They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Jorge Soler, however, is hoping to be both. Cuban ballplayers often score big in free agency — as their national system often gives them a leg up developmentally on teenagers from other international destinations. But with the impending change in how the international market will be governed, Soler could end up scoring bigger than most.
Billed as a potential five-tool player with plus-plus power and a very quick bat, the 20-year old outfielder stands out as a tantalizing prospect. It’s been said that he may have been one of the top five picks in last year’s draft, and since that was a loaded draft, the same might very well have been true this year. Assuming everything goes smoothly with his transition to the pros, Soler will almost assuredly be a top 50 prospect next season. Now, whether or not he eventually pans out is another story. Certainly, the track record for Cuban prospects isn’t one that guarantees success: The bloom is off the roses of two recent signees in Jose Iglesias and Leonys Martin, and guys like Juan Miranda and Brayan Pena never really worked out, either. Of course, none of those four came with Soler’s ceiling, but they serve as cautionary tales.
For reference, here’s a comprehensive — but possibly incomplete — chart of all the current Cuban-born players who signed as free agents, and the particulars of their signing:
|Gerardo Concepcion||3/11/2012||CHC||20||5 yrs, $6 M, $3 M bonus|
|Yoenis Cespedes||2/13/2012||OAK||26||4 yrs, $36M|
|Leonys Martin||5/4/2011||TEX||23||5 yrs, $15M, $5M bonus|
|Yunesky Maya||7/31/2010||WAS||28||4 yrs, $8 M|
|Aroldis Chapman||1/11/2010||CIN||22||6 yrs, $30.25M, $16.25M bonus|
|Jose Iglesias||9/9/2009||BOS||19||4 yrs, $8.25 M, $6M bonus|
|Dayan Viciedo||12/12/2008||CHW||19||4 yrs, $10M, $4M bonus|
|Alexei Ramirez||12/21/2007||CHW||26||4 yrs, $4.75M, $500K bonus|
|Juan Miranda||12/1/2006||NYY||23||4 yrs, $2.07 M, $500K bonus|
|Yuniesky Betancourt||1/26/2005||SEA||23||4 yrs, $2.826M, $1.31M bonus|
|Kendrys Morales||12/1/2004||ANA||21||6 yrs, $4.5 M, $3 M bonus|
|Jose Contreras||12/1/2002||NYY||30||4 yrs,$32M, $6 M bonus|
|Livan Hernandez||1/13/1996||FLO||20||4 yrs, $5M (est), $850K bonus (est)|
Soler stands out as one of the younger players among this group, but he’s certainly not the youngest. But because of the confluence of demand for his services, plus unique timing of his posting, he should go for far more. And he will go for significantly more than pitcher Gerardo Concepcion did before the season.
After scouring the interwebs, the teams mentioned as having interest in Soler are the Astros, Blue Jays, Cubs, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Red Sox, White Sox and Yankees. That’s a full third of all the teams in the game. Many of them have deep pockets, are keen to quickly rebuild their systems, or both. And we don’t always hear about every team that’s interested, so when we count the proverbial mystery teams, it’s not a stretch to think that more than half the teams in baseball have interest in him.
Guessing which team that ultimately will sign Soler with is near impossible, since he isn’t expected in the majors right away. He’s simply the best player available on the market, and as such, there is no team on which he doesn’t fit. But if Internet reports are to be believed — and they often are not, especially when it comes to a Theo Epstein outfit — the Cubs are one team that’s almost certain to submit a high-end bid.
Epstein reportedly saw Soler work out over the winter, and the Cubs fit the profile of a team that could use Soler: a rebuilding franchise with a below-average farm system and oodles of cash to spend. The team also signed Concepcion, one of the two prizes from this past winter’s Cuban market. There were even rumors in late March that the Cubs had agreed to sign Soler to a four-year,$27 million contract. Those rumors were obviously not true, but that hypothetical contract may end up being the floor for his services. That seems like a steep price, especially for a player who’s not likely to be ready for the majors soon. All three of the recent Cubans who topped $30 million — Cespedes, Chapman and Contreras — all made their major league debuts within a year of signing. But as the last international free agent to sign, that’s what he’s going to demand.
Soler’s agents have reportedly asked for all bids to be submitted by Thursday. Still, there may be more to his situation than meets the eye. As Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports, Soler’s agents still have some hoops to jump through. But apparently the items left on their checklist don’t deter them from soliciting bids.
In the past, certain international free agents have drawn bids from several teams. I’m not sure we can call them bidding wars, since teams may not always have the opportunity to submit multiple bids. But even if we can’t call them wars, they’re at least about to become skirmishes. Starting in July, the new cap on international spending will reduce the dollar values for the most highly regarded players. As such, Jorge Soler is poised to become a legend of sorts. The 20-year old might not yet be ready for major league ball, but he’s about to get paid like he is.