- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox were among the teams that spent the least amount of money in free agency this offseason, but with a month to go before spring training, it appears both teams will put their resources toward trying to sign Cuban defectors Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.
Both teams have done extensive work watching both players via video and through scouting reports.
Cubs vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod compares Cespedes to a current Cub.
"It's funny, because we have a guy on the Cubs now that compares to him when he was younger," McLeod said. "He reminds me somewhat of Marlon Byrd. Cespedes is a better runner than Marlon was when he was younger, but he's a stocky, strong right-handed hitter who can play center field.
"He has power and he can throw. He's built like an NFL running back. He's really put together well. He has a chance to play center field in the major leagues, to hit and to hit for power."
Cespedes and Soler are on the cusp of getting their Dominican Republic citizenship. Once established, they are both eligible to apply for free agency in Major League Baseball. That process takes upwards of two weeks.
Soler, 19, is not yet considered major-league ready, but the 26-year-old Cespedes is expected to play in the majors almost immediately after he signs with an American team.
"I think in an ideal world, he would have minor league exposure first," McLeod said. "I think if he he signs before spring training, it would depend on how he looks in major league camp.
"Ideally, you would like him to get 100 at-bats, if not more (in the minors), but hopefully he'll let the team know if he's ready by the way he plays."
Cespedes is looking for a long-term deal in the range of $50 million to $60 million. Soler's money might be in the $20 million range.
The highest amount a Cuban player has received in free agency is Aroldis Chapman, who signed a three-year, $30 million with the Reds.
Cespedes has played in the Dominican Winter League recently and got off to a slow start, going 2 for 19. Still, none of the baseball people who have seen him doubt his five-tool potential.
Both Chicago teams have watched him play during winter ball, and the teams' top executives have been able to watch Cespedes games streamed on the Internet.
McLeod thinks Soler has a bight future as a major leaguer.
"He's a younger version of Cespedes," McLeod said. "He's a 19-year-old with a bigger body. A guy who probably will be more of a corner outfielder. It's more of a limited history with Soler as not as many people have seen him play. We did see him play a few games in November."
Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreres were veteran Cuban pitchers who helped contribute to the Sox 2005 championship team.
Meanwhile, the Cubs signed four young Cuban players over the last 30 days.