Jorge Soler and the Perils of Fandom

Wednesday afternoon the Cubs traded Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for closer Wade Davis. The Cubs were looking for a closer to replace the departing Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis has been one of the best relievers in baseball. Davis going into the final year of his deal in 2017 had injury troubles in 2016 and saw his trade value diminish. Soler has all the tools to be a great player, but injuries and inconsistency have limited his actual production. The trade allows Davis a closing role on a contender and Soler a starting role to try to tap into his talent.

That’s the baseball angle of the Cubs/Royals trade completed at the Winter Meetings. This article is not about the baseball end of this trade, it’s about the attachments we all develop to the teams and players we love. As many who have read my work before probably are aware, I really like Jorge Soler. I have defended him often to those who feel he will never become a great player. People are probably sick of my assertions that Jorge can become an impact star.

The amount of information available to baseball fans in the age of social media is amazing. It is now possible to follow prospects from draft/signing through the minors all the way to the majors. When Jorge Soler escaped Cuba readers of this site and many others began speculating which team he would go to. I was thrilled when he signed with the Cubs spurning the Yankees among others.

In the past, other than an occasional mention on a broadcast or Vineline profile most people didn’t follow minor league prospects. I will fully admit before Theo Epstein and crew came to Chicago I rarely anticipated a big major league debut. Only two examples readily spring to mind, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Other prospects came with almost no notice, Corey Patterson or Starlin Castro snuck up on me.

As Jorge moved through the minors I eagerly awaited the minor league recaps with details of his performance that day. I followed through the ups and downs as Soler matriculated through the Cubs system. His bench clearing brawl in A ball, the injuries that seemed to follow him, and the insane hot streaks he went on as he helped win a minor league title in Daytona.

Following a player from the beginning gives you a different perspective as a fan. You feel more invested, like you are part of an exclusive club, buying stock in a tech startup. I was beyond pumped when Soler finally made his debut in 2014. While others probably hardly knew of Jorge I was locked in and full of anticipation. When he homered to dead center in his first at bat in Cincinnati I was hooked.

Georgie of course has never lived up to his potential in two full major league seasons. Still I was and continue to be a Soler believer even during the lean times. When the trade went down it felt worse than previous times a player I really liked moved on. Aramis Ramirez was always a favorite of mine but his trade to Milwaukee didn’t bother me nearly as much. It is part of the double-edged sword of this new era of baseball fandom.

As we the fans are able to follow players earlier and become invested in them from the beginning we will be more attached to them. The problem with that is, baseball is still a business and players will inevitably move on. It will hurt more when those players we watched grow leave for other opportunities or are traded. The question is, if players we have followed from the start will leave and disappoint us should we be following them from the start?

My answer is that I think it is worth it to follow prospects from the start. I followed the young core of this Cubs championship team as it grew through the minors. Kris Bryant from 5 strike outs in his first professional game to MVP. Addison Russell from trade piece to World Series grand slam. Javy Baez from inconsistent prospect to NLDS star. Kyle Schwarber from catching project to key World Series lineup piece. Anthony Rizzo from AAA swing adjustments to team leader.

So I’m going to keep getting attached to young prospects. Right now Willson Contreras and Eloy Jimenez are particular favorites of mine. Willson’s first game also was an exhilarating moment for Cubs fans with a first at bat homer. And yes I will keep an eye on those Kansas City Royals highlights to see Georgie's progress as a major leaguer. Because that’s what baseball is all about at least for me. The human stories of the players and the journeys they go on.

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  • I'm watching Jimenez, too.
    He might make us say "Jorge who?".
    Maybe "Jason who?" as well.

  • Nice article Sean. Part of the fun for me in being a fan is speculating on which guys in the system will blossom and replace someone at the big league level. We all have our favorites and ride with them through the good times and defend them vigorously. I have been very high on Jorge as well as Baez. It's been fun to see them make their debuts and then see their ups and downs. I still was surprised with the Heyward signing and was hoping for the MLB team to be made up one day of all ex-Cubs MILB players. I am glad you wrote this piece or being a fan versus understanding the business side and what might make the most sense for the big league team. Well done.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    It's still a possibility.
    Just need Hayward to hit better.

  • $82.5m. Dex did Ooookay!

