The Royals shipped Jorge Soler to Omaha this weekend to get more playing time as the slugger has been benched in favor of the red-hot rookie Jorge Bonifacio. Just two months into his Royals career, Soler has gotten off to a very inauspicious start. The Soler trade came with two major red flags - injuries and poor defense. Already, Soler has missed a month due to an oblique injury, and his defense has been a work-in-progress, to be kind.
But while Soler showed some offensive promise in Chicago - his OPS was higher than Eric Hosmer’s last season - his bat has been completely inept in Kansas City. Although he leads the team with a 15.4% walk rate, Soler is hitting just .164/.292/.273 with one home run in 65 plate appearances. He has struck out 29% of the time, and his 27.8% soft-contact rate is the highest out of anyone currently on the team.
As if the trade didn’t already look bad enough for the Royals, Wade Davis is absolutely destroying the National League so far. Davis didn’t give up an earned run over his first 18 outings, and has converted all ten of his save opportunities successfully with 11.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. His velocity is down, but so far he has been healthy and producing exactly what the Cubs wanted.
Two months in, this looks like an epic of a bad trade for the Royals, possibly the biggest stinker of the Dayton Moore. But his trade was never about the first two months of this season, or even the full year. This trade was about the future.
To be fair, Soler has only had 65 plate appearances - about two and a half weeks worth. In his first 65 plate appearances this year, Hosmer hit .186/.262/.254. Soler just didn't get a chance to hit his way out of the funk because Jorge Bonifacio burst onto the scene.
And it is far too early to call him a bust. Over his first 830 MLB plate appearances, his numbers are pretty much on par with some other familiar faces.
|To begin career||PA||HR||AVG||OBA||SLG||BB%||K%|
Dayton Moore has consistently stressed that it takes time for hitters to develop, saying they need up to 1,500 at-bats before you know what you have. Soler's struggles remind me of another young right fielder acquired in a controversial trade that looked miserable his first two years in Kansas City. That player, Jermaine Dye, was able to turn things around after 819 plate appearances and put together a 120 OPS+ season, followed by an All-Star appearance the next year.
Acquiring Jorge Soler was less about what he can do in 2017, and more about what he can do in 2018, 2019, and 2020. The Royals feel, with time, Soler can become a productive hitter in the middle of the lineup.
At his worst, the Royals believe Soler’s floor can approximate Morales’ production, while his potential ceiling could be a power-hitting corner outfielder who can club more than 30 homers and anchor the middle of a lineup for multiple seasons.
But it may not happen this year. Which is why Dayton Moore's strategy of both competing in 2017 while reloading for the future was so puzzling. While having Wade Davis in the bullpen may not have helped the struggling Royals offense in April, it seems very likely that a healthy Wade Davis will be more productive than Soler this year. It seems clear Dayton Moore was willing to make the 2017 team worse, in order to get more years of control for a player with upside in Soler. Which, in a vacuum, makes perfect sense for a small-market club.
But it doesn't make sense for a team with the core of a championship club intact, but counting the days until free agency. Dayton Moore is trying to serve two masters, and the strategy has reduced the quality of the rebuild, and possibly blown the last chance of contention with this nucleus of players.
Call me an apologist, but I still think Jorge Soler will be a productive hitter for the Royals. It just may not be this season. That miscalculation may have been a severe misjudgment in the direction of this franchise.