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What should the long-term plan be for Jorge Soler?

The Royals outfielder is finally hitting, but with only two more years left on his deal, what’s the plan here?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The second I heard about the Wade Davis for Jorge Soler rumors, I was confused. The move didn’t make much sense from jump street. It appeared to be a move that was too in-between for what the Royals wanted to do. The Royals were still planning on competing in 2017, yet they traded their All-Star closer before the season ever started. The Royals knew they were going to be entering a lengthy rebuild after the season ended, yet they acquired a player with only four years of control left on his contract. The Royals have seemingly not yet committed to a plan or direction with Jorge Soler, but they need to figure out, quickly.

Jorge Soler is a 26-year old outfielder that is finally starting to hit a little bit. He’s currently slashing .288/.415/.423/.838 after starting the season 0-11 in his first four games. He’s hit his first home run of the season, he’s hit four doubles, and has his slugging percentage up over .400. Soler is also leading the team in on-base percentage at .415, and finally appears to be comfortable playing in a major league lineup every day.

All of this is great. After trading one of the very best closers in all of baseball to acquire Soler, the Royals really needed him to hit, and now he is. So, great! Jorge Soler is hitting. Now what? The Royals did not make the playoffs in 2017 and are currently 5-15 in 2018. They will surely not be very good for the next 2-3 years, as they are rebuilding, so what should the Royals goal for Jorge Soler be?

Jorge Soler’s current contract is set to end after the 2020 season. The Royals will almost certainly still be rebuilding in 2020, though their current wave of top prospects (Seuly Matias, Khalil Lee, Nick Pratto, etc.) will hopefully be getting close to making their big league debuts. The Royals see 2021 as the beginning of their next window, so let’s think of 2021 like it’s this current group of prospects 2011: the year Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, and Salvador Perez all made their big league debuts. It took that group of players three and a half seasons to reach the playoffs for the first time in 2014. So, in a very hypothetical situation, Jorge Soler will be at least 30 the next time that the Royals are ready to compete for a playoff spot.

The way I see it, the Royals have two options when it comes to handling Soler.

Extend his contract

The Royals can hold on to Jorge Soler and look to extend his contract after the 2020 season. Alex Gordon’s contract will come off of the books after the 2019 season, Ian Kennedy’s contract ends after the 2020 season, and Danny Duffy’s contract ends after the 2021 season, though I don’t suspect he’ll still be in Kansas City by then. After the 2020 season, the Royals will be freed of three contracts (assuming that Duffy is traded by then) that currently take up roughly $50M on the payroll. They could feasibly extend Jorge Soler if they wanted to. I’m not entirely sure what that contract would look like, but the Royals will have the money to offer Soler a contract extension should they choose to do so.

I’m not sure how much sense that move would make for Kansas City. Here’s a list of outfielders that the Royals will still have control of in 2021, the season that we expect some of KC’s top prospects to start making their way to The Show:

  • Jorge Bonifacio
  • Bubba Starling (I know, I know)
  • Donnie Dewees Jr. (currently in AA, could debut as early as September)
  • Rudy Martin (destroying A+ right now)
  • Khalil Lee (Royals top prospect, also destroying A+)
  • Anderson Miller (intriguing prospect currently in AA)
  • Elier Hernandez (former highly touted prospect currently in AA)

All of those outfielders will be cheaper than Jorge Soler, and none of them would block top prospects like Michael Gigliotti and Seuly Matias from playing in the big league outfield as the rebuild turns into contention. Maybe Soler will break out and hit 40 HR in 2020 and the Royals will have no choice but to extend their team MVP. Barring a performance like that, I don’t think the Royals are in a position to extend Soler past his current contract. Which leaves...

Trade Jorge Soler for assets

The Royals need to be looking to trade Jorge Soler sometime in the next year or year and a half. Jorge Soler could be a very valuable trade commodity if he keeps hitting like he has been. He’s currently slashing .281/.415/.423 and leads the Royals in on-base percentage. The power hasn’t quite come along yet in the way of home runs, but Soler is crushing the baseball, and you have to figure that his home runs will come in time.

Soler’s trade value doesn’t just lie in his ability to help a team during their 2018 postseason run. His team-friendly contract also means that he could be something of a longer term piece as well. Take a team like the Washington Nationals, for example. Washington is currently trotting out Moises Sierra in left field, and they have a real chance of losing star right fielder Bryce Harper to free agency this offseason. Jorge Soler could present not only an opportunity to upgrade their current outfield, but to have a stop-gap in the outfield for the next couple of years as well.

Here’s a list of teams that could potentially be in the market for a right-handed bat this summer:

  • Cleveland Indians
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Washington Nationals
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Los Angeles Dodgers

This list is based on current rosters, but remember, all it takes is a Justin Upton injury to add the Los Angeles Angels to this list. Or a similar situation to Marcell Ozuna in St. Louis. You get the point, anything can happen that would help to drive up the trade value for Soler.

Jorge Soler probably won’t net you top prospects. If the Royals were to get a top 100 prospect in return, they’d probably have to add in a reliever to the deal as well. However, in a system that certainly needs as much help as it can get, Jorge Soler would probably return a player that could enter the Royals top 30 prospects as soon as he entered the system.

I’m not exactly certain what the thought process was when the Royals acquired Jorge Soler in the Wade Davis trade. It honestly feels like a situation in which the Royals were trying to hedge their bets by competing and rebuilding all in the same move. Moves like that almost always come back to bite you, and it sure feels like that’s the case for Kansas City up to this point.

Luckily, the Royals can still try to redeem themselves. Should Dayton Moore find a suitable trade partner for Jorge Soler this summer, the Royals could turn the 26-year old outfielder into prospects to help shorten this rebuild as much as possible. You’ll probably never get full value for what you gave up in Wade Davis, but maybe the Royals will find a more long-term solution that makes this trade feel a little bit better.