CHICAGO – The Cubs finally added their coveted piece to the organization’s rebuilding project.
They signed Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million major league contract which puts him on the 40-man roster. They needed to sign Soler by Monday when the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect, which limits spending on international players to $2.9 million.
Although the Cubs and Soler initially agreed to terms a few weeks ago, he needed to obtain a work visa and take a physical before the contract could be signed. The documents were finalized Friday.
“Fear is probably too strong of a word, but I think we’re glad to get it done,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of approaching the deadline. “We only had a couple days to spare here. We’re glad to get it finalized. I think his agents worked really hard on his residency.”
Soler, who is in Miami, will head to Mesa, Ariz., for his own version of spring training. However, beyond Soler training in Arizona, Hoyer doesn’t know when he’ll see his first game action. For now the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Soler will play right field, though he could be moved at some point because of his size, Hoyer said.
“We think he provides a ton of potential power for us,” Hoyer said. “We scouted him heavily. It’s obviously a significant commitment for us, but we feel like he fits in very well with what we’re trying to do. He’s the right age, the right talent and we’re excited to finally get him started here.”
Hoyer wouldn’t speculate on Soler’s estimated arrival to the big leagues because of his limited experience against top competition. The 20-year-old did play in several international tournaments for Cuba, including the 16-and-under COPABE Pan-Am Championships in 2008 and the World Junior Championships in 2010.
Soler hit .304 with a .500 on-base percentage and .522 slugging percentage in seven games to lead Cuba to a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships. Hoyer credited Soler’s agents with showcasing him in games in the Dominican Republic.
“They let him play in a lot of games and he performed, so we’re hopeful that’s a harbinger of good things, but it’s hard to tell until he gets into games,” Hoyer said. “ … It’s a lot different than an American high school player or a college player. Obviously he has a ton of potential, but it’s hard to make comments, make statements [on gauging his talent] until we really know.”
The Cubs understand Soler may require special handling with his move to a new country and integrating culturally. Soler does not have any family with him in the United States, but the Cubs have staff members such as vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who is of Cuban descent, to help ease the transition.
“I think we have to do a really good job of focusing on his assimilation,” Hoyer said. “For any player coming from Cuba, this is a lot different, and we have to understand that and take it slow with him. Professional baseball is hard for any player let alone someone that is coming from a completely different culture, and we have to understand that.”