Late last night, and early this morning, rumors that the Chicago Cubs had come to terms with 19-year-old Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler on a four-year, $27.5 million deal made the rounds. The source of the rumors was an oddly-phrased, and questionable report from the Chicago Tribune’s Dave van Dyke, who may not have even intended to report a deal. But, after the Cubs’/Soler understanding was apparently confirmed by Baseball Prosectus’s Kevin Goldstein, it felt safe enough to report, if not to squeal in excitement.
You were cautioned that the Cubs “may” have come to terms with Soler, whom all acknowledged is not yet free to actually sign with a team. This, it turns out, is why you were cautioned that the signing only “may” have happened.
This afternoon, other members of the Chicago and national media have refuted the earlier reports, and even Goldstein backed off slightly from his previous statements.
Carrie Muskat called the reports of an agreement “premature,” and said that “lots of teams” have interest in Soler. Bruce Miles said something similar. Buster Olney reported that the New York Yankees have serious interest in Soler, and the Cubs aren’t close to signing him.
Goldstein suggested that his earlier statements were more of a reflection of his having heard that the Cubs made a monster offer, and that Soler’s agent has previously made these kind of wink-and-nod agreements. (This afternoon on a Score radio appearance, though, Goldstein noted that he still believes Soler will end up with the Cubs after all of the formalities are in place.)
CSN’s Dave Kaplan was the most definitive, saying “according to a highly placed source, talk of him already agreeing to a deal with the Cubs are not accurate and the reports from the Dominican Republic of a four-year deal for 27.5 million dollars with Chicago are ludicrous. The Cubs are expected to be insistent on a longer deal if he wants to sign with them, but the dollars could fall into that range.”
(An important aside: no one has suggested that the Cubs would even remotely consider signing Soler to a four-year deal of the unusual kind that Yoenis Cespedes got from the A’s (four years, with an immediate grant of free agency thereafter). Such a deal for a 19-year-old would indeed be “ludicrous.” Instead, Soler, even if he signs a Major League deal, is going to be giving his team plenty of control – he won’t be a free agent until he’s accrued six years of Major League service time, just like every other player. If Soler gets a four-year deal, he could be giving his team as many as 10 years of control if the first four years come in the minors (he’ll merely be being paid very handsomely during those four years). The idea, then, that signing Soler to a four-year contract is “ludicrous” because it is too short suggests a misunderstanding of MLB’s arbitration and free agency rules under the CBA.)
Where does the truth lie? Well, what do we know for sure? We know Soler is not a free agent yet. We know he may not even be a resident of the Dominican Republic yet. So we know he can’t sign a contract. That gives a whole lot of clearance for folks to say that the rumors of a preliminary agreement are not true.
I think it’s safe to say that the Cubs really want Soler, and have been in discussions with his representatives. Those discussions have probably not been merely preliminary, but have probably involved some very specific terms.
Indeed, I checked with a source who’s usually fairly well tapped into the amateur scene, and he suggested that he believes the Cubs and Soler’s camp have a non-binding, mutual understanding of what an acceptable contract would look like once Soler is eligible to actually sign one.
I can’t say with confidence that Soler’s camp isn’t still talking to other teams, but it seems safe to conclude that the terms the Cubs have thrown around have been sufficiently acceptable that they *could* represent a final deal, once Soler is cleared to sign.
So why all these staunch reports that there’s no deal, and a number of teams are still in on him, etc., etc.? One possibility is that those staunch reports are simply correct. That would mean my source is wrong, Dave van Dyke and the Dominican sources are wrong, and Kevin Goldstein is wrong. Very possible. It happens.
Another possibility? The Cubs are protecting themselves.
Consider this: Jorge Arangure of ESPN had an interesting take on the way these reports have come out today. He noted in a series of tweets that, with respect to the Cubs and Soler, “[b]oth sides may have a deal, but would now have to give impression they don’t because it’s against US and MLB rules. Teams have to be very careful regarding Cuban players. Premature deals can get teams in legal trouble. So basically, expect a lot of spin the coming weeks about Soler to Cubs.”
Arangure is undoubtedly right that an American entity reaching an agreement with a Cuban citizen – one who hasn’t even yet established residency outside of Cuba – would be a big no-no. Given that, imagine that you’re the Cubs. You’ve had advanced discussions with Soler, and maybe have even laid out the parameters of a deal. Now word is leaking that you’ve done this, and you are worried that it might be frowned upon by both MLB and the U.S. Government. What do you do? Well, you do your best to shoot the “rumor” down.
And, if you were the Cubs, how would you best do it? Well, first getting a couple local folks to debunk it would be a start – perhaps one who is seen by many as the media face of the organization (Muskat), and one who is a very well-connected insider (Kaplan). So you leak some information, all of which is perhaps technically correct. But that might not be enough. Maybe you decide it would be handy to have some a national angle, too. Given that you’d be in a position to know, if you had someone in the organization call up Buster Olney and tell him the Yankees are heavily involved, any chance he wouldn’t run with that? It’s the Yankees, for crying out loud. Buster knows where his bread is buttered.
So, within a couple hours, you’ve just bought your organization a whole lot of clearance. That’s just a theory, of course – one that borders on “conspiratorial” in terms of its believability – but I’d be willing to guess it’s closer to the truth than any other explanation for how things have played out today.
If the Cubs didn’t try to protect themselves, they’d see a whole lot more articles like this one from Baseball America, openly questioning whether the Cubs have violated MLB rules and U.S. law by coming to an agreement with a Cuban citizen who wasn’t cleared to do so. (For what it’s worth, my reaction to the BA piece and others like it: sure, it’s possible the Cubs have violated MLB rules and the law, but, like, do you really think they’re they stupid? There’s a fundamental difference between coming to an enforceable agreement – i.e., a contract – and coming together on a non-binding, informal understanding of what will probably happen once that Cuban citizen is free to contract.)
Ultimately, after digesting everything, I believe it’s more likely than not that Jorge Soler will eventually sign with the Cubs, and probably on a contract featuring terms that have already been discussed – if not explicitly “agreed to” – between the parties. Let’s call it 51%. But it could still be a while.
Without being a scare-monger, it seems fair to point out: Yoenis Cespedes was all but signed and delivered to the Miami Marlins three or four times before the A’s came completely out of nowhere and signed him.
Keep your squeals in check.