It’s that time of year again: lots of rumors and crazy trade proposals that would never happen in real life. Lately I’ve been seeing one name floating around in trade rumors that has been particularly polarizing among Cubs fans, and those against it kind of took me by surprise. Let’s take a look at why trading Jorge Soler for good, young starting pitching is a good idea.
First off, let me put some specific names to that amorphous blob I call “good, young starting pitching.” Specifically, I’m thinking of guys who are in their early to mid-20s, have proven track records of success as big-league starters, and are under team control for the next few years. You’ve probably seen and heard the names, but here they are again with their 2015 stats:
I ran the numbers to include the past three seasons and they’re all pretty close together other than Salazar not having as many innings (and with that, certainty) under his belt, but missing bats more than the other two. You could add a bunch of other pitchers up there, but reputable sources tell us these guys are probably available, so let’s stop there for the sake of argument. On the other side of the coin, you have Soler, the 23-year-old right fielder for the Cubs. Here’s what he’s done in his entire career as a big-leaguer:
At first blush, it appears to be just another one of those crazy trade proposals fans are always making because they think no one else will spot how ridiculously lopsided they are. But is it really?
Soler is the type of player who has knowledgeable, well-respected baseball people saying NO WAY should the Cubs make this trade. There are a couple of reasons for this: First of all, his tools are off the charts. Soler is capable of hitting 30 home runs and drawing 80-100 walks in a season. His impressive physique and combination of power and plate discipline brings visions of Sammy Sosa and has Cubs fans drooling over the potential of having another young, powerful right fielder who can strike fear into pitchers’ psyches. This is why folks have an easier time putting Javier Baez into trade proposals—it’s easier to envision him as a complete bust since we’ve already seen the extreme struggles first-hand. Nobody disputes this: Soler could be an absolute beast.
The second reason people don’t want to trade him has more to do with an old Janet Jackson tune. Soler had a ridiculous post season. I mean, he absolutely killed it at the plate, slashing .474/.600/1.105 with three home runs in seven games. He also got on base for his first nine plate appearances of the playoffs, setting a record and getting his name into the mainstream media (and on the radar for fans’ potential offseason trade scenarios).
Everyone got to see the potential expressing itself in a high-leverage situation, and that made us want Soler even more. It’s the same thing many of us did at the end of 2014 when we looked at his numbers (.292/.330/.573 and five home runs in 24 games) and rubbed our hands together Mr. Burns-style when we projected them out to a full season. In other words, Soler is a young player who is under team control until 2020 at a very reasonable salary (around $4 million per year, though with an option to go for arbitration after the 2017 season) with exceptional power and patience at the plate—he has the potential to be a great player at a steal of a price (tired of hearing the word “potential” yet?).
So why do I want to trade him? That’s just it—I don’t. But in the real world, you have to give value to get value. There are two reasons why I make this trade.
First, what you can get for him is more valuable to the team than what he currently provides. I’m not just saying they need pitching help more than hitting help (though I’m also saying that), I’m saying that the eventual replacement for Soler in right field will improve the team defense in a considerable way. In other words, the Cubs need to improve their pitching and outfield defense more than they need to improve their offense. Soler did contribute last year (10 home runs, 47 RBIs), but his elite arm was not enough to shore up his weak defensive play and he has a history with injuries. With Kyle Schwarber taking over in left field (like I said, the defense will need some extra help), right field would probably fall to the versatile and effective Chris Coghlan in some sort of platoon with a new, defense-first outfielder in the Austin Jackson mold. We already know the Cubs intend to improve the rotation, so I won’t go into that here. If you plug one of these young pitchers into the no. 4 slot, your rotation just got immeasurably stronger and deeper going into 2016 and beyond. Don’t forget: Jason Hammel is a free agent at the end of next year, so there is a hole coming to the rotation soon. “What about CF?” some of you may ask. Here, read this—it should make you feel better.
The second reason I trade Soler is because of the insane production they got from their rookies in 2015. Last year was a historic one in terms of rookie production for the Cubs. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to bring up a young guy from the minor leagues and have him blow up and become a star. We saw that with Kris Bryant and we’re seeing it to a lesser extent with Schwarber and Addison Russell. But let’s not forget the Cubs were EXTREMELY lucky last year with the production they got from all their rookies. Success one year doesn’t mean disaster the next, but let’s not forget that around 70 percent of top prospects fail. The Cubs basically had a 100 percent success rate in 2015, which is unheard of when you look at the number of prospects they called up. Is Soler going to “make it?” Maybe, but the Cubs can’t keep going to the same well over and over and expect it to be bursting with major-league-ready talent. It would be awesome, but that’s not how it works.
Not only that, they still haven’t found a place for Baez to play regularly. There’s so much young, offensive depth here that it only makes sense for the front office to put some of that into play by making a move to cover their pitching needs.
You could have a whole big argument about which of the above young pitchers you ultimately target, but the point is this: they’re all very good, young pitchers who are under team control. And in order to acquire guys like that you need to pay hundreds of millions of dollars or you need to trade other good, young players. The current crop of free-agent pitchers doesn’t really have guys like Miller or Teheran available any longer (Johnny Cueto is maybe the closest—though he’ll play next season at the age of 30).
Bottom line is this: I love Soler and his sky-high potential. He’s an exciting player who may turn into a very good major leaguer. I look at his plate discipline and that vicious swing and can legitimately see the PECOTA projections coming true. Trading a guy like that is really hard. Welcome to the real world of MLB transactions—where the only way to acquire young talent is by sacrificing some of your own.
For the Cubs and the way the team is structured, it’s a move I’m willing to make.
Lead photo courtesy of Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports