Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler has captured our attention for many months. As a supremely talented 20-year-old prospect who can be signed by any team, one whose path to the big leagues necessarily had a number of twists and turns, you can understand why a fan base starved for some positive news could be caught up in his story.
Thus, we’ve covered it – obsessively – here at BN for a long time. But many of you may not have been around when the story started, or may have forgotten all of those twists and turns, so I thought it would be useful today – the day Soler’s agents have set to receive offers for him – to put together a BN chronology of the story so you can catch up, or remember.
We first started talking about Jorge Soler all the way back on November 16, when he was but a mere interesting prospect:
While in the Dominican Republic to scout soon-to-be Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes, the Cubs are also taking a look at 19-year-old prospect Jorge Soler. The kid is consider a solid prospect with a projectable body, and, unsurprisingly, other big dogs on the amateur spending side – Yankees, Nationals, etc. – are interested.
And, as early as November 28, some media thought Soler would be signing soon (I didn’t know about that, but I did know he was going to get a ton of money):
Phil Rogers says Cuban prospect, Jorge Soler (the 19-year-old studly counterpart to 26-year-old Yoenis Cespedes), is expected to sign soon. By my reading of the new CBA, the spending limits on international amateurs doesn’t kick in until next year. If so, young Mr. Soler is going to get paaaaaid.
Soon. Ha. How naive we were. A few days later, the Cubs weren’t even listed among the teams most likely to sign Soler. Interest in the story waned.
A month went by before things picked back up, with national media putting the Cubs’ name back in the mix:
[Danny] Knobler adds that 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler continues to draw plenty of interest (he, too, is awaiting the official grant of free agency), including from the Cubs. Unlike Cespedes, however, I don’t necessarily expect Soler, who is a true prospect rather than a potential 2012 contributor, to sign right away upon reaching free agency. So long as he’s signed before the middle of the summer, his signing doesn’t count against the soon-to-be-imposed international spending limits. In other words, while he may not sign right away, he’ll sign at some point in the coming months, lest he see his bonus check reduced tenfold.
In a way, I was right about the Soler time line being drawn out. I just didn’t anticipate that he wouldn’t get residency in the DR for sooooo long. At the end of December, the Cubs signed a couple Cuban prospects, one of whom had played with Soler, and folks started to speculate that their presence could possibly help with the Cubs’ wooing of Soler. And then the Cubs dropped the mini hammer, signing Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion. It was starting to look like Chicago was where you sign if you’re a Cuban prospect.
But then focus shifted to fellow Cuban bat, Yoenis Cespedes, in whom the Cubs were interested. That story, too, had its share of twists and turns, and, at the end, the Cubs had lost out to the Oakland Athletics in mid-February. January passed without much to say about Soler.
And then things exploded in mid-February, right around the same time the Cespedes saga was concluding. It started innocently enough, with tales of the Cubs’ strong interest in, and pursuit of, Soler. Those reports included specific dollar figures that the Cubs were discussing with the still-not-a-free-agent Soler. I had some thoughts on those reports:
That’s not to say I doubt that the Cubs are very interested in Soler and are willing to spend handsomely to get him – I believe both of those things. I also believe that Frisaro has heard that $27.5 million number, and that his two sources heard it, too. I simply doubt that the Cubs have spread the word that they are willing to spend this very specific figure on him.
What’s more likely is that the Cubs and Soler’s camp have had discussions. Over the course of those discussions, many numbers have been thrown around, and a sense has developed that the Cubs would be willing to spend up into the high $20 million range to get Soler if that’s what it will take. I’ll even go as far as to say that, perhaps, now the Cubs are the favorite to sign Soler. All in all, it’s still a schwing.
As for what Soler will ultimately get, early expectations were in the $15 to $20 million range. With Gerardo Concepcion getting more than many expected, it’s fair to guess that Soler may get more than originally thought (indeed, it could climb as high as $27.5 million). It’s also fair to guess that, despite his not being ready for the bigs for many years, he might get a Major League contract, as Concepcion did. He has the negotiating leverage, and he may require a team to give him the big league deal (and the 40-man roster spot that comes with it) as a tie-breaker.
The next day, we all lost our minds, and I temporarily felt foolish for preaching caution when reports blew up that the Cubs had signed Soler:
According to the Tribune’s Dave van Dyke, citing “multiple reports from the Dominican Republic,” [the Cubs have come to terms with Soler]. It was a bit of odd phrasing, and an odd way to break what would be pretty big news (the Soler piece is kind of buried among an otherwise fluffy article about this Winter’s Cuban defectors).
BP’s Kevin Goldstein later added his confirmation, saying on Twitter that he believes the Cubs have come to terms with Soler, and will sign him when Soler is officially cleared by the U.S. government to execute a contract ….
