Cubs Should Go for Broke and Dish out Big Bucks to Albert Almora and Jorge Soler
The Chicago Cubs are in full-on rebuilding mode, but there's a chance they'll be dishing out some big checks in the very near future.
That's nothing team czar Theo Epstein hasn't already done before, but the circumstances are slightly different in this case. What Epstein has to decide is not whether he should pay big bucks for current superstars (i.e. Carl Crawford), but for players who have the potential to become superstars.
To this end, two players are on Chicago's radar: 18-year old draftee Albert Almora and 20-year-old Cuban defector Jorge Solar.
The trouble is that it won't be easy for the Cubs to sign either one of them, and there's at least a chance that both of them will escape the team's grasp.
Almora should be Cubs property sometime in the immediate future. The Cubbies selected him with the sixth overall pick in the draft, and the team's brass thinks he has the potential to be something special once he gets to the big leagues.
Almora, however, is playing hard to get.
As reported by Paul Sullivan of The Chicago Tribune, Almora and his agent, the ever-fastidious Scott Boras, are doing everything in their power to squeeze every last nickel out of the Cubs. This is problematic for the Cubs because they only have $7,933,900 to spend on their first 12 draft picks, and Almora apparently wants more than the $3,250,000 figure suggested by MLB for the No. 6 pick (see Baseball America).
Almora has indicated that he'd just as soon go to college than sign with the Cubs:
"My main priority now is college. I just graduated high school and I have a full scholarship to the University of Miami, and that's all I'm looking forward to right now."
If you feel like rolling your eyes, go right ahead. You go to college if you're a second- or third-round pick. You don't go to college if you're the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, especially not when your whole life has been geared towards someday becoming a major league ballplayer.
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Almora's hard-to-get act is a classic leverage play by Boras. And indeed, it's a card he's played before. Love him or hate him, there's a reason why he represents so many amateur and professional players. He plays the game well.
The Cubs will get Almora to sign. It's just going to take a little extra and a little extra cash. The Cubs may have to come to grips with the very real possibility that they won't be able to sign all 12 of their top draft picks for $7,933,900. They may have to let one or two of them go.
Almora is worth it. He's a true five-tool prospect who projects as a plus defender and an above-average hitter with solid power. He was born to play baseball, and the Cubs should view him as a centerpiece of baseball's next dynasty (presently under construction).
Notice I said "a" centerpiece. Not "the" centerpiece. Because honestly, why have one centerpiece when you can have two?
And that brings us to Soler, who the Cubs are very much interested in.
According to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs like Soler more than they liked A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes when they were scouting the two of them before the season. In fact, there was even a report that the Cubs had a deal in place with Soler well before MLB officially declared him a free agent.
General manager Jed Hoyer shot that report down, as reported by the Sun-Times, but he didn't make any attempts to hide the club's interest in Soler.
“We’ve obviously scouted him extensively; a lot of teams have,” he said recently. “We had a similar situation with [Yoenis] Cespedes this winter. It’ll be intriguing. But certainly we’ve done our work on him.”
The race for Soler has reached crunch time, as ESPN's Buster Olney reported on Friday that the next round of bids for Soler are due this weekend. The Cubs are expected to be involved.
Assuming the Cubs are as interested in Soler as the reports say they are, they're going to be competing with some pretty heavy hitters for Soler's signature. Per MLBTradeRumors.com, moneybags teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies are involved, and so are the Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and a few others. Goodness knows you can't rule out Soler signing with a so-called "mystery team."
A report from Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com makes it sound like the Cubs could consider signing Soler for Cespedes money ($36 million), but spread out over more than just the four years he got from the A's.
That may not be good enough considering the kind of competition the Cubs are going up against. The fact that Soler is a five-tool prospect who's still only 20 (supposedly) could drive his price even higher than $36 million.
If so, well, so be it. That's a price the Cubs should be willing to pay. That would be a lot of money to pay for an unproven Cuban kid, but the potential reward makes it worth it.
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The ultimate goal should be to have both Almora and Soler roaming the same outfield someday in the not-too-distant future. Almora could play center, and Soler could play right. If they end up being everything the scouts say they're supposed to be, two-thirds of the Cubs' outfield could therefore be occupied by two All-Star-caliber players who can do it all: hit, run, field and so on.
Every team in Major League Baseball would love to have a pair of outfielders like that.
What's fascinating about envisioning Almora and Soler on the Cubs, however, is that you can also envision them sharing the field with young stars like Brett Jackson, Starlin Castro, and Anthony Rizzo a few years down the road.
That, my friends, would be a humdinger of a lineup, one certainly capable of capturing a few NL Central titles.
It's a classic pie in the sky scenario, to be sure, but it's a scenario well worth pursuing.
It won't be easy for Epstein and Hoyer to commit so many millions of dollars to Almora and Soler, but in doing so they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
So go ahead, fellas. Speed this rebuilding process up a little. The curse has gone on long enough.
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