MESA, Ariz. Google search the images for Jorge Soler and all you really get is one grainy photo. Such is the mystery surrounding the Cuban defector who will spark a bidding war.
The Cubs are widely viewed as the frontrunner to land Soler, to the point where some media outlets have portrayed it like theres already an agreement in place.
But the 20-year-old outfielder still has to establish residency in the Dominican Republic and be cleared for free agency, a process that insiders have described as far more complicated than the slam dunk its been made out to be across cyberspace.
Solers representatives were preparing to take him to the market at least as far back as the general manager meetings in Milwaukee last November, and the industry is still waiting.
Hes not a free agent, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. The rumors that we have a deal with him are just completely bogus. I dont know where that started, but you guys (in the media) should not run with those rumors. Theyre just rumors and they have no merit.
Still, that doesnt mean it wont happen. Theres no denying that the Cubs have targeted Soler for months and done extensive background work on the prospect.
If signed before July 2, Soler would not be limited by the international cap imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. The general expectation is that he will become a free agent in time to cash in and beat the deadline. But there are multiple layers of government to go through and, obviously, the process has already taken this long.
Because of Solers youth and five-tool potential and with this being the final international shopping spree before the labor deal sets spending limits the Cubs wont be alone in their pursuit.
Dont bet against the mystery team in the age of Internet rumors. The Oakland As shocked the baseball world last month by landing Yoenis Cespedes with a four-year, 36 million deal.
But there are logical reasons to think Soler could learn The Cubs Way and become a key piece in Theo Epsteins foundation for sustained success.
The Cubs were definitely in on Cespedes and felt like they were able to establish a level of trust with the Cuban defector, though they werent as open to a shorter-term commitment.
This month the Cubs finalized a deal with Gerardo Concepcion, a 20-year-old Cuban left-hander who will get 6 million guaranteed in a five-year, major-league contract. Theres a slight chance Concepcion will appear in a Cactus League game this spring, though the organization hasnt decided where he will begin this season in the minors.
It should take closer to Cespedes money to sign Soler, but the Cubs have already shown a commitment to being big players internationally. Several people in the front office have deep personal and professional connections in Cuba and the Dominican, and reputations and relationships should matter there.
Resources that had been earmarked for the draft and international signings will have to be shifted elsewhere. This is the last prize before the business is regulated. Now is the time to go all in. Soon enough, Solers face will be everywhere.