Soler still important piece to Cubs puzzle

MESA, Ariz. -- It doesn’t even take very much reading between the lines to understand the value the Chicago Cubs have placed on soon-to-be free agent Jorge Soler from Cuba.

Just a day after the Cubs finished off a five-year major-league contract to bring aboard Cuban left-hander Gerardo Concepcion, attention has been on the Cubs finally completing another deal with Soler, the highly-touted outfield prospect.

Scouting, development and building from within are huge concepts when it comes to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. All clubs take it seriously, but Epstein and Co. are intent on going the extra mile in that department to set themselves ahead of everybody else.

Signing international players after the start of July this year will penalize teams more than it has in the past which is another reason getting a Soler deal done is a major priority.

Epstein laid it all out in a March 3 interview on ESPN 1000’s "Talkin’ Baseball" show, essentially tipping his hand at how important it would be to land a player such as Soler before the dead of summer arrives.

“The biggest obstacle we have is that there are very few opportunities in baseball to acquire young players,” Epstein said. “So you have the draft which is once a year and with the new [collective bargaining agreement] there is new limitations with how aggressive you can be in the draft. You can’t have quite the impact that you used to, but it’s still the most important day of the year.

“You have international signings and there are also limitations put in place. That will still be very impactful but not quite as it could have been in the past by just increasing resources put in it. And beyond that you have the opportunities to make trades and the rare free agent that is still 27- or 28-years old because most of them are over 30. We can think about it all we want to acquire young players, but the bottom line is that there are few opportunities to do it.”

Hoyer basically echoed the same sentiment on Sunday afternoon after the Concepcion deal was announced that changes for acquiring players are coming and a prime window is essentially closing. Epstein said the Cubs will have to adapt.

“That’s where we will do our damage by being well organized, having good ideas, working really hard and impacting players because the bottom line is that you can’t go out and buy young players,” Epstein said. “There are no opportunities to do that anymore. You have to make sure you’re better than the other organizations and finding it and developing it.”

So while the wait for Soler to be granted free agency continues, it isn’t hard to see that the Cubs will be huge bidders for his services. Unsubstantiated reports have already said there is a three-year, $27 million deal in place.

Perhaps another team enters the fray at the last minute to take away a guy such as Soler. But the Cubs are prepared for that too. You have to be if you want to be better than other organizations at finding and developing young talent.