Cubs

Kaplan: Cubs, Soler do not have deal in place

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Kaplan: Cubs, Soler do not have deal in place

After speaking with two highly placed MLB sources this morning, here is the latest on the Cubs pursuit of 19-year-old Cuban star Jorge Soler.

Soler has not yet had all of his paperwork approved and is not yet eligible to sign a deal. He is expected to sign a longer term deal than Yoenis Cespedes, who agreed yesterday to a four-year deal with the Oakland A's for 36 million dollars.

Soler is a definite project -- albeit a very skilled player -- but there is no chance that he will be making a major league team out of spring training. At this point, he is not yet considered a free agent eligible to sign with a major league team.

The top contenders to sign him are the Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Rangers and Marlins. However, several other teams are also involved in the bidding for him. He is close friends with Gerardo Concepcion, a left-handed pitcher from Cuba who agreed to a deal with the Cubs last week.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Co. have made multiple trips to the Dominican Republic to see Soler and the Cubs are considered one of the frontrunners to land him. In fact, the Cubs have spent time meeting with Soler's agent, Barry Praver, who is also the agent for former Cub Carlos Zambrano.

However, according to a highly placed source, talk of him already agreeing to a deal with the Cubs are not accurate and the reports from the Dominican Republic of a four-year deal for 27.5 million dollars with Chicago are ludicrous. The Cubs are expected to be insistent on a longer deal if he wants to sign with them, but the dollars could fall into that range.

The Cubs were very close to the A's offer in terms of dollars on Cespedes, but along with several other teams, were not willing to give him a four-year deal as opposed to a six-year deal.

Most teams that were involved in the bidding for Cespedes wanted a longer deal so that they could start him in the minor leagues and let him get acclimated to professional baseball in the United States. With only a four-year deal at 9 million per season, the pressure to push him to the big leagues would be very intense and could have a significant negative impact on his development as a player.

If he struggles, you have a major financial commitment to a player that isn't worth that type of money. If he is a superstar, he is a free agent much more quickly and he would become a huge financial commitment very soon down the road to keep him from testing free agency at the end of his four-year deal.

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.