By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Unless the best pitcher or center fielder in the game becomes available, Jorge Soler will be the Chicago Cubs' starting right fielder next April. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein admitted the interest in Soler on the trade maret but stressed his value to the Cubs as a guest on The 670 Score on Saturday morning.
The 23-year-old Soler has been the subject of trade talks with the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Rays and San Diego Padres since last July. With the Cubs having signed Jason Heyward to a monster eight-year, $184-million deal, Epstein's content holding on to the core of young players under contract control while playing Heyward in center initially.
Soler has played 125 big league games over the year and two months he has been on the Cubs' 25-man roster, having dealt with various injuries. Soler hit .262 with 10 homers, 47 RBIs and a .723 OPS in 101 games in 2015.
"In his case, it is a little more challenging," Epstein said in evaluating Soler. "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."
Epstein and the Cubs have added depth in the outfield by trading from a position of strength. They moved infielder Starlin Castro to the Yankees for a pitcher and a backup infielder without disrupting the other young position player group. With Heyward being a Gold Glove right fielder moving to center, the question of two below-average corner outfielders in Soler and Schwarber improving defensively is a key component to the Cubs' pitching staying strong.
"As for Jorge's defense, we have challenged him to get a little bit leaner and better," Epstein said. "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 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 king of effortless in his ability to hit the ball deep into the stands."
The Cubs have plenty of time to add to the pitching staff and make moves in season with the players they have acquired. Epstein was adamant about building around Soler.
"We are putting our stock into his future," Epstein said. "Barring anything (like package that can't be ignored), he knows to ignore all the trade rumors and take it as a compliment."
Epstein did allude to adding a defensive specialist in the outfield but balked at giving up at-bats for Soler or Schwarber on an everyday basis.
"An outfield of Schwarber, Heyward and Soler can be one of the best in baseball," Epstein said if the corner men work hard on improving.
You can listen to the full interview with Epstein below.
Theo Epstein on Inside the Clubhouse
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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