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Agreed,... A guy can live on that kind of wage,.... :D

  • I hear ya. But call me an old curmudgeon, but my fanboyness for individual players only goes so far. I've always found the deep fondness that people have for Baez, for example, to be a bit peculiar. These guys are less than half my age, and for the most part are multimillionaires. I like them, but it's really the laundry. On the other hand, I have a very deep attachment to the laundry, so I kind of get it.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I thought I was too old to have a favorite player. However, when I took a day off of work and drove seven hours round trip to watch Javier Baez make his Midwest League debut with the Peoria Chiefs (a trip I would repeat as often as possible in those days as I knew his MWL days would be numbered), he instantly became that guy for me. His attitude and demeanor reminded me of my younger self and he played the game the same way I tried to play it as a kid.

    Some people believe that they have spirit animals, well, if such a thing exists Javy Baez is my spirit baseball player.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Ha! That's awesome. You're a better man than me. I'm a 49er fan. I really liked Joe Montana. When a younger, better, league MVP Steve Young hit the scene it was, "Nice knowing ya, Joe!"

  • A little off topic, but Dexter' s news conference was the best that I have ever seen. What a guy. He hasn't set foot into the Cardinals locker room yet and already a leader.

  • As far as Jorge goes, he is hard not to like, but he had more than his share of red flags. It appears to me Soler will need that DH to not only stay on the field, but also the be productive in a consistent overall.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    way.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yeah - he 'might' develop into a fair defensive LF guy at some point, but not unless he can stay healthy enough to log the playing time out there he needs in order to do it.

    In the meantime - he's a good guy, and was a good teammate, and I think he is where he needs to be to get the playing time to develop,... if he is going to develop beyond what he is now.

  • Very enjoyable read Sean, thank you. That said I'm probably a bit of the opposite from your perspective. Not to say that I don't fall in love with players, but it tends to take a lot for that to happen and I am rarely sad when those guys go somewhere else.

    Like you I've followed most of the Theo guys since his arrival, with so much of the best information coming right here. Living and working in the South I try to get to several Smokies games every year so I've seen most of our guys at that AA level of their development. It's fun to actually see them as opposed to studying numbers and get an idea of their on field identity before they make it to MLB. I don't necessarily become enamored though except in the way they may help the Cubs in the future. At that point I tend to think of them more as assets than humans and that disturbs me a little but it what it is.

    When prospects do make it to the big club I tend to pay more attention to the human aspect of the players. What kind of guys are they? What kind of body language to they convey? What sorts of instincts do they show in both high pressure and low pressure situations? What I really enjoy about that part of it right now is that I know that Theo and company already know most of those answers because while they're stats guys to their core, they are also brilliant managers of people and that part of it helps them with guys they develop and guys they sign. I've always kind of liked Rizzo's quiet professionalism going back to the bad times, I've enjoyed Jon Lester's work going back to his Red Sox days (my second favorite team), Travis Wood was a consummate professional and fun to watch play even though, frankly, he was never that good.

    With the young guys I love watching Kris Bryant but that dude is a freak. he seems like the type who was just destined for this life and that's hard to relate to and Addison Russell seems similar to Bryant in that way to me with his own spin to that profile. Schwarber, on the other hand, I loved instantly. He just seems to have a joy of the game that transcends even Bryant's and Russell's and he's been told a lot that he can't do things and overcame that. Heck, I still think he can catch but of course that will play out over time. On top of that he has the sweetest swing I've seen since Frank Thomas albeit from the other side. Baez is another one I gravitated towards immediately because of that joy and also because of a baseball instinct that you rarely see in a player and one you can see even through his flaws. Those are my two favorite Cubs but if either one of them had to go for a starting pitcher I'd be OK because I think pitching is the number one most elusive thing in the game. If I'm being truthful though if those guys were moved I'd whine about it for a while, heck I'd whine a lot but if the pitcher succeeded I'd be fine.

    In my 47 years of Cubs fandom I think I've only really loved a dozen players or less. Schwarber and Baez now, Kerry Wood, Ryne Sandberg, Joe Girardi, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks among them. I really liked Mark Grace but ironically I didn't like that he kept signing 1 year deals on losing Cubs teams instead of going to a contender. He of course did that eventually but I couldn't understand why it wasn't sooner. I love baseball and I like to see good baseball play. Most of my loyalty is to the team on the field as opposed to individual players. I want to win and if a guy helps us win by leaving I'm good with it. I liked Soler, but I think Wade Davis for 1 year makes more sense than a huge contract for Chapman or Jansen, but I do wish him well as i do Dexter Fowler, Travis Wood and Jason Hammel. Just a different way of looking at things is all.

