Cuban Hustle Crisis, Pt 2: Conflicting Reports of Cubs Disciplining Jorge Soler’s Lack of Effort
For context, the initial Cuban Hustle Crisis post was published back in August, 2014.
Jorge Soler’s Cubs tenure will forever be defined by a conflict in perception. He was lazy, or he was an oft-injured athlete whose orders were to keep it in low gear unless absolutely necessary. He had a higher ceiling than anyone other than maybe Kris Bryant, or his hulking size was a warm current upon which fancy could too easily take flight.
Another schism was discovered prior Wednesday’s game against the Royals, but this time it wasn’t about how fans perceived Soler.
“I didn’t do that,” Joe Maddon responded when asked about comments Jason McLeod, Cubs VP of player development, had made at Cubs Convention regarding Soler being benched for lack of hustle. The statement from McLeod caught me a little off-guard at the time and I remember thinking that perhaps the front office really felt the same as the fans who went nuts when Georgie Sunshine only ended up with a triple in an eventual 1-0 loss in Game 3 of the World Series.
You remember that play, the one where Soler lofted what looked like a harmless fly to relatively shallow right. But as it drifted toward the wall, Lonnie Chisenhall splayed out in his best Jumpman logo impersonation and totally biffed the play.
I said it at the time and I’m saying it now after watching the clip a few more times: There’s no way in hell you’re convincing me that Soler could have rounded third and scored had he not watched the ball for that fraction of a second. There were other times, though, when the big Cuban appeared to be at less than full-go.
“We talked to him, we talked to a lot of guys actually, about pop-ups and they’re frustrated or whatever,” Maddon said of Soler. “That happens more than you know. But I did not ever pull George for that.”
“Most of the time when they take a player out of the game for not hustling,” Soler explained through a team translator, “they bring him in the office and say: OK, we took you out for (this). But that never happened.”
That’s all pretty starkly at odds with McLeod’s statement, which certainly didn’t seem to have much nuance or room for interpretation. Then again, maybe when he said Soler was “yanked a couple of times,” he meant it in a sense of being pulled aside by either Davey Martinez or Gary Jones.
Those two coaches serve as Maddon’s first line of defense when it comes to player discipline, the guys who talk with players away from the public eye. Even if an issue gets serious enough for Maddon to deal with himself, it’s addressed behind closed doors and not with such blunt-force obviousness as pulling a guy from a game. Maddon admitted that he’d had some conversations with Soler regarding questionable decisions, but that he never pulled the outfielder from a game for those reasons.
It’s all basically moot at this point, what with Soler in Kansas City and a big shiny trophy sitting on the Cubs’ mantle. But this little flap does raise some questions as to whether or not everyone in the organization is seeing eye to eye. If we really wanted to, we could probably jam a mental crowbar into that little crack and try to jimmy something loose.
But I don’t really want to and I’m guessing you don’t either. This is really just a matter of Maddon and McLeod reading different pages in the same chapter, not thumbing through entirely different books. And make no mistake, it’s also about a manager preserving his reputation and saving face when it comes to his interaction with current and future players alike.
Won’t it be great when the regular season starts and we can stop talking about stuff like this? Except, nah, we’ll still be talking about the same stuff in May and June. It’s just that there’ll be real games to set a more substantial backdrop.