The Cubs' plan following the 2011 season was to make a run at a slew of international free agents. That started with Darvish, an Iranian-Japanese phenom whose posting from the NPB had been anticipated for years. Word leaked out that the Cubs had made a competitive bid, but hopes were quickly quashed in December when we learned that the Rangers won the right to negotiate with him for in excess of $50 million dollars. Later we found out that the Cubs had come in second for those rights, having bid over $35 million less than the Rangers. It made sense, the Rangers were contending for championships and needed a frontline starter, while the Cubs were likely looking at a longer rebuilding process… And as it turns out, three high profile Cuban prospects have defected! And, yes, Cubs are very interested in acquiring all three!
In February, the Cubs signed Gerardo Concepcion, and there were rumors that an agreement had been reached with Jorge Soler for around $30 million. Cespedes signed with the A's for 4 years/ $36 million, but he was older, and the Cubs were facing a long rebuilding process, so a four year deal didn't make that much sense. Later we found out that the Cubs had come in second for Cespedes, offering 6 years and $36 million. The A's had blown everyone else out of the water in the expectation that someone else would offer in the neighborhood of 6 years/ $60 million.
In June, word leaked out that yet another young Cuban had defected, and was attempting to sign before the imposition of an international free agent spending cap in July. Yes, the Cubs were interested. Shortly after, though, we heard that Yasiel Puig signed with Dodgers for in excess of $40 million. It made sense, the Dodgers had just been sold, the new owners were anticipating a monster of a local tv deal, and had dollars in search of a place to spend them. No word on what the Cubs offered, but I think it's safe to assume that they came in second.
Fast forward to the present. Yu Darvish is one of the best three or so pitchers in baseball. Cespedes has a .277/.343/.499 line in 700+ plate appearances while splitting time in left and center. Yasiel Puig ripped through the minors and is looking like he's up for good. Jorge Soler has been one of the better players… in the Florida State League.* Gerardo Concepcion is… I have no idea where he is, actually, and I have no desire to figure it out. It's all very frustrating. And perhaps the most frustrating part, is that there's no one to be frustrated with. The Rangers, Dodgers, and A's were all way out of step with the rest of the league in how they valued these players. In any other year the Cubs might well have ended up with all three, and the path to contention would look pretty damn clear right now. Instead, we are stuck squinting at minor league box scores, mulling over the implications of Jonathan Gray's positive test for Adderall, and hoping to squeeze a prospect out of someone at the trade deadline.
*This is not a knock on Soler. By all accounts, he's a good player. Baseball America ranked him ahead of Puig as recently as February, and he is a year younger. If everything goes swimmingly, next year Soler will be attracting the same type of attention as Puig. As of tonight, though, Soler is plodding along in the low minors while Puig has beaten down the door.