  • In reply to TC154:

    What a great read and way to look at it. You to Sean.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    too

  • Honest Question:
    who would you rather have?
    1. Jason Heyword - will play 2017 mostly at age 27 - (minus 2016 avg value of contract) - 7 years 161 million
    2. Dexter Fowler - will play 2017 mostly at age 31 - 5 years 82.5 million
    I know it isn't quite that simple for all you finance geeks that will subract sigining bonus and then create an average contract value but it was simpler this way. Also, it doesn't seem likely that Heyward will "opt" out at this point. Fowler has a no trade clause so it seems like it is sort of a realistic comparison.
    We need to give Heyward another year of course as perhaps he just had an outlier campaign.
    With that said though, this doesn't seem like a very hard choice....

  • In reply to travelguy:

    Heyward, no doubt.

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    In reply to travelguy:

    Fowler on every day ending in Y.

  • In reply to travelguy:

    In 2017/8? Probably Fowler.
    In 2018/9 and beyond? Probably Heyward.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I would probably agree with this BUT I think it speaks alot about Heyward that he bought a house in Arizona to spend all winter getting his swing right & hired Bonds to boot. Doesnt sound much like a guy who just signed a $187 million contract, instead sounds like a guy who is wanting that kind of contract.

    Also if JHey gets anywhere close to his 2015 numbers over the next 2 season I absolutely believe he will opt-out. He will be what 28, that is right at the apex of baseball prime years. Plus he will have about $106 left on his deal (think on saw that on mlb trade rumors), I think it would be very easy to top that for a 28 yr old RF, Fowler just got $80+ million after only 2 good years. Love Dex but prior to the Cubs he did not have the track record of JHey, offensively or defensively. Also Harper will get $300-$400 million, I expect JHey to re-up somewhere in the $125-$175 range that will be chump change compared to that.

  • In reply to Ronnie’sHairpiece:

    +1

  • In reply to Ronnie’sHairpiece:

    They are both really good players and really good people to root for. I would be happy to have either or both on my team. There are fewer questions regarding Fowler heading into next season, so gun to my head, i would feel more comfortable with him for 2017 if I had to choose between the two. But beyond that I would bet on Heyward being the more productive player with more longevity.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Wouldnt argue in regards to 2017 but like you said beyond that its JHey

  • In reply to travelguy:

    Heyward.
    I like Dex but I think St Louis will end up regretting that contract. His defence will take a massive step back without Heyward next to him and given he's what 4 years older than Heyward makes it an easy choice even with Heywards contract. I'll be pretty surprised if Heyward doesn't bounce back to be a league average hitter next season and with elite defence he'll be way more valuable than Dex.

  • fb_avatar

    Excellent article, Sean -- really enjoyed it. Loved your comment above as well, TC!

  • Sean I am a big fan Of Georgie and hated to see him leave. I can't wait for Eloy, to come to the Big Leagues and I like Ian Happ.

  • fb_avatar

    I like to blame it on John Arguello. He made us all just too damned informed about all these prospects. We know their potential now. We know that these young guys have yet to reach their ceilings. Some of us just know that both Soler and Torres are going to be really good to great players.

    It's all John's fault!

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    +1

  • fb_avatar

    Great article! I sometimes wonder if Soler was brought up to fast. He was injured so often I don't think he really got the consistent playing time in the minors he needed and his major league action was never consistent. I wish him well in KC!

  • I was fortunate enough to meet Gleyber in ST this past spring. John told me where he was hitting and practicing. Gleyber signed a ball for me and was nice enough to give me a picture too. I fell in love with him; then pow!! - right in the gut, he's a Yankee. I understand the business, and we now fly a flag. I will ALWAYS root for these ex- Cubs and hope they do well. John is the ultimate matchmaker.

  • In reply to edubbs:

    Hahaha. Good story. I love hearing things like this about "our players". Thanks for sharing edubbs.

  • Sorry, I'm going back off topic. Did anybody else notice how much more fun Dexter was having as opposed to the two Cardinal stuffed shirts on either side in his press conference. I thought it was comical. Dex is going a welcome addition on the field, clubhouse and city. Maybe he can help them all get the burr out.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Sorry again 'going to be a welcome'.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Or the dour, no fun Cardinals could drag Dex down into their utterly black abyss.

