Where the Cubs Go With Jorge Soler

There’s not a single thing the Cubs need to do. They’re outstanding right now, and at a time when people can still buy Christmas presents without expedited shipping, the roster could be considered complete. Probably, the Cubs will come out of this offseason as NL Central favorites. From there, they could remain favorites, but I don’t want to spook any fans who might’ve become increasingly superstitious.

The Cubs could be considered complete, and in right field, they line up to have a 24-year-old Jorge Soler, a player they control through 2020, a player who, in 2014, was one of the three best hitters in the minor leagues, alongside two current teammates. Soler is dynamic and exciting and the sort of player any team would love to have in the system. Yet these rumors persist, trying to send Soler elsewhere. There’s enough smoke you sense there might be a flame: Soler might be on the move any day now. The Cubs would probably prefer a bit more certainty. Which means there are the potential makings here of a major trade.

This is going to be a big year for Soler, no matter where he’s playing. The facts of the matter are these: he had a better 2014 than 2015. He’s unusually powerful and unusually strikeout-prone, and he could head down some very different paths. In the regular season, somehow, he was out-slugged by Tommy La Stella. Then he reached in his first nine plate appearances of the playoffs. Soler can look like different players on different days, and because of the power and whiffs, he’s one of those boom-or-bust types. Teams lose their patience as those players get older. Peak Soler could reach as high as Giancarlo Stanton. Perhaps he resembles Matt Kemp or Marcell Ozuna in certain ways. And the downside looks like Dayan Viciedo. One year from now, Soler could have a lot more value, or an awful lot less.

He’s under control for a long time. Before this past season, he was the Baseball America No. 12 overall prospect, between Noah Syndergaard and Miguel Sano. It would be reasonable to think of Soler as still a prospect, with similarities to Javier Baez. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence both Soler and Baez have been included in countless trade rumors. Might be they’re not the Cubs’ kinds of players. Might be the Cubs like them fine, but think other teams might like them more. The Cubs could prefer less risk, and they obviously want to win right now.

I want to focus on where Soler could go. Again, one route is he goes nowhere. If the Cubs don’t trade him, he’s the right fielder, and he’s talented, and that’s the path of least resistance. If they decide they like his upside enough, he could bat 500 times, and he could break out. I don’t know if this is the most likely course, but I do know it’s the least interesting to discuss in December. What’s more interesting? Trades! Not so much trades like this:

The Cubs’ current focus is on trades for relievers, according to major-league sources — not high-end types such as the Yankees’ Andrew Miller, but middle-inning and setup options who would provide additional depth.

More like trades like this:

If the Cubs were to trade Soler, most likely they’d get either a center fielder or a starting pitcher with 3+ years of control. They’re comfortable enough with the idea of Jason Heyward playing center, hence his acquisition, but there’s some risk in paying a guy a lot of money and then moving him up the defensive spectrum. It’s time to speculate, with an incomplete list of targets. Emphasis on incomplete. These are some of the names that could make sense for Chicago.

One fit you might think of right away is Cleveland. They’re looking for outfielders, and both Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are under control five years. But there are issues: Soler might not be their type, and Carrasco and Salazar have recently been much better, and the need is more for a center-field type. Baez might make more sense as an Indians target, as he could theoretically move to center. Any package for Carrasco or Salazar would need to be steep, given what Shelby Miller fetched.

Tampa Bay has a few options. Jake Odorizzi has four years of control. Alex Cobb has just two, and he’ll miss a lot of 2016. Matt Moore has options through 2019, though he’s disappointed. Drew Smyly has three years of control; Erasmo Ramirez has four. Here, Baez might again be the better fit, as the Rays have a full outfield, but they’re not necessarily set at DH. You could see an attempted deal for Odorizzi, but as with the Indians, you wonder if Soler is the Rays’ type. If he doesn’t hit for consistent power, he’s not much of anything, and with power comes relatively steeper arbitration prices.

It might get more interesting if you look at the White Sox; Soler might be more their kind of player, and Jose Quintana is controlled five seasons. Soler for Quintana, obviously, couldn’t work straight up, but if the White Sox like Soler’s foundational skills, then he’d be a centerpiece. The problem for the moment is the White Sox have a full outfield, with Avisail Garcia in right. Garcia might be too similar to Soler; there’s big raw talent, and a lack of consistent results. Maybe that would scare the White Sox off.

