White Sox

With Soler and the draft, Cubs in the market for game-changers

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With Soler and the draft, Cubs in the market for game-changers

SAN FRANCISCO Jason McLeod put it this way: Youd be lying if you didnt say that everyones looking for a loophole somewhere in the collective bargaining agreement.

The new labor deal will severely limit how much the Cubs head of scouting and player development can spend in the draft. Theo Epstein cant use the same Boston Red Sox playbook, paying over slot for those perceived to be difficult to sign and showing two-sport athletes the money.

But the entire industry knew there would be one last talent grab: An international player signed before July 2 wouldnt count against the cap.

And so begins the Jorge Soler sweepstakes, with FOX Sports first reporting on Saturday that the 20-year-old Cuban defector had been cleared by the U.S. Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent.

That loophole could create a bidding war. But the buzz about the Cubs and Soler was so strong during spring training that general manager Jed Hoyer called the rumors of a done deal completely bogus with no merit.

Around last Thanksgiving, Hoyer, McLeod and Epstein were among a group of Cubs talent evaluators who traveled to the Dominican Republic, where Soler was trying to establish residency.

Manager Dale Sveum watched video of Soler and came away impressed with the young outfielders bat speed and ability to drive the ball, comparing him favorably to Yoenis Cespedes.

Thats the first time Ive heard (Solers) name in quite awhile, Dale Sveum said Saturday. Now youll probably start hearing a lot more about him.

The Cubs were in on Yoenis Cespedes last winter, until the Oakland As closed with a four-year, 36 million contract. The Cubs were comfortable with the money, but wanted it spread over a longer timeframe. Still, they felt like they were able to establish a level of trust with Cespedes.

The Cubs gave Gerardo Concepcion, another Cuban defector, a five-year, major-league contract that contains 6 million guaranteed. The 20-year-old left-hander is 1-4 with a 7.24 ERA through eight starts at Class-A Peoria.

Several team officials have connections in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and relationships could matter there. The Soler chase will only add to the sense of urgency as the Cubs gear up for the amateur draft that begins on Monday.

For what its worth, Sveum preferred Carlos Correa a 6-foot-4-inch, 190-pound shortstop from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy over Soler. Sveum threw batting practice to Correa during a workout at Wrigley Field and was reminded of a young Alex Rodriguez. Why not both?

The Cubs hold the sixth overall pick, and five selections within the first 101 spots. This is the scouting contest they keep talking about.

Every team has set aside some time to think through how theyre drafting differently, Epstein said. It effects how we approach sign-ability, gathering sign-ability information, how we allocate our resources in terms of who well scout and how often, that type of thing. But I think its the same for all 30 clubs. Its a level-playing field.

Last year Jim Hendry, the general manager at the time, consulted with chairman Tom Ricketts and they decided to make a major investment in the draft.

The Cubs committed around 12 million in bonuses to their draft class, which essentially doubled the amount from the previous year. That figure exceeded what the organization spent in the previous two drafts combined.

You can be certain that Epstein and the Cubs would have spent far more than 12 million in the 2012 draft if the labor deal hadnt imposed a cap-and-tax system. According to Baseball America, their aggregate signing bonus pool will be 7,933,900.

Twenty years ago, a high school shortstop from Michigan fell to the New York Yankees at No. 6, and that put Derek Jeter on the path toward Cooperstown.

Ten years ago, the Kansas City Royals took Zack Greinke sixth overall and watched him deal with social anxiety disorder before emerging as a Cy Young Award winner.

The Cubs have to be thinking big here, and with Soler, because they know whats coming, and how far they still have to go before they get to October.

Now that weve been through spring training and I have gone out to see a couple of our affiliates, McLeod said, we definitely feel like theres a need for impact in the organization. One thing that we know is you need power pitching. You need impact players to get into the postseason and go deep into the postseason.

It takes a little bit of time to acquire those guys from different avenues, whether it be trades or major-league free agency (and) certainly the draft and the international market. Thats something were going to try to do. Again, its that word of impact. Thats what were looking to get.

You can't script this: Eloy Jimenez smacks game-winning homer in first game at Wrigley Field

You can't script this: Eloy Jimenez smacks game-winning homer in first game at Wrigley Field

Had this been the scripted outcome, it would've sounded a little too cheesy.

But in reality, it was a moment that got White Sox fandom as excited as the dude rounding the bases.

Eloy Jimenez, playing in his first game at Wrigley Field nearly two years after the Cubs traded him to the White Sox, smacked a game-winning homer off Pedro Strop in the ninth inning, breaking a 1-all tie and giving the South Siders a 3-1 victory in the first Crosstown game of the 2019 season.

Jimenez had been asked countless times about what it would be like to play in the park he long assumed would be the one where he played his big league games. And he expressed excitement, though committed to saying it would be like any other game.

It wasn't.

Jimenez had a disappointing outcome in his first at-bat of the evening, ending a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the first inning with a double play. He singled and walked in later plate appearances, but nothing was anywhere near as dramatic as his trip to the plate in the ninth. He hit Strop's pitch so hard it sounded like he broke his bat. The ball still ended up in the left-field bleachers.

One ninth-inning blast in June 2019 won't rip the rebuilding White Sox contention window open immediately, but what an image of rebuilding progress it was, with Jimenez, the middle-of-the-order centerpiece for the next decade, blasting a game-winner against the Crosstown-rival Cubs.

Jimenez's permanent smile was indeed present as he rounded the bases, made even bigger by his Tuesday night heroics. The White Sox are hoping they were the first of many.

 

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's that time again: Ricky's Boys vs The North Siders

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's that time again: Ricky's Boys vs The North Siders

Ozzie Guillén and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on a special Crosstown edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: