Taking a Slightly Different Angle on Theo Epstein’s Assessment of Jorge Soler

The Cubs’ front office has received a great deal of praise, much of it from yours truly, for the transparency they’ve shown throughout this whole rebuild process. From the time Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer blew into town, they’ve been very up-front about their intentions, not to mention the various struggles and limitations that have stood in the way of carrying said intentions out. What’s funny is that most of the criticism aimed in their direction has come from those who are either unwilling or unable to take anything at face value.

Fans and media members alike have grown so accustomed to dishonesty that their natural inclination is to believe the men running baseball operations for the Cubs must be trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Now, much of this sentiment has been shown time an again to be without merit, particularly now that the team is showing more than a fair bit of promise. But the dichotomous views of Epstein and Hoyer’s words and intent got me to thinking a little bit.

I mean, yes, the Wonder Twins have been very clear in what they have said over the years. But they generally say things in such a way that there’s always sort of a trap door, a double entendre, if you will. And so taking everything at face value can be a little tricky whether you’re singing along to their catchy tunes like a swooning adolescent at a boy-band concert or just adding to the chorus of rabble from the naysayers.

I’ll admit to getting caught up in the siren song now and then, but a conversation I had recently got me to thinking about taking another look at some of what Epstein said recently about Jorge Soler. After all, the interview the Cubs honcho had given to Bruce Levine and Jordan Bernfield on 670 The Score had basically changed the nature of my article about the slugger’s future in Chicago.

Prior to reading about what Epstein had said, I was ready to write about how Soler’s departure felt like a foregone conclusion. Afterwards, however, I found myself re-crafting my post to fit the idea that the Cubs would be perfectly happy with Soler in right and Jason Heyward in center. So was I just drinking the Kool-Aid? Maybe. To find out for sure, I decided to take another look at Epstein’s words to see whether there might be a bit more nuance hiding below the surface.

What he said:

“In his case, [evaluating Soler] is a little more challenging. The reason is that he doesn’t have the long track record, and he has had a few injuries that have cost him some time. At the same time, it wasn’t that hard to scout the postseason and see what he did during a nine- or 10-game stretch. He and (Kyle) Schwarber were the two most locked-in guys we had. I love this guy’s future. I think his bat could be as good as anyone in the game from a power standpoint, as soon as he learns to loft the ball a little more.”

What he could have said:

If you set aside the injury history and focus on what Soler did when he was healthy, particularly in the playoffs, you can see how good he can really be. Yeah, I know that’s a small sample size, but it’s proof that he can be better. As for the lack of power, that’s no big deal. He just needs to make some adjustments, which shouldn’t be that difficult. I have to think a lot of other teams out there would love to pay dearly for that kind of potential.

What he said:

“As for Jorge’s defense, we have challenged him to get a little bit leaner and better. We want him to work on his jumps in right field, and that is what he is working on now. I just watched some videos of him training, and he looks great. He is down to 225 and is working hard on his quickness and flexibility. He looks fantastic. This guy wants to play. He did not like that when he returned from his injury last year (and) he wasn’t playing every day. We loved the way he worked his way back into the lineup and took Adam Wainwright and Jacob deGrom deep (in the playoffs). He is kind of effortless in his ability to hit the ball deep into the stands.”

What he could have said:

Listen, we know the jumps he got and routes he took were pretty bad. The hope is that dropping 15 pounds or so will help him in that area without reducing his power. This guy is an absolute physical specimen though, which is what we should really be focusing on here. Forget about what you’ve heard in terms of his work ethic and tendency to dog it, this guy’s a gamer and is willing to get after it. Oh, did I mention how good he looks in a uniform? Like a linebacker, this guy. And again, don’t forget those playoff homers.

What he said:

“We are putting our stock into his future. Barring anything (like a package that can’t be ignored), he knows to ignore all the trade rumors and take it as a compliment.”

What he could have said:

We really believe Soler can be a huge asset to this team, which is why we’re holding onto him…until we get the right offer. Whether his future is playing right field in Chicago or elsewhere, he’s going to provide the Cubs with value. How that plays out remains to be seen, but him worrying about it is not going to do Jorge or the team any good. He’s in demand and he knows it, but we’re going to keep listening in case someone wants to provide us a value equivalent to that we think he gives us right now.

What he said:

“An outfield of Schwarber, Heyward and Soler can be one of the best in baseball.”

What he could have said:

We are more than prepared to head into the season with Heyward in center between two guys many view as sub-par defenders. Why? Because we think the offense of the corner men will more than make up for their defense, which we think will be much improved. Did you hear that? We said we don’t need to trade Soler to bolster our rotation or to make room for a better glove in center while Heyward shifts to right. And unless someone out there wants to convince us otherwise, we’re all set. I mean it: we don’t need to make a move. Well, unless one comes along that we can’t refuse. But we feel good where we’re at.

I’m not really sure whether that’s different from what I said they other day, but I wanted to dig into the idea of Soler’s value to the team just a bit more. While I had kind of taken the angle that Epstein was saying “we’re going with Soler,” I don’t think I really examined the possibility of his interview being rife with subliminal messages. I have not doubt the Cubs are willing to move forward with Soler in right, but building up his value and extolling his virtues isn’t just about keeping fans engaged.

After all, the majority of Cubs fans seem to be against trading Soler, so it’s not those folks who need to be convinced of his potential. By speaking publicly about the big Cuban’s desire to work hard and get better, Theo Epstein is trying to drive up the price of the stock in which he’s invested heavily. That doesn’t mean I think he’s being anything less than transparent, just that his words bear a little more depth of meaning than what we see on the surface.

But that’s almost always the case when you hear Epstein or Jed Hoyer speak. They aren’t dishonest, they simply imbue their words with enough nuance that one of two or more divergent realies can still be viewed as truth. If Soler is traded tomorrow, that doesn’t mean the Cubs weren’t putting stock in his future. It simply means that they felt their stock had neared the point of diminishing returns and that they were better off to sell.

I am more inclined to believe the Cubs hold onto Soler at this point, though I continue to have concerns about his ability to stay on the field. I hope those concerns prove to be unfounded and that he goes on to play 150 games a year for the next 10+ years, even if it’s not in Chicago, but I just can’t shake the feeling that leg issues are going to plague this man.

Alright, now that this horse has breathed its last, I suppose it’s time for me to drop the stick. I do really love to dig into the things Theo Epstein says though.

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