When you get to the Braves, you think about Julio Teheran, who’s been the subject of countless trade rumors himself. Teheran could fit in a few ways: he’s shown good talent before, and he could be controlled through 2020. Yet Teheran took a big step back last season, and has major problems against lefties. Teheran, right now, is less exciting than Soler. He was still probably the better player in 2015, but Teheran might not be enough of an improvement for the Cubs to see something as worthwhile.

Now shift perspective and think about center fielders. Yeah, the Cubs could just sign one, like Denard Span. Absolutely. But that’s boring, as far as this post is concerned, so imagine some potential trades. There’s the possibility of a fit with Boston, who has Jackie Bradley, but also Mookie Betts. Bradley has the same amount of control as Soler does, and you get the sense the Cubs would believe in Bradley’s defensive metrics. If the Red Sox are still willing to think about moving Bradley, the Cubs could sell a player big on tools. This can’t be dismissed, unless the Red Sox just think they’re done.

A bold maneuver could see the Cubs try to sell Soler to the Reds for Billy Hamilton. In this exchange, the Reds would have to give up something extra. Again, Hamilton is a plus center fielder, but the Reds wouldn’t mind trading him for a power bat, as they have needs almost everywhere. It’s pretty hard to see past Hamilton’s awful offensive performance. The Cubs could conceivably tolerate it, with their strength elsewhere. They could bat Hamilton ninth and let him accumulate his value in center and occasionally on the bases. It wouldn’t be an immediately popular move, but it would be a fascinating move.

And through all this, I’ve ignored the obvious. The obvious move: Ender Inciarte. The Cubs seem like they’re in contact. It’s apparent they’d trust Inciarte’s defensive numbers, and since the Braves aren’t about to contend, they could deal with playing Michael Bourn until Mallex Smith were to arrive. This move would bump Hector Olivera back to third base, but the Braves right now don’t have a real third baseman. Inciarte, like Soler, is controlled through 2020. The Braves probably like Inciarte fine, but they might drool over Soler’s potential.

There’s another way it makes sense: as a defense-first player with a lot relying on his legs, Inciarte has arguably peaked. He might never be more valuable. Soler is a bat-first player, still a prospect in a way, and he’s still looking to get to his ceiling. Though both outfielders are young and talented, Inciarte fits the Cubs better, while Soler is a better match for the Braves’ timeline. Of course there’s no guarantee Soler hits, but Inciarte needs to be an elite defender if he wants to continue starting long-term.

Inciarte would require more than Soler, but maybe not by all that much. The Cubs have prospects they could stomach dealing, and Inciarte would introduce to the lineup a contact bat, lessening the overall strikeout-proneness. That’s something that greatly hurt the Cubs in the NLCS. An issue, without question, is that Soler is right-handed and Inciarte is left-handed, and such a swap would make the Cubs awful lefty-heavy. But they’re not completely left-handed, and they play in a right-handed division, anyway. Handedness is one of the last things to worry about.

The main draw of acquiring Inciarte is that it’s like indirectly adding a starting pitcher. Let’s say that Heyward is a +15 corner outfielder, and a +5 center fielder. Let’s also say that Soler is a -5 corner outfielder. Now let’s say Inciarte is a +10 center fielder. The Heyward/Soler combination, by these numbers, would come out to an average defensive value. Meanwhile, Inciarte/Heyward would be +25. That’s 25 runs of run prevention, which is like the difference between a decent starting pitcher and an ace. It doesn’t have the same individual-game effect as an ace, but it looks the same over a regular season, and it helps the back-end starters and middle relievers. Trading for Inciarte isn’t just about trading for a different skillset. It’s about reducing the runs allowed, with maybe only a slight reduction in runs scored. The Cubs are going to score a lot of runs.

I don’t know what the Cubs are going to do, and I don’t know what the Braves are demanding for Inciarte in addition to Soler. Maybe they’re asking too much, and maybe because of that, this just can’t work. Maybe the Braves don’t love Soler as much as you could think. The Cubs, thankfully for them, have no shortage of options to explore. Including keeping Soler for themselves. As I said at the beginning, they’re awesome, as I write this. They don’t need anything. They could use upgrades, though. And the more I think about Inciarte, the more I like it for both sides. Some people root for players. Some people root for teams. Right now, I think I’m rooting for a trade.

