The new collective bargaining agreement essentially puts an end to the kinds of bidding wars for young Cuban prospects that we’ve seen over the last few years, but those rules don’t go into effect for another month, so 20-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler was not bound by the new rules and was free to negotiate as large of a contract as he could get from big league clubs.
Today, the Chicago Cubs were announced as the winning bidders, and while the $30 million total price tag is not all that surprising considering what Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, and Leonys Martin received, the shocking part of the reported deal is the term – according to Jon Heyman, the Cubs locked up Soler for nine years.
Now, Soler is not a Major League ready player, and should probably be expected to spend most of the next couple of seasons in the minors. If he spends the first three years of the deal in the minors, this will end up just covering his six years of club control, and won’t end up buying out any free agent seasons, so perhaps the nine year term isn’t as surprising as it might sound. However, this contract structure sounds like it may motivate the Cubs to push Soler aggressively (as long as it isn’t harming his development, anyway), since they won’t have any kinds of concerns about service time leading to earlier free agency. In fact, if they can get Soler to the big leagues at some point in 2014, they may be able to squeeze out seven full years and some change from Soler before he becomes a free agent. He wouldn’t have to play all that well to justify a $30 million investment that carried him through all of his arbitration years and potentially even a year of free agency.
I’d imagine the contract probably covers this scenario to some degree, and we’ll probably see incentives that increase Soler’s pay based on when he gets to the big leagues, but this contract may make it unlikely that the Cubs ever have to go to arbitration with Soler, and that could end up being a significant cost savings down the line.
Because of the new rules that go into effect next month, this will be the last deal of its kind, but the Cubs decided to make the last one pretty interesting.
Update: It appears that the contract contains not incentives for arrival, but a total opt-out of the contract when Soler becomes arbitration eligible. So, essentially, the $30 million the Cubs paid Soler is more of a signing bonus than anything else, and makes this deal much more friendly for Soler.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.