Jorge Soler is quite the conundrum isn’t he? In the months of March, April, and May, he produced big power, bad defense, a 6% BB rate, and a 30.3% K rate. A wRC+ of 100 is not exactly what you need from a primary DH. Since then, he’s more than doubled his walk rate (13.2%), struck out at an average rate (24.2%), continued to hit dingers/produce runs (141 wRC+), and has even done this...
This could be a flash in the pan. We can’t be certain of either. What we can be certain of is that after this season, he’s likely to opt into arbitration. Soler has a unique contract that guarantees him money, but gives him the option of getting out of his contract and entering the arbitration system if he wants to. By forgoing the $4.67M guaranteed to him in 2020, he can begin his first arbitration year (Arb 1) in 2020 with Arb 2 in 2021. The Royals will still have control of him for both of those seasons, but he’s going to get a raise. I became curious as to what the raise could be.
Looking for a player comp
I started my search for a player that we can compare Jorge to and see what their arbitration salary settlement ended up at. The more I looked, the more I kept coming back to Khris Davis. The Oakland slugger had very similar slash lines and numbers to our boy while also playing...uuuuuh...questionable...defense around the same age that Soler will be opting into arbitration.
It seems as though Soler’s age-26 season in 2018 was more productive than Khrush’s age 26 season, but after that season Khrush became the epitome of consistent that we know him as today; hitting .247, putting up 40+ jacks, and walking/striking out at average rates. I think Soler is/will be close to this player with the potential of a higher batting average. But for the sake of the argument, let’s roll with Davis.
Using the Khris Davis comp
When Soler opts into arb in the offseason, he’ll be eligible for Arbitration 1. In Davis’ case, he entered into Arb 1 in 2017 after a season where he produced a 122 wRC+ as a 28 year old. So far as a 27 year old, Soler is VERY close to putting up the same line as Davis did in ‘16.
Soler has slightly better offensive numbers but, at that time, Davis played 93 games in the field. Soler is on pace to play in 73 games in the field and I think it’ll be even less with the inevitable September call-ups and looming injury risk.
In 2017, Khris Davis was paid $5M. I think it’s fair to expect Soler to be in the $5M-$6M ballpark for 2020. And if Soler progresses like KD, we can expect Soler to cost between $10M-$12M for 2021. If this is to be true, then he’ll make $16M-$18M over the next two years instead of $10M-$12M. For him, that’s a significant raise. For the team however, I doubt how much it truly moves the needle on the bottom line.
What happens from here?
So let’s get to the real question here: If this is the path we’re headed down, what do the Royals do with Jorge Soler? There are three scenarios to choose from: Wait and see, Extend, and Trade.
Wait and See
I think the most likely scenario here is the “Wait and See” approach. Soler has been fantastic this year and is finally showing us that pedigreed talent they traded Wade Davis for. He’s also showing us that he can stay healthy for a good portion of the season (as long as he isn’t playing in the field). He’s also showing us that he struggles in the field for the most part and I know that some of the reason the Royals traded for him was the intention to unlock potential in his defense. That just hasn’t happened. At this point he’s a DH and should be valued as such. Considering the fact that the Royals have no issue carrying a full-time DH (contrary to what they say every offseason), as well as, there are no upcoming roster crunches, they should have plenty of at-bats for Soler.
They also need his power. Outside of Hunter Dozier, no Royal has an ISO above .200. Their leadoff hitter is also their 3rd best power hitter in 2019. Salvy will be back next year and it sure seems like Ryan O’Hearn has rebounded in AAA. Having a 3-4-5-6 in 2020 of Dozier, Soler, O’Hearn, and Salvy is pretty damn nasty, in my opinion. So the Royals can carry a full-time DH, can provide every day at-bats, need his power, and don’t HAVE to make a decision that could potentially hamstring them in the future. This seems likely and I’m fine with it.
Payroll for this route:
2020: about $81M
2021: about $81M
The Royals could also look to extend him after this season and lock up the remaining years of his theoretical prime. If we’re still looking at the Khris Davis comp, we can get an idea of what that might look like. We’ll start with the next two years costing around $17M. That will take him through his age 29 season. It sure looks like KD is taking a step back production wise at age 31. It’s reasonable to think that both, the Royals and Soler, would think that age 31 would be a good age to cap this extension because it doesn’t handicap the payroll in order to roster a player far from his prime and it allows Soler to potentially cash in again. So let’s make this a 4 year extension. Davis just signed a 2 year extension for $33.5M total ($16.75M AAV). For inflation purposes and definitely not because decimals are hard let’s make it a cool $17M per. Bringing this total extension to four years/$51M ($12.75M AAV ((DAMMIT THE DECIMALS!!!!))).
If I were the Royals and headed down this path, I’d front-load this deal. Gordo’s money should (and I mean that in more ways than one) drop off next year; Kennedy’s the year after that; Salvy/Duffy’s the following. The Royals will be seeing what players will be part of the next core so they shouldn’t be signing a lot of free agents. Might as well pay Soler and help retain his value later. That would even improve his trade value at the end. Here’s how the payroll would shake out if we structured the extension 15-15-12-9.
2020: about $90M
2021: about $90M
2022: about $69M
2023: about $115M (This is the final arb years for Mondesi, Dozier, Keller, and Junis)
The Royals might balk at carrying a payroll over $90M over the next two years. But some payroll relief could come if they find a trade partner for Ian Kennedy next year. Even paying 75% of that contract would bring the payroll to a manageable $86M. More relief could be found by non-tendering Cheslor and Jesse Hahn. So this extension structure is still feasible.
I won’t try to rehash something that’s already been done. Back in June, Shaun Newkirk wrote about Soler’s trade value. Since then, Soler has been hitting better but I think it largely still applies. Soler’s primary tool is hitting home runs and those are valued less and less every year. That being said, they’re still valuable and if a home run hitter can also get on base, the value sky rockets.
Since the writing of that article, of players with 100+ ABs, Soler has the 61st highest OPS (.854) in the league alongside players like George Springer and Christian Walker, and higher than Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, and Paul Goldscmidt . If that is the player that Soler truly is, his trade value is currently on a rocket that Ned Yost can probably tell you all about. I think THAT player could bring back a Top 100 prospect and maybe a lottery ticket. But the question remains if he IS that guy and, again, there are plenty of injury risks here. If the Royals were offered a Top 100 prospect over the offseason, they should probably take it. If they choose to extend him in the above deal, I’d say his trade value is less in 2023 than it is now, but there is definitely still some there.
Personally, I’m still in the “Wait and See” camp but I’m smelling the marshmallows roasting on the fire of that “Extend” camp and my mouth is starting to water.
What would you do with Jorge Soler if you were the Royals?
This poll is closed
Wait and See
Trade for a single Top 100 prospect this offseason