The picture above serves as quite the symbolism of the Cubs last year.
There were more empty seats than usual. Fans had empty feelings about the season and direction of the club. The players on the field were mostly empty promises that didn't exactly pan out.
But times have changed with the hiring of Theo Epstein and the activity thus far this MLB offseason.
One player left on the market that the Cubs have an eye on is Jorge Soler.
I'm on record saying that I don't believe the Cubs should sign the Cuban outfielder, but there are positives to signing him.
If the Cubs do go this route, here are 10 benefits of signing the 19-year-old Soler.
According to Baseball Prospectus Kevin Goldstein, Soler would be the 39th-rated prospect in baseball when he signs with a team. That would immediately put him at the top of the Cubs' class, ahead of the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson.
Rizzo and Jackson will for sure see the big leagues before Soler, barring injury. But Soler's upside is shown by this ranking.
It's hard to project how good a player as young and unknown as Soler may be, but it's always a positive when the Cubs' farm system begins crawling out of the basement of the rankings. It's better to have potential than an empty shelf.
The interesting thing about these rankings is that prior to the incorrect reports of Soler agreeing to a deal with the Cubs there was little-to-no information on the outfielder. Since then, many more scouting reports and details have come available.
Soler needs plenty of developing in the minors before he'd be ready to take Wrigley Field by storm.
The benefit of signing with the Cubs is there's no rush for Soler to come be the savior.
The Cubs signed David DeJesus this offseason, a position Soler figures to play when he fully develops. DeJesus has a two-year contract. Soler likely won't be ready in two years either, but there's still talent in the minors to suffice until he is ready.
Brett Jackson is expected to be called up in the near future to take a permanent seat in the outfield. Matt Szczur awaits as well, not many years away from being major league ready.
Reggie Golden is an emerging outfield prospect as well. Mix in the potential free agents that will be available by the time Soler develops and where the Cubs might stand before competing for division titles and championships, there will be no reason to bring up the outfielder prematurely.
And, not to mention the elephant in the room, Alfonso Soriano is still under contract until 2015.
If Soler sustains success in the Cubs' system, it isn't far-fetched to imagine him being one of the biggest recruiters to future Cuban free agents.
With his presence in the system, it would surely benefit incoming Cubans with a smooth transition.
Expect him and Gerardo Concepcion to have that impact on each other.
If Soler signs, the two could form a successful duo on the same path to the majors. Both are multiple years away from the majors, but don't you think it would be easier for each to have someone going through the same transition to share the experience?
They might not be a future star-studded duo like a Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but expect them to come up around the same time, and hopefully take their bumps early so they're ready to contribute to a championship in similar fashion.
Brett Jackson is the current player in the Cubs' farm system who is considered a five-tool prospect.
The more the merrier.
Soler is considered to be just that, having the bat speed to hit for both power and average. He's not only strong and athletic, but also flexible, which allows him to keep his speed. He has an arm that figures to be strong enough to man right field.
The Cubs have seen potential five-tool outfielders come and go as Corey Patterson and Felix Pie never panned out as expected. But Theo Epstein's scouting has a much better track record than that of former general manager Jim Hendry. Don't expect Epstein to invest in this player without a good idea of what he has to offer.
One benefit of coming up with five tools is that there's a lot of room to grow. If speed diminishes, there's still power and contact to build with. Perhaps the power never fully develops; the player can then be turned into a contact hitter who steals bases while playing solid defense.
There are plenty of ways for Soler to go with his tools. Hopefully they all go up.
Seagulls were able to fill the gaps in the Wrigley Field outfield towards the end of many games.
With an outfield of Szczur, Jackson and Soler those gaps are sure to shrink.
The three could cover the outfield pole-to-pole defensively while being plenty sufficient at the plate to contribute to championship teams in the future.
Szczur, a former NFL Draft prospect, has been fully committed to baseball for the last two years and the results are showing on the field. He hit .368 in the postseason for Class-A Advanced Dayton last season. Expect him to be called up sometime next season.