    Good thing he has plenty of cash for Prozac.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    He seems pretty flexible and able to make any clubhouse work for him.

  • I can sympathize with everyone who will miss Jorge. I know what I would be feeling if they dealt Javy.

  • I still believe in Soler's talent and skill set. Admittedly, his injury history is a concern which bears watching. Nonetheless, I expect he will have several monster seasons with the bat, just not with the Cubs.

    Now I have to decide who my new favorite Cub will be...such is the process of being a fan.

  • Here's another take on the Soler trade. Worst case scenario of course is Davis breaks down and Jorge finally stays healthy for a full year, in which case at the end of the year we cut bait and find another closer.

    Best case is Davis does what he's done in the past and we go all the way or at least a deep run once again. At which time we offer Wade about 18 mil QO and he either stays for another year or moves on and we get a 2nd round draft pick. Now we've traded Soler for two years of Davis or one year and a pretty nice draft pick. Who's to say this FO couldn't turn that pick into a better player than Jorge?

  • I always liked Soler and hate that the Cubs had to trade him. But it seems to me that what Soler needs most is playing time. He missed so much playing time in defecting from Cuba, and then with injuries after the Cubs signed him, that he hasn't been able to fully develop yet. In order to develop and become the monster hitter I think he can be, he's got to play, every day. On this Cubs team, there's no way he can get enough playing time. And he's reached the age where if he doesn't get the playing time, he may not fully develop and reach his potential.

    My gut feeling is that the front office wanted not just to get a potentially great relief pitcher to assist in trying to repeat the championship, but that they know Soler has to play and that the playing time just is not there in Chicago. The only way he was going to get the playing time he needs with the Cubs was to send him back down to AAA, at least for awhile. I think they were trying to do right by their player in making the trade, the same way they did right by Hammel, by letting him go and become a free agent rather than pick up his option and then trade him.

  • Nice article Sean. Well written and I share some of the same feelings about certain Cubs players. As always, we appreciate the effort you put into these articles which always gives us food for thought on our favorite team.

  • Thanks for the insight. I think I would feel the same over either Kyle or Javy. Obviously Dex doesn't have those roots, and I had prepared myself that it was highly unlikely the Cubs would meet his new (well warranted) price tag ESPECIALLY because Eloy Jimenez is waiting - but I think I'll have a bit of emotion to get over the first few times we see him. He's the kind of guy you WANT to be on your team. Although I don't, I suspect that's a bit of your angst too, right?

  • So true. In all the years I have followed, before the last 4-5 years, the only Cubs prospects I knew about and looked forward to were Dwight Smith and Felix Pie! (Peeeee-a)

  • I understand the FO made a trade from a surplus for one I'd need, but I still don't like it. Soler wasn't able to have enough development time in the minors. He did have injuries which didn't help either. The team taking off kind of forced him out of the lineup also. I really feel like starting him at AAA this year to work on his defense & get some consistent ABs would of helped him tremendously. Almora is still unproven & Schwarber might not be able to stay healthy. Soler looked like he has put on mass & was starting to know when he could push his body & when to back off. Soler will always be one of my favorite Cubs bc he was always smiling & seemed like a great guy. As good as Davis is, he is still a rental. That's what makes it hurt more to me. After next year we will have nothing to show for Soler. Maybe he can reach his ceiling in KC then come back home as a FA

  • I'm late to the party here, but I really enjoyed your post, Sean. My particular loyalty will always lie with he 3 guys who came up when I first started following Cubs Den in 2014 -- Mendy, Javy and Georgie. Saw that Mendy got picked up by the Reds, and hope he finds success there. We all know what a physical marvel Javy is. Still,I have to say Soler is my favorite of the 3:
    1. His MLB debut was so unforgettable --3 HR's in the ffirst 3 games!
    2. When he was rocketing through the Cubs' system earlier that year, he hit .415 (I think) at TN. I know, it was AA, and he was there for less than a month,but wow --- .415!!
    3. HIs dismantling of the Cards in last year's NLDS, and especially his insane throw to nab Molina's backup (can't remember his name) at the plate, which may have saved the series.
    4. He was my son's favorite Cub -- my son was 5 when Georgie came up, and naturally we gravitated to the same player. My son has since moved on (no, he's still a Cubs fan, but now he worships Javy), but I'm --- ahem -- not so fickle..
    All the best to Georgie, and thanks for the memories.

  • ^^^^^^^^^WHS^^^^^^^^^^

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