Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

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Hoyer calls Soler deal rumors bogus

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.

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known someday as one of the greatest sports franchises in the world, right up there with global brands like the New England Patriots, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

But the most relevant blueprint for baseball operations right now might be the Atlanta Braves model that won 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005, an unbelievable run that still only resulted in one World Series title.

In a "Chicks Dig The Long Ball" era, the Braves had 60 percent of a Hall of Fame rotation (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) and a manager (Bobby Cox) who would get his own Cooperstown plaque.

The Braves Way still didn't only revolve around baseball immortals. The churn of young talent and under-the-radar contributors makes big-time prospects Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ — and somehow finding a next wave of pitching — so important to The Plan.

"The Braves did such a great job during their run of always breaking in a guy or two," general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. "There's a lot of benefits to always trying to break in a guy every year, trying to add new blood every single year. Young guys are great even for a veteran team, because they provide the spark. They provide new energy.

"I thought Willson (Contreras) was a big part of that last year. Coming up in the middle of the season, it was like a great spark for our guys. Maybe one of these guys can provide that spark."

During that 15-year window, the Braves had 14 different players show up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting:  

1991: Brian Hunter, Mike Stanton
1992: Mark Wohlers
1993: Greg McMichael 
1994: Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez
1995: Chipper Jones
1996: Jermaine Dye 
1997: Andruw Jones 
1998: Kerry Ligtenberg 
1999: Kevin McGlinchy
2000: Rafael Furcal 
2001: –
2002: Damian Moss
2003: –
2004: –
2005: Jeff Francoeur

The Braves produced Rookie of the Year winners in 1990 (David Justice), 2000 (Furcal) and 2011 (Craig Kimbrel). That gap in the early 2000s foreshadowed a relative down cycle where the Braves averaged almost 82 losses losses between 2006 and 2009 and made zero playoff appearances.

Jason Heyward's big-league debut in 2010 coincided with a run of four straight seasons where the Braves averaged 90-plus wins and made the playoffs three times.

[MORE: Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup]

Baseball America put Jimenez (No. 14) and Happ (No. 63) on its preseason top-100 list of prospects. Whether it's making an impression on Joe Maddon's coaching staff, being showcased for a future trade or getting more comfortable in the spotlight, Jimenez and Happ will be two players to watch when the Cubs begin their Cactus League schedule on Saturday.

"Everyone thinks our future is here," Hoyer said. "It's really important to never get caught in that. You always want to have guys in the minor leagues ready to come up. Having organizational depth is really important. Those guys are good players and they're going to help us at some point."

Jimenez is a dynamic 6-foot-4 corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic who figures to begin his age-20 season at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. Happ, a 2015 first-round pick, finished last season at Double-A Tennessee and can switch-hit and move between the infield and the outfield.

Contreras is trying to make the leap from energizer to everyday frontline catcher. Albert Almora Jr. — who also contributed to a championship team as a rookie — is trying to earn the center-field job. The Cubs already trusted Carl Edwards Jr. in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 and now hope he can keep evolving into an Andrew Miller-type reliever.

The Cubs need the assembly line that's rolled out Anthony Rizzo (June 2012), Kyle Hendricks (July 2014), Javier Baez (August 2014), Kris Bryant and Addison Russell (April 2015) and Kyle Schwarber (June 2015) to keep delivering talent.

"It's something that we have to be really mindful of," Hoyer said, "to make sure that we continue to put a lot of focus on player development, the same kind of focus that we put on it when we were rebuilding, because those guys are going to have a huge impact on us."

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

MESA, Ariz. – The analytical and emotional sides of the brain – the Big Data influence and obvious intimidation factor – are leading Joe Maddon to this conclusion: Kyle Schwarber should be the leadoff guy for a thumping Cubs lineup.  
 
"Schwarber is the frontrunner," Maddon said Thursday at the Sloan Park complex. "You could always consider (Ben) Zobrist if you wanted to. You could talk about Jon Jay. I'd say they're the leaders in the clubhouse right now. But primarily I like the idea of 'Schwarbs.'"
 
Because that would fit the Bill Jamesian ideal of lineup construction – put your best hitters at the top to get them more at-bats – as well as force the opposing pitcher to worry about Schwarber, reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant and Silver Slugger Anthony Rizzo in the first inning.     
 
"None of it's attractive," Maddon said. "There's pause involved there, because if you don't want to pitch to him, then the guys coming up behind are really pretty interesting. It's formidable, so it's uncomfortable from the other side."
 
That left-right-left balance would set up the switch-hitting Zobrist, a World Series MVP known more for his patience, clutch-time nerves and contact skills than brute force.
 
"When people say cleanup hitter or third-place hitter, everybody's applying conventional means from several years ago," Maddon said. "My thinking is more: Better hitter, get on base and then who can actually protect Rizzo. Who's going to make them pitch to Rizzo as often as possible?" 
 
The conditionals: The Cubs are a deep team built around versatile players with a seven-month marathon in mind. Schwarber is coming off a traumatic knee injury that limited him to two regular-season games and designated-hitter duties during the World Series. Daily matchups and inevitable injuries will shape the lineup.   
 
Still, Maddon said 140 games "sounds like a nice number" for Schwarber, who has five homers and a 1.178 OPS in 51 career postseason plate appearances. 
 
"He's everyday, but you have to do that with some kind of foresight," Maddon said. "You don't want to beat him up and have that knee bark on him. You give him his day off probably against a tough left-hander you just don't want him to see. And then you just do something differently. But otherwise you'll see him up there." 
 
The Geek Department still needs to send more information to Maddon, but the Cubs are toying with the idea of again hitting the pitcher eighth, in front of the Jay/Albert Almora Jr. platoon. 
 
"I'm just waiting to hear back from the boys if there's a significant bump or difference in that or not projection-wise," Maddon said. "This would be theoretically perfect, in a sense, where either like Almora or Jon to Schwarber to KB. That's kind of nice. 
 
"The only concern I have there is who's hitting seventh. We have a nice lineup, so the seven-hole hitter then would lose some benefit by having the pitcher hitting eighth. So that's the give-and-take with something like that. And it has nothing to do with the eight-hole and hitting sooner and all that. My concern is who's hitting seventh and what that's going to do to that."