Jackson projects as the future center fielder with the ability to play any outfield position. His 20-20 potential is an immense upgrade over the aging Marlon Byrd.
Soler projects as a right fielder and could become an All-Star in his own right. With these three in a lineup surrounded by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, it could be a force to be reckoned with.
The uneasy feeling that comes amongst Cubs fans when the ball is hit into the outfield, especially left, would be erased with these three.
Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes recently agreed to a four-year deal with the Oakland A's. The 26-year-old becomes a free agent at the end of his deal.
Unlike Cespedes, Soler's contract would likely be comparable to a draft pick's.
While his contract might be along the lines of four years and $27 million, the service time wouldn't start until Soler reached the majors.
This means Soler couldn't sit in the minors for four years developing and then leave for another team with his money after the deal expires.
With that being said, Soler's contract would be much more than any draft pick before; but his hefty contract might pan out if you consider it over seven or eight years instead of just four.
Hunter Pence and Roy Halladay celebrate a victory
The Philadelphia Phillies have made major acquisitions in past years, trading for Roy Halladay and Hunter Pence among them.
They didn't come cheap.
The Phillies had to dry their farm system for these acquisitions. While they have current major league talent, their future may not be as bright.
The signing of Soler is a step in the right direction for the Phillies.
But if the Cubs want to compete in the National League, not only do they need great players, but they also need to prevent other teams from improving.
With the exception of the Yankees, none of these teams have a top-15 farm system, according to ESPN's Keith Law.
If the Cubs want to maintain an edge on these teams, keeping Soler away from them would be a good way to gain ground.
In years past, top free agents have looked in the same place when it comes to signing a lucrative deal.
Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Beltre picked Boston. Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon went to the Phillies. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson are taking their talents to Los Angeles, and the Yankees are always a favorite for a big-name free agent.
If the Cubs were to steal Soler from the likes of the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox, it would show that the Cubs are back in the running for top talent.
Not since the Cubs signed Soriano have they been able to lure a big-name free agent to the North Side. Sure, Milton Bradley and Kosuke Fukudome are two names that come to mind as signings. Both were good free agents, but not ones that everyone was pursuing.
For the Cubs to compete year after year, they need to be in the running for top free agents. There's no need to stage a Miami Heat scenario, but it's crucial to bring in a big name every few years.
Yes, the strength of the team should be the draft and development of in-house players, but there's no denying the importance of free agents in baseball.
Signing Soler would send a message to the other top teams that Epstein is putting Chicago right back in the thick of the things when it comes to free agency.
Soriano and Byrd both probably know that they aren't in the Cubs future plans.
Jackson, Golden and Szczur know they are in position to be the incumbents.
But with the hype of Soler coming to town, expect everyone to improve and play well to prove their worth.
Soriano is a professional, and whether it's Soler's or Jackson's presence, he knows that he needs to play well to keep his job. With the Cubs acquiring another outfielder, it can only motivate him to play better and work harder.
For Jackson, Golden and Szczur, it would mean someone is going to be the odd man out. They may not be math majors, but I'm sure they'd all figure out there's four candidates for three outfield positions.
When one of the four has $27 million invested in him, he may have a head start on the competition.
Competition brings out the best in athletes, and the signing of Soler would increase the competition in the outfield and the overall team, which can only have a positive result.
Epstein won't strike out a single batter this year or drive in a single run.
Yet he is the reason why most Cubs fans are excited.
Epstein's moves this offseason have Cubs fans excited for the future of this team, and for the first time in years there is a real sense that this team is headed in the right direction.
The signing of Soler would only excite the Cubs faithful even more.
Many anticipate Epstein to draft well and develop talent, and the signing of Soler would give many Cubs fans greater hope for the future they already find bright.
The payoff would be years down the road, but it will keep Cubs fans invested knowing they may have a diamond in the rough awaiting in the minors.
Cubs fans aren't expecting immediate success, but they are expecting immediate change in direction. Epstein has done that thus far, and Soler would only add momentum to that direction towards optimism for fans.
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