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Trading Jorge Soler

The slugger is off to a great start, but will he be part of the next good Royals club?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most pleasant (and biggest?) surprises this season so far, in a season with so few of them, has been the early surge by Jorge Soler. As of this writing he’s compiled a 154 wRC+, 50 points above his career average (which includes that 154), and even further above his career 96 wRC+ coming into the season. He had never reached that 154 mark or better in any single stop in the minors where he got more than 30 plate appearances. Coming into the year, Soler had been worth 0.8 fWAR for his career, just shy of a full win. So far, he’s almost doubled that career mark with a 1.4 fWAR.

Soler has always had All-Star-level upside but just could never put it all together at the Major League level. He still hasn’t put it all together fully (as in over a full season) but has at least displayed his potential over the short season so far.

This May has been his best month of his MLB career so far (excluding the few games in June of 2016 and August of 2014). And as good as his April/May have been, only one of those weeks appears amongst the best weeks of his career.

One of the most important outcomes in a rebuild (whether the Royals are doing one or not intentionally is another topic) is trying to maximize the value of the current players so that you can trade them for future pieces. While Soler’s start isn’t sustainable (hello .400+ BABIP), he’s at least turned enough heads that his stock is surely up.

Which means the Royals should be looking to trade him at the deadline. Yes, I know that may not be the most fun sentence here (taking away one of the few bright spots in this black hole of a season), but one of my core tenets of a rebuilding team is to trade everyone of any value:

What the Royals should be looking to do is exchange as much present value for future value as they can. If Player X can’t be reasonably seen as being a core piece to a competing team 4-5 years from now, then they should likely be moved.

So can Soler be seen as a core piece to a competing team sometime in the near-and-hopeful future? He’s under contract until at least 2020 (I’m not convinced that he’ll have another year of team control after that - why he would be able to opt into arbitration then also still be subject to arbitration anyways in 2021 would be a weird contract that was a nine year deal). Let’s be honest, can anyone see the Royals being competitive by, let’s say, 2020? If so, can you see Soler as a key cog in that 2020 team?

A reminder, the 2020 season is one and a half seasons away. It seems much further away than that, but it’s not, and it’s a good reminder we are all getting older. With most of the Royals better prospects being both in the low minors and of questionable impact, there’s very little chance any of them are ready to headline a playoff contending team in two years. Having even a competitive team in three years, by 2021, seems too optimistic. There are some potential bats, but they range mostly from average major leaguers (not a bad thing) to role players (not a bad thing either). The pitching side though is near non-existent.

Of course the timeline could be accelerated by a potential sell off of other players like Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, and Danny Duffy, but it’s unlikely that any one of them really returns a game changing piece in the scheme of this timeline. In fact, you might be able to argue that Soler is their best piece, so moving him would have the biggest impact on moving the timeline forward.

Will his value be higher? He’s hit very well to start the year, but he’s had other stretches roughly just as hot yet he faded back to his career norms. When you look at his underlying peripherals, there isn’t that much of a difference too:

He’s improved a bit over the past two years in some aspects. He’s swinging at fewer outside pitches and is more patient at the plate, but year-over-year he’s about the same overall save for one thing. He’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone this year and for good reason. To start, he’s hitting the ball well, so pitchers are less interested in throwing him strikes, but secondly, his teammates are generally bad, so they’d rather pitch to them. Last year he was one of the weaker bats in the lineup, but now he’s one of the best.

From a batted ball standpoint, he’s actually hitting more groundballs than last year and his career norms (not something I would have guessed). 2017 looks a little loopy from a batted ball type profile and his 2018 is a little closer to his career norms. From a contact quality perspective he’s hitting the ball harder, which helps explain the production and the BABIP. He’s strangely never been amongst the leaders in exit velocity despite a reputation that would seem like he would be.

How much higher can his value get? Remember, each game he plays for KC is one less for a prospective new team. He could probably build some more equity by the trade deadline in July and get a boost from the deadline premium teams pay, but there’s very little chance his value is higher this next winter than this next July really. Maybe you could argue that his value increases by proving that he can be good over a full season, but you are then subtracting a half season of value from a prospective team and also forfeiting the deadline premium.

One thing Soler could do well proving is being able to play over a full season.

Soler has been consistently injured his entire career:

And while he was back in action on Wednesday, Soler was out of the lineup Tuesday.

I never wish for a player to get injured, but there’s a reasonably good chance Soler misses some time at some point this year.

It’s been at least a fun start for Soler, and even if you are skeptical he can keep a reasonable amount of his performance up going forward, he’s created some positive value, and the “major” projection systems see him at least being a league average or slightly above hitter for the rest of the year:

(note that rest of season projections - ROS - do include his performance so far this year).

There doesn’t exist a logical scenario where the Royals should allow Soler to get to free agency, so they are due to trade him at some point (small market teams have to make their living by swapping decline current value to them for future value). Trading him now theoretically should yield a higher return than doing so next winter, or July of 2019, or the 2020 offseason. While I don’t think the return would yield an elite prospect, there’s a reasonable argument he should command a top 100 guy (which is better than anything currently in the Royals minor league system). That’s certainly better value than he had coming into the season, at least.