June 11, 2012

Jorge Soler-ing Some Grievances

* This originally began as a comment on the Trib's website until it quickly grew too long (shocking!) and I remembered that, whether it's writing them or reading them, comments on websites are ruining my life.
I love the Cubs' signing of Jorge Soler. Love it despite the fact that I have precisely zero idea if he will pan out. None. I've never even seen so much as a 3-second video clip of him playing, so I haven't a clue if he's actually any good. However, he was in high demand (generally an encouraging sign), and this is exactly the sort of low-cost move the Cubs should be making at this stage in the game: For about what the Rockies paid career-.345-wOBA Michael Cuddyer for his age 33 to 35 seasons ($31.5 million), the Cubs locked up Soler - even with the potential for the arbitration-based salary outs - at least through his late 20s.

There was, however, one thing I didn't like: the incredibly lazy and uninformed analysis of the signing in the Chicago Tribune. To wit:
"The Cubs believe Soler's age and talent level merit a longer deal than usual, and gives them time to develop him and still have six years in the majors before free agency. The contract includes clauses that allow Soler to opt for arbitration instead of his allotted salary during arbitration-eligible years, though he can't leave for free agency until after 2020."
I can't tell if this is just written in an unintentionally poor, misleading way, or if it's just blatantly misinformed. Because regardless of how long Soler is in the minors -- even if it's seven seasons (or longer) -- the Cubs would still control him for six more years before he reached free agency. Those are the rules of baseball, and it doesn't matter how long Soler's contract is, any more than it did for Jeff Samardzija, who didn't just become a free agent because his original five-year Major League deal expired after last season; free agency is still governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which says a player must have six years of ML service before becoming eligible. However, if Soler were to somehow make it to the majors say in 2013, he would be under contract and therefore unable to leave via free agency even after six seasons.
For the sake of accuracy, the last sentence should read "though he can't leave through free agency until after 2020 at the earliest." That might seem to be the picking of the tiniest of nits, but the contract is extraordinarily long because of its appeal to Soler and his sense of security -- 9 years and $30 million will tend to give one peace of mind -- and has as much to do with giving him development time before free agency as it does with Benito Santiago.

"The Cubs needed to sign Soler before July 2, when international signings are subject to a cap, a change in the collective bargaining agreement to level the playing field."
I know the Trib used to own the Cubs, but did the transaction with the Ricketts family stipulate the continuation of company-line spouting? The cap was instituted not for anything as noble as leveling the playing field, but rather to keep more money in the owners' pockets. In fact, it essentially gives large market owners a bigger advantage, as the international talent pool has been one of the only places (as opposed to veteran free agency) where small market teams could compete with the big boys (see Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Miguel Sano, et al). But why let the truth get in the way of a little bit of quaint narrative?
"The right-handed, power-hitting Soler is the Cubs' second signing of a Cuban defector in the last three months. They corralled left-hander Gerardo Concepcion in March with a relatively modest $6 million, five-year deal. Concepcion had a poor start at Class A Peoria, allowing 12 runs over 52/3 innings in his first two starts, but has improved since."
I suppose the last sentence is technically correct (as it would be virtually impossible not to improve on a 19.06 ERA), but Concepcion has been pretty putrid thus far. Now we're talking a tiny sample size of a young, inexperienced player, so I'm not saying it means anything; in fact, given the dollars involved, I still like the signing. But these are his numbers:
2 4 6.16 9 38 48 35 26 4 23 22
Concepcion has performed badly, with K and BB walk rates that will become especially alarming if they persist throughout the season. To imply anything else is not in line with reality, but at least the Tribune resisted its usual urge to throw dirt on any Cubs prospect with a miniscule sample of poor performance.
"Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were in on Soler early, making his signing a priority after missing out on fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's. ... Cespedes hasn't lived up to expectations yet, hitting .275 with six home runs while battling injuries."
I generally avoid drawing expectations-based conclusions from 131-at-bat samples that come two months into a four-year contract, but maybe that's just me.
"While declining to pursue mega-deal free-agent types such as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, the Cubs have instead focused on paying for future talent, a risky strategy usually employed by small-market clubs."
Yes, this is a truly risky tactic, unlike the safe, sure strategy of signing a soon-to-be-past-his-prime performer to a nine-figure contract. You know, low-risk guys like Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Barry Zito. Mike Hampton and Kevin Brown. Carlos Lee. Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Yes, those small-market clubs should surely stop taking so much risk on future talent and just go for certainty.

I also don't like the Trib's subtext here: "Chicago is a big market, they should be signing big-money players, not pinching pennies like the little guys." This line of thinking is utter bullshit, and is precisely what put the Cubs in this predicament in the first place. Major League free agency is incredibly inefficient, market-wise, and a terrible way to try to build a ballclub that currently has as few (talent) assets as the Cubs do. What would Pujols or Fielder be doing for the Cubs right now other than raking in ungodly sums of cash? Putting as much of their money as possible into the minor league system is undoubtedly the best way to rebuild; whether those players end up on the roster or are used as trade chips, it's a much more efficient way to do business.
I really can't describe how exhilarating it is that, for the first time in my life, I feel like the Cubs are being led by a capable group of people who really know what they're doing. Now if only I could say the same for those paid to cover them...

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