If everything plays out to the expectations that are in Theo Epstein's mind, the 2012 Chicago Cubs highlight reel could consist of a screenshot of the single tweet that Joel Sherman of the New York Post sent out on Monday afternoon:
I hear the #Cubs won out for Jorge Soler. #Yankees tried, but didn't get him.
Part of the reason for such an abbreviated highlight film, of course, is that the Cubs president is overseeing a simply dreadful team this season. Apart from a few Tony Campana slides, the North Siders aren't leaving anything memorable behind but a potentially historic stench.
The other part, though, is that Soler comes loaded with so much potential that his signing could end up being the most noteworthy moment of the year — even if the Cubs were somehow a .500 or so team in 2012. The availability of the 20-year-old Cuban exile's outfielding talents sparked a lot of interest over the past few months with Epstein and Co. landing the winning bid on Monday with a nine-year, $30 million offer (those numbers were first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports).
It's unknown where Soler will begin his professional career this year, but it's expected he'll need a few years in the minors before joining the big-league team at Wrigley Field. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus tweeted his scouting report on Sunday and it underlined the fact that Soler's major-league readiness was currently in inverse proportion to the number of headlines the signing would generate:
Jorge Soler is a RF profile guy. BIG power, big arm, ok fielder, holes in swing. He's not historic and he's seen as ready for Low-A.
Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, of course, would probably take issue with that "not historic" point as Soler's contract represents their first big expenditure since coming to the Cubs last winter. Yes, 30 million for a young player who hasn't been playing all that much lately is a big gamble, but it was one that was made within a changing talent acquisition market. Teams will soon no longer be able to spend all they want on international signings (each franchise will be capped at $2.9 million each season) and we've already gone through one North American amateur draft that will penalize teams for spending too much while signing their draft picks.
With the powerful Soler comparing favorably to a behemoth like Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, Epstein wasn't going to pass up one last opportunity to obtain a potentially game-changing talent without any restrictions. Soler's potential could one day make that $30 million look like a bargain if he becomes the middle-of-the-lineup power source that the Cubs are projecting.
But now that Soler is in the fold, the Cubs' new front office faces its next big challenge: Developing the farm system's first outfield talent in at least a few generations. (No, wisenheimers, Jerome Walton does not count. Same goes for Dwight Smith.)
That type of talent generation is exactly why the Ricketts are paying Epstein and his coterie the big bucks. And with the addition of Soler and last week's first-round draft pick, high school outfielder Albert Almora (if he signs), the front office is busy installing the two biggest barometers of its progress. With the new regime staying relatively quiet with free agents last offseason — though the Anthony Rizzo trade looks like a good one — you can argue that this is where the Theo Epstein era officially begins.