Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Soler Wind

Cubs rumors are flying all over the place over the last 24 hours.

The rumor most likely to have an impact on the team is the expected signing of Jorge Soler to a rather big contract…but I’ll come back to that in a second.

An interesting yet unfounded rumor circulated on the internet last night involving the renovations at Wrigley. NBC 5 reported that there may be a possibility that the Cubs are looking to possibly expand initial renovation plans and are maybe looking to find a place to possibly play their home games outside of Wrigley Field in 2013 and possibly could be preparing for the possibility of possibly playing their games at US Cellular Field.

If you didn’t notice, I don’t think there is anything grain of truth about this. In fact, the report, which I’m not even going to link, is so full of unreferenced rumors, speculation and flat out guesses that it isn’t really worth taking too seriously.

That being said, if the Ricketts family were to take such a dramatic step, I would fully support it. This would signal that a more piecemeal approach would not be an effective way of truly modernizing the ballpark. Unfortunately, the Ricketts family has never even given a hint of a possibility that this could happen.

I’ll write more about this at a later date.

The bigger, and possibly more truthful news, is that Dave van Dyke of the Tribune reported last night that the Cubs are on the verge of signing Jorge Soler and that his sources claim that the Cub are offering him a whopping 3 to 4 years at $27.5 million.

Most people are fairly convinced that van Dyke’s story is true, but reading it closely, I’m not sure that it really offers any more information that we had from previous days. Don’t get me wrong…I believe the Cubs are going in big on Soler and that they will eventually get him. The contract numbers are what are a bit mind-boggling right now. At the same time, other members of the media are starting to hint that van Dyke’s story is, in fact, correct.

While scouting reports are lacking on Soler, it is commonly accepted that this kid, who is only 19 years old, is still 2 to 3 (maybe more) years away from being ready for the big leagues. A 3 to 4 year contract would probably gain the Cubs only 1 year of Soler’s services at the big league level…but the Cubs would still have 2 to 3 years of control on him after that contract is over, so there is no reason to worry that he’d be a free agent and leave just as he’s coming into his own, if he is indeed a good player.

I’ve felt a 6 year $20 deal for the kid would be about the max the Cubs should go. According to this report, they may feel differently. They have already (and still unofficially) signed Gerardo Concepcion for $8 million. If both of these reports are true, we are seeing an interesting strategy unfolding with the Cubs right now.

With Theo on board, the Cubs were looking to start spending heavily on player development and try to spend big on the draft. In fact, the Cubs had already started to move in that direction during the 2011 draft paying pretty big dollars on players. It’s a strategy that high revenue teams use to make their draft much more effective even though they may not have any of the top draft positions. That strategy becomes much more difficult now with the new collective bargaining agreement where hard slotting will be enforced. Overpaying for players who were drafted higher than they should have been will be punished now.

So with the new CBA, it appears a new wind is blowing now and these Cuban players maybe showing us how the Cubs plan to change how they bring talent in.

International players, like Concepcion and Soler, don’t have to go through the same drafting process as American players. So instead of possibly overpaying players in the draft, which the Cubs can’t really do anymore, the Cubs are going to overpay for international players. It started with Concepcion and will also occur with Soler, assuming the Cubs do have a deal in place with him.

This really isn’t anything new. Teams have been overpaying for foreign players for years, but with the new draft rules in place, this sort of strategy is going to expand and it is a good thing the Cubs are spending money in this way. It is still cheaper than blowing money on 32 year old free agents.

Unfortunately, this strategy won’t be available to be used forever. One of Bud Selig’s remaining pet projects is to create an international draft that will likely have some of the same rules as the American amateur draft does. It will give each team an equal chance at signing these international players, and it will probably enforce a slotting system to prevent teams from overpaying.

When this happens, the Cubs will need to employ a new strategy to gain an advantage. But for now, enjoy the fact that the Cubs are overspending on these international prospects. This is a good way of building up the farm system and its still cheaper than overpaying for free agents.