The KC Royals’ 9-8, come-from-six-runs-behind victory over Detroit Saturday night, probably their most exciting game of the season, was unfortunately another exercise in futility for their most powerful hitter. Jorge Soler, who’s split the 89 games he’s played between right field and designated hitter, went hitless for the 49th time.
Soler is batting .183, a miserