Once the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, perhaps the best defensive RFer in baseball, the speculation about what happens to Jorge Soler began to circulate. It seemed only natural. The Cubs were still said to want a young, cost controlled starter and/or a true CFer. Other organizations looking for a RH power hitter, a commodity in increasingly rare supply, called the Cubs about Soler. Presumably they believed the Cubs had to trade Soler because rumored offers were numerous...but vastly underwhelming.
In an interview with Bruce Levine Saturday, Theo Epstein made it clear that the Cubs are happy to start the season with Heyward in CF and Soler in RF.
“We are putting our stock into his future,” Epstein said. “Barring anything [an overwhelming trade offer], he knows to ignore all the trade rumors and take it as a compliment.”
The Cubs understandably are enamored with Soler's offensive potential. The numbers didn't show it last year but only Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber had a higher hard contact rate than Soler last season (35.9%). And we started to see some of that translate into the postseason when Soler also seemed to find the disciplined approach he displayed throughout the minor leagues.
... it wasn’t that hard to scout the postseason and see what he did during a nine- or 10-game stretch. He and (Kyle) Schwarber were the two most locked-in guys we had. I love this guy’s future. I think his bat could be as good as anyone in the game from a power standpoint, as soon as he learns to loft the ball a little more.”
We talked about the potential monster lineup ourselves at the time of the deal and shortly afterward, when we talked about the benefits of keeping Soler and acquiring a strong defensive OFer (we used Jake Marisnick at the time as one example).
Defense is becoming more important as the Cubs try to round out a championship caliber roster and yesterday we talked about the relative inexperience of Soler and Schwarber in the OF -- and that they would both need to work hard on it this offseason and spring. According to Epstein, that already seems to be the case...
“As for Jorge’s defense, we have challenged him to get a little bit leaner and better,” Epstein said. “We want him to work on his jumps in right field, and that is what he is working on now. I just watched some videos of him training, and he looks great. He is down to 225 and is working hard on his quickness and flexibility. He looks fantastic. This guy wants to play. He did not like that when he returned from his injury last year he wasn’t playing every day. We loved the way he worked his way back into the lineup ...:
Soler has the physical ability to be a good outfielder. He is a good athlete with average speed and a powerful arm, but he did look a little stiff out there at times. Perhaps getting to the more lean, athletic build he had earlier in his pro career will give him the greater mobility he needs out there. He has to work at it, though. Defense has never come as easily to Soler as hitting has.
At the plate, Soler would potentially give the Cubs a 2nd RH power bat -- a luxury to be sure, but it is a luxury the Cubs can certainly afford if he can improve his defense.
And if Soler continues to show the discipline and power he showed in the postseason, the Cubs offense could become the most feared in baseball. What makes it even scarier for opponents is that every key member of this offense is either cost-controlled or is signed for at least the next 3 years.
There is a big part of me that really wants to see what kind of damage the Cubs could do with their current projected starting lineup. And as the baseball adage goes, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.
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