cheapest patch? duct tape.
IMO, Bestops are the way to go for replacement soft tops.
quadratec has the soft top advisor
to help you pick out which soft top you need/want. you can also buy replacement hardware from quadratec, without having to buy an all-new frame (which can get spendy).
alternately, check on craigslist and at various wrecking yards, places like Pull-A-Part or similar in your area. it takes some looking, but sometimes you can find gold!
after you get your top, do not use ArmorAll. i use Vinylex, which has a stupid name, but works great for my soft top, windows, aftermarket fender flares, and all other vinyl parts inside and outside of my jeep. Bestop makes various cleaners and protectors for soft tops and windows, and they're great!
hard top vs. soft top... depends a lot on you. if you plan on having the top down in the summer a lot, you'll need a safe and protected place to store your hard top, and vice versa for the soft top in winter. installing and removing a hard top is really a two-person job, tho i've heard it can be done with only one. new hard tops are spendy- $2-$3k. you can probably find a used one in decent shape, but again, it takes some looking.
hard tops will help keep your jeep warmer in winter, and will deal with harsh elements better than a soft top. not sure where you're from or what you're winters are like... i find my soft top is a-ok for our winters here in Seattle.
hard tops are quieter than soft tops, by far! especially at freeway speeds.