We hoped you liked reading Where the Cubs Go With Jorge Soler by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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cornflake5000
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cornflake5000

I know projections show the Cubs having one of the better rotations, but I’d feel a lot better if they could add a young #3 with #2 upside. They have enough depth to get through the regular season, but we saw what happens when you only have two dependable starters. Arrieta really tired down at the end. Lester can be run on. I get not spending $200m on another starter, but they have the resources to make sure depth is not a problem.

Dave
Guest
Dave

“I know projections show the Cubs having one of the better rotations”

Really? I think they have a ton of questions and the potential for things to go very wrong. Age, middling back end, Arrieta shot all his bullets last year, etc.

cornflake5000
Guest
cornflake5000
CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

I agree with Dave.

As a Cardinal fan, the Cubs starting rotation is what gives me hope that the Cards can still win the Central.

Not that the cardinals don’t have concerns. But, Arietta isn’t going to put up another season like last year (duh) and they will experience more injuries than last year (again, duh), and if a few things go against them like W-L in 1-run and/or extra inning Games, bullpen regression/volatility, then you can see where they want to add quality depth.

StL survived a ton of injuries last year and and thrived due to depth. Not that the Cubs copy everything the cardinals do (before someone suggests that’s what I am saying), but I’m sure it illustrated to teams in the central how you can survive injuries with depth.

We heard a couple of years ago that StL might have too much pitching. Ha. Well, you do until you don’t. The atrition rate is pretty high.

Drew7
Guest
Drew7

I feel like STL has (so far) a lot less depth in the rotation than The Cubs.

circlechange11
Guest
circlechange11

I’m not saying I don;t have concerns with StL’s starting rotation. There’s legit concerns, pretty much top to bottom.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Funny but I just had a conversation like this on twitter. Both of us are cub fans. He was doing the old ws is ours thing. I pointed out to him my worries about pitching injurys and depth. Of course he is young and way to confident to actually know.
I guess I will have to give him another 30 yrs to understand it is not that easy. We do have a hole still. We do have to hope to have some luck again in 16. Oh well.

cornflake5000
Guest
cornflake5000

By the way, did you read my *whole* comment, or just the first line?

Dave
Guest
Dave

I did, and ANY team would benefit from a “young #3, with #2 upside”. The Cubs may not get that however. I’m not saying the Cubs won’t be very good, their lineup is insane and will score enough runs for them to win a lot of games. But, if I was a Cubs fan I would be a bit worried that the rotation won’t hold up their end of the deal.

cornflake5000
Guest
cornflake5000

Dude… that’s what I said… I read elsewhere on this site that they projected to have one of the top rotations, but I felt better if they added some depth. I watched as they rode two starters (with Arrieta struggling) through the playoffs and felt like they needed to add two guys. Lackey is nice depth, and they may not need an ace, but I do feel like they need to add a talented guy. If they’re not going to buy one, with their resources, they have the talent to give up what it costs to get a younger guy. My whole entire point was that I didn’t think they had enough.

cornflake5000
Guest
cornflake5000

I’d like to apologize if my comments are coming off as bitchy. Wasn’t my intention.

recovering pedant
Guest
recovering pedant

It turns out you probably should have left off that initial phrase. What you appear to have intended as conciliatory appears to have been misread by others as your premise, which unfortunately led to them not reading your comment because they assumed they would disagree with you. Ah, communication. Next time, we’ll all do better.

UpNort
Member
UpNort

Reading Comprehension for teh win!!??!!?!?!

Desert Rat
Guest
Desert Rat

Would it make more sense to see what Schwarber can fetch? He did have the better showing last year, and has obvious struggles in the OF. He should be able to fetch a young starter who can be a difference maker. Or is he basically untouchable?

Chill
Guest
Chill

I gotta think he’s untouchable. He hit a pair of post season homers out of the building!!! Neither of those moon shots was his farthest of the post season! That was reserved for the missile he launched off Matt Harvey. Holy Cow!!! He’s 23. He might still stick at catcher, at least as a personal caddy for one of their starters ( if I was in the Cubs rotation I would beg Maddon to pair me with Schwarber. Sit back and watch the laser show:). I think Schwarber is probably as close to untouchable as they come. Maddon loves versatility. Theo loves winning in the post season, especially with mighty lefty power bats leading the way. My guess is that Schwarber is staying.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

I think Schwarber would be eminently moveable for the right price, his value may never be higher than it is now (like Inciarte). He may get exposed somewhat after some more exposure, and I’m not sure that “poor OF/possible C” would qualify as being versatile.

I don’t intend that to say that I’m totally down on him, think he sucks, etc., just that there is some downside or bust potential there.