After failing to submit a competitive bid for Yu Darvish earlier in the offseason, many prognosticators rationalized this decision by expecting that the Yankees would use their financial resources to go in a different direction on the international market. Instead of betting big on the Japanese ace, many figured they would instead pursue one of the two hyped Cuban free agent outfielders: Yoennis Cespedes and Jorge Soler, who hit the market at around the same time.
This expectation was further strengthened after the Yankees shored up their rotation by dealing Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda. These two transactions largely obviated the need for Darvish, and left some financial resources to be spent on the Cubans. With pitching depth not a major concern, and few position player prospects remaining in the upper minors, Cespedes and Soler seemed like reasonable targets for the Yankee front office.
Given the Yankees’ apparent budget constraints, however, Cespedes was never a realistic option. In the case of Cespedes, there were a number of strongly interested suitors, including the believed frontrunners, the Miami Marlins, who at long last had opened their wallets in the offseason to sign Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. Despite rumors of a price tag exceeding $50-60 million for a 6-year contract, Cespedes ended up signing a 4-year $36 million deal with Oakland, trading length of contract for a higher average annual value and the opportunity to hit the market again at age 30.
Since Cespedes is essentially major league ready at 26, it made sense that the Yankees, with a currently full outfield, were not in on him. While Cespedes could have been a good replacement for Nick Swisher if Swish walks after the 2012, it didn’t really make sense from the Yankees’ perspective (and probably Cespedes’ perspective) to pay Cespedes $9 million to spend 2012 in the minors or on the bench, and then only have 3 years of control remaining. The short contract indicated that Cespedes was interested in using his first contract to establish his big league value over his first 4 years, and then cash in with a big contract if all goes according to plan. Considering the Yankees were not likely to get major value from Cespedes in his first season, it is understandable they were not willing to ante up what Cespedes and his agent were looking for.
Soler is a different matter, however. While Cespedes, at 26, was more of a now proposition, Soler at 19 represented a prospect for the future who would likely start in A-ball, and take several years to make it through the minors. Rather than being an investment in the major league squad, Soler would be an investment (albeit, a pricy one) in minor league depth. While the Yankees have several intriguing centerfield prospects in the form of Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ravel Santana, Soler is a powerful corner outfield prospect that is less abundant in the Yankee system. A number of prospect evaluators have mentioned that they would consider a 1st-round, and probably top-10 overall talent in the upcoming draft.
As a prospect, Soler fits the corner outfield profile. He profiles best as a right fielder with a plus arm and solid range. Offensively, Soler offers legitimate raw power and great bat speed, though his hit tool is not exceptionally polished at this juncture (there is plenty of time for improvement). Soler’s power would likely be up there with Gary Sanchez for the best in the Yankee system, and would certainly be a welcome addition to the Yankee farm.
As with Cespedes, Soler’s asking price is high, and there are many teams interested in his services. He has not been officially declared a free agent yet, so he would not be able to sign even if he did agree to a deal. The Cubs in particular have demonstrated strong interest, reportedly offering a contract in the $28 million range. While most sources peg the Cubs as the frontrunners, Buster Olney reports today that the Yankees are serious competitors for Soler as well. I would still predict the Cubs to wind up with Soler since they have showed the most sustained interest, though obviously the same did not occur with Cespedes and the Marlins. One benefit of signing Soler is that he may not require a major league deal that will place him on the 40-man roster (as Cespedes would), which would prevent his salary from counting against the Yankee payroll and costing luxury tax.
As with any prospect that I know very little about, I will have to trust the Yankees’ scouts and front office on this one. If they think Soler is great and fills a big need for them, then I imagine they will make him a healthy offer. However, if they are underwhelmed, I don’t expect them to make a winning offer just to make a big splash (and because other teams are in on him). The Cubs are hurting for talent both at the minor league and major league level, and I would be a little wary of trying to outbid what could very well be a desperate franchise. If the Yankees are able to sign Soler I will of course be excited, but I won’t worry too much if they pass on him. Sure Soler is an exciting prospect, but the Yankees generally have a good plan about strengthening their team both in the short term and the long term, and if passing on Soler is required to adhere to this plan, then I am all for it.
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