One of the reports on Sunday had the Cubs willing to spend as much as $27.5 million on Soler – is it possible that the reason that such a specific number was mentioned was because that was, like, *the* number? Van Dyke and Goldstein have suggested that it is. On a four-year deal, I’d imagine that Soler would be getting a huge signing bonus (as much as half of that total), with the rest being spread relatively evenly over the four years.
So, how excited should we be? Well, once the signing actually goes down, very excited. Soler will probably be considered by most to be one of the Cubs’ top three or four prospects (and will be considered their top prospect by many). This is like picking up another top 10 draft pick in 2012 – it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t have an immediate impact, but it’s a big, big deal.
But, until the signing is announced – Soler isn’t even a free agent yet – I’m going to keep my excitement in check.
Ah, but my caution was actually correct, as the Cubs ran kicking and screaming away from any suggestion that they’d come to an agreement with Soler (which would have violated MLB rules and U.S. law). I did my best to sum up where things stood after a few days of rumors, excitement, denials, and spin:
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.
I still believe all of that, by the way. Keep in mind: at that time, I’m sure even Soler’s camp was expecting residency and free agency to come through at any moment, so they would have all the reason in the world to have “informal” discussions with teams about very specific dollar amounts. And, then, when residency came through, they could solicit official offers quickly, and they’d be able to sign right away (which, as you know, is what’s happening now).
… but then just one day later (February 15), the story shifted dramatically. And it shifted because the Blue Jays’ GM headed down to the DR to scout Soler in person – not something you do if you know he’s all but signed with another club. There was not reasonable explanation other than the fact that teams beyond the Cubs still had a shot at Soler. I was modestly bummin’:
There are a handful of explanations here that could be spun in favor of the Cubs if you were inclined to do so – maybe Soler’s agent put the call out to other teams to give them one last chance to blow away the Cubs’ offer, and Anthopoulos is just “making sure”; maybe Anthopoulos really wanted to check out the other kids there in the DR, and figured he might as well take another look at Soler while he was down there; I could go on with these plausible, but straining, explanations. It’s all possible.
But any suggestion that this is some kind of smokescreen, or anything other than another team legitimately devoting a significant effort to scouting a kid they might want to sign, is grasping at straws.
The Cubs might be the most likely team to sign Soler, but other teams are still involved.
At this point, I’d say it’s clear that, to the extent any “agreement” exists between the Cubs and Jorge Soler, it is an “agreement” in only the most generous sense of the word. We already knew it would have to be non-binding, and now I’d say it isn’t even a real wink-and-a-nod.
Now that it was clear that other teams were involved, and Soler was still waiting on residency, once again, things quieted down for about a month. On March 11, Phil Rogers reported that an executive from a team who’d been pursuing Soler said the drama was gone from the pursuit, because the Cubs were ultimately going to sign him (for an amount that blew away all other bidders).
Ten days later, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said that any and all reports of the Cubs already having an agreement in place with Soler were “completely bogus.” I offered my thoughts:
An awfully stern denial, if I’ve heard one – and I mean that sincerely. It almost reads as angry.
Recall, because Soler is not a free agent – indeed, is not yet a citizen of the Dominican Republic, as far as we know – officially contracting with him (or negotiating with him, unofficially) would be a big no-no as far as both MLB and the U.S. Government are concerned. So, this is very much the kind of aggressive denial I would expect, whether the Cubs had had intimate discussions with Soler or not. Until now, the Cubs haven’t said much of anything about Soler when asked for an official comment.
For my part, I still believe the Cubs and Soler’s representatives have, at least vaguely and safely, outlined the parameters of what an acceptable deal would look like if Soler were a free agent. I don’t necessarily believe anything has been agreed to, nor do I necessarily believe Soler is a done-deal to the Cubs when he does reach free agency. A lot can still happen, as is often the case.
Around that time, because of the absurdly long, drawn-out process, and because almost every story about Soler used the same picture, folks started asking if Soler actually existed. I put together a half-serious, half-joking piece confirming that, indeed, Jorge Soler was real (thanks in large part to videos tracked down by BN’er JulioZuleta).
And then, silence. This time, serious silence. Long silence. Folks asked about Soler weekly, but no one anywhere could seem to get a beat on things. April and May passed without so much as a peep.
Then, on June 1, we got a glimpse at why things may have slowed down to a crawl – a quiet crawl – when Edgar Mercedes, an important baseball figure in the Dominican Republic, who helped Cuban players defect, was arrested on charges of human trafficking.
But he was quickly released, and, probably-not-coincidently, the very next day, after months of silence, we learned that Soler had achieved residency in the DR, and was declared a free agent by MLB.
His agents spread word that they would accept offers for him until June 7 – today – and that’s where things stand.
Let’s hope this long saga, and the associated obsession, wasn’t all just theater.
As I’ve said before, I’m not sure that we’ll actually hear anything today, and possibly not through the weekend, either. The only meaningful date by which Soler needs to sign is July 2, so he could take a little time, trying to squeeze a little more cash or incentives out of the offering teams.
Until he signs, we’ll keep obsessing.