The Expectations for Jorge Soler

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Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“Boy, you gotta carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you gonna carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time”

~The Beatles, “Carry That Weight”, 1969

History has shown that the Kansas City Royals are no strangers to bad trades. Ed Hearn for David Cone. Mike Wood, Mark Teahen and John Buck for Carlos Beltran. Neifi Perez for Jermaine Dye. Yuck…I feel dirty just writing Neifi Perez’s name. I’m sure you the reader can think of a few more bad trades that the Royals have been party to. To take that a step further, I’m sure a few would even mention the trade last winter of Wade Davis to the Cubs for slugging outfielder Jorge Soler. But don’t count me in that camp…yet. Because while Soler was awful during his short time in the majors in 2017, this trade is not won or lost on one year alone.

In fact, the whole crux of this trade was about team control. The reason the Royals only got Soler for Davis was because Kansas City was giving up one year of Wade for four years of Soler. While it would have been nice to get a haul similar to what the Yankees got for Andrew Miller, the truth is they were able to get that much since Miller had 2+ years still left on his contract. Even the Aroldis Chapman deal was a different beast, as it was a trade made right before the deadline. With the Davis trade going down during the winter, it meant the Royals weren’t going to get the same kind of deal as other elite relievers. With that being said, four years of control for a younger talent is nothing to sneeze at.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It also means that a little bit of patience should be involved when it comes to Soler. He will be entering his age 26 season and more than anything he will need consistent at bats this year for the Royals to really see a difference. One of the reasons the Royals sent him to AAA a couple of times last year was the lack of at bats he was getting for the big league team. At the time, Kansas City was pushing for a playoff spot and the team just didn’t have the time necessary to help him get out of his slump. More than anything, he just wasn’t comfortable:

“It’s just been a struggle to get going,” Yost said. “He just doesn’t look comfortable in the box. He just hasn’t been able to get on a roll up here. We were hoping after his stint down there where he was hitting .320 and hitting homers that he could get up here and get comfortable. But we just need him to get at-bats.”

Between the spring oblique injury, the sporadic playing time for Kansas City and the demotion to the minors, Soler never got a chance to get situated with his new team. Luckily, 2018 will be a new year and with the Royals looking to rebuild it will give him the perfect chance to just go out and play.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays

While there wasn’t much positive to come from last year, there are a few glimmering signs of hope that Royals fans can clutch onto. One is his walk rate, which has always been a positive and 2017 was no different. Soler put up a 10.9% walk rate in 110 plate appearances, which is above his career rate of 9.3%. In fact, one of his issues last year very well could have been too much patience, as addressed early in the season at beyondtheboxscore.com:

Right now, Soler is displaying the difference between plate approach and pitch recognition. His current approach at the plate is a good one: take a lot of pitches, look for ones to drive, and hit the ball in the air when they come. But there’s no evidence Soler has made progress in pitch recognition. While he’s laying off the pitches he shouldn’t chase early in the count, he’s also laying off the pitches he needs to swing at early in the count. This is leading to a lot deep counts, walks, and strikeouts; it’s not leading to a lot of hits and home runs, which are kind of important.

Sounds like what we saw last year, doesn’t it? The good news is that pitch recognition is something that players normally grow into the longer they are in the league. A number of the advances that both Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas saw these last 3-4 years appeared to be from recognizing pitches and realizing which pitches to pounce on and which ones to try to go the other way with. While it can be frustrating, it can also be worth it in the long run.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It also appeared that Soler was hitting the ball in the air a tad more, as his fly ball rate continued the upward trajectory it has been taking throughout his career. Soler’s bread and butter is the home run and it won’t do him any good if he is hitting the ball on the ground. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more line drives, as they have taken a downward turn these last few years. Soler’s high for his line drive rate was 27.8% back in 2015; the last two years he has posted rates of 17.1% and 18.0%. Those two years have also seen a slight move up in ground balls, but not enough to get worried about. It does appear obvious what he should be working on when he reports to camp next month.

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Credit: AP images

With Terry Bradshaw sliding into the hitting coach role this year, Soler should be near the top of the list of priorities for him this spring. With a focus on pitch recognition and driving the ball, we could see Soler start to put up the numbers we all envisioned from him when he was acquired last winter. It’s unfair to expect him to produce at the level of the man he was traded for. The legend of Wade Davis is of an unstoppable force that compiled two of the best seasons for a reliever not only in Royals history, but in baseball lore. He will also be remembered as the man on the mound for the final out of the 2015 World Series. The expectations for Jorge Soler aren’t to match what Davis did in his Kansas City tenure. No, the expectations are simple. All the Royals need from him is to go out and produce above league average for a couple of seasons and be a force in the middle of the batting order. Asking him to be on par with a legend is being unrealistic of why he was acquired in the first place.

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The Price to Pay for Pitching

If you have followed the Royals-verse (I know that technically isn’t a thing, but just act like it is) these past few days, you have probably heard the Royals are dangling star prospect and (hopefully) soon to be Francoeur replacement Wil Myers in a trade for a top of the line starting pitcher. This has caused many reactions, good and bad, and some shock as well. Why, I don’t know. At this point, almost everyone should be available in a deal, as the Royals hope to reach .500 for the first time since 2003. But is dealing a possible future star the real answer?

Wil Myers is probably going to be a special player in the big leagues. At the age of 21 he put up monster numbers in the minors this year, and every indication is that Myers is a future 30 homerun hitter in the bigs. His only struggles were the 2011 season at AA, but those worries got swept aside when he came back in 2012 and dominated both AA and AAA. As excited as we have been about Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez, Myers might end up being better than all of them. But there is one solid truth in baseball; to acquire talent, you have to trade talent.

Lester would miss pitching against the Royals.

Let’s look at some of the trade rumors thrown about lately. First is Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. Lester can be one of the top starters in baseball, when healthy. That right there should be red flag number one for Royals GM Dayton Moore when considering this trade. Lester has been broken down off and on the past few years, although he has still accumulated 200 innings pitched four of the last five seasons. Back issues have been a problem, and to be honest, those injuries are the ones that scare me the most. Back issues tend to linger, and if Lester can’t shake that then a trade would look like an epic disaster. As much as Lester has an upside, the downside would make a trade for Myers a no go for Kansas City.

  Next is James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. As much as I like Shields, and he is a reliable pitcher, he isn’t a top starter. He is a nice upper to middle of the rotation guy, which is definitely better than what the Royals have now. But if the Royals are serious about trading Myers, you use him to get a top guy, not a close-to-a-top-guy. To me, a Myers for Shields trade is laughable. Maybe a Billy Butler for Shields, or something closer to that, but Myers might never have a higher value than he does right now. To get a #2 starter, seems like a waste of his actual value.

     So instead of those deals, I have a better idea. I think a package deal might be a better course to take. The Royals have a lot of good talent in their farm system(is it still considered the best in baseball?), and maybe adding a major leaguer might entice the pot a bit. It also might be a chance to get rid of some excess baggage, like Jeff Francoeur or Luke Hochevar. A couple of prospects like Jorge Bonifacio or Chestor Cuthbert packaged in with maybe a bullpen arm or something else might net them a solid #2 or #3 starter. to me, that is the trade you want to make rather than trade a future star for two years of service from a Lester or Shields.

Dayton Moore has mentioned in the past that he needs to be creative, and now would be the time to do it. Maybe start the conversation bringing up Myers and steer them toward a guy like Bonifacio, who has a good upside as well. I would avoid trading an arm in the minors, so guys like Jason Adam, Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura should be off limits. A big part of why the Royals are in this mess in the first place is because they haven’t produced hardly any solid starters in the organization in years, so trading what few arms they have down there now makes a big problem a bigger problem in two or three years.

At the end of the day,Dayton Moore needs to take the bigger picture here into consideration. The Royals aren’t contending in 2013. I’m not even sure if 2014 is possible with the management that is in place right now. So why trade a talented guy like Myers, who you will have control of for six years, for a solid starter that you have control of for two years tops? The answer is you don’t. If this trade happens, we Royals fans might refer to it in the same breath as the classic David Cone for Ed Hearn trade or the enchanting Carlos Beltran deal that brought us John Buck and Mark Teahen. Yes, the Royals need a top of the rotation guy for their rotation. But if you can’t get that guy, a solid 2 or 3 starter should be the way to go. Trading Myers for that guy is definitely not the answer we Royals fans want.

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