, and a competitive season will help the organization ease its way into 2002, when many of its highly touted prospects are supposed to be ready for the big time.

Sosa has said he doesn't want to go into 2001 with the contract situation hanging over his head, but he may have no choice. If that does happen, it will do Sosa no good to pout, nor will it do his agents any good to orchestrate the kind of commotion they orchestrated in June, when the Cubs nearly traded Sosa to the Yankees amid bitterness and acrimony.

The only thing Sosa can do is go out and have another monster season at the plate and set off a bidding war next winter.

The Cubs won't say so publicly, but one can almost hear them telling Sosa's handlers: "If you want top-end money, test the free- agent market."

Sosa may do just that, and he may just get the money. But teams already are backing off Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, and Detroit free agent Juan Gonzalez has seen his value drop.

If Sosa has a down year next season, it may signal that he has peaked, and the current Cubs offer of three or four years at $15 million to $17 million a year might look good in retrospect. …