As the Cubs make Jorge Soler one of the faces of this rebuilding project, the $30 million Cuban defector will have a target on his back.
Just look at the reactions across Twitter and the national headlines made out of an advanced Class-A game. The Florida State League slapped Soler with a five-game suspension on Thursday and fined him an undisclosed amount for that bench-clearing incident. It almost certainly won’t be the last time Soler will be provoked.
Team president Theo Epstein indicated Soler lost his cool after a Clearwater player said something about his family. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound “specimen” grabbed a bat and had to be restrained on Wednesday night in Daytona. That moment’s definitely not part of the franchise’s carefully crafted narrative.
“If you’re going to come play here in Chicago, New York, L.A., any big city, you have to understand it’s not going to go your way all the time,” Jeff Samardzija said. “You got to be able to handle that. If you can’t handle that, then you’re not going to be around too long.
“You can’t lose your emotions like that. You got to stay under control. And if you do (lose it), you definitely can’t use a bat.”
[More: Soler has to handle his emotions]
Samardzija has been the same guy throughout his career, whether he’s been written off as a bust or hyped as a potential No. 1 starter. He played in Daytona in 2007, not long after ending his All-American football career at Notre Dame and signing a $10 million contract with the Cubs.
“They knew who I was,” Samardzija said, “and they wanted to prove that I shouldn’t be on the baseball field. So there’s definitely a chip on his shoulder for other guys that are trying to prove themselves.
“You understand that you’re going to get everybody’s best and you’re also going to get everybody’s worst. You need to learn how to deal with both.”
In spring training, Alfonso Soriano had acted as a go-between for the coaching staff and found Soler to be a nice, quiet guy. When the Cubs sent Soler, 21, out to minor-league camp, Soriano told him to work hard, lead by example and forget about the money.
“Maybe he had a lot of pressure on himself, but that’s not the way you’re supposed to act in the game,” said Soriano, who planned to call Soler. “The only time you can use the bat is to hit the ball at the home plate.”
[More: Epstein defends Soler after incident]
At the age of 23, Anthony Rizzo is already a clubhouse spokesman. He pointed out that Soler still hasn’t lived a full year in the United States (or played an entire season of pro ball yet).
“I’ve watched YouTube videos of how they play in Cuba,” Rizzo said. “It’s a lot different than over here. You just got to adjust, and that’s why he’s not in the big leagues. That’s why he’s not in Triple-A or Double-A. He’s got to learn the ropes. Everyone’s made mistakes in this clubhouse.”
Rizzo thought of the learning curve for a Washington Nationals superstar who drew his share of bad publicity and had to repair his questionable image.
“I remember two or three years ago when Bryce Harper blew that kiss,” Rizzo said. “It was all blown up and he’s learned from it and look what he did last year – Rookie of the Year. And now everyone really respects him around this league for playing hard. I’m sure Soler will learn from it and move on.”
[More: Rizzo Watch: Cubs waiting for another power surge]
Samardzija said the pressure to live up to that contract should be internal, though you’re always aware of the spotlight. The Cubs have to hope this is a lesson learned – and be relieved that this happened almost 1,200 miles away from Wrigley Field.
The Cubs are going to need Soler to keep his cool when he’s playing on national television in the heat of a pennant race.
“Everyone’s competing against each other for their livelihood and for their families,” Samardzija said. “But you also respect the guys you play with and there’s a certain community that we have, a union that we share. (So) you got to handle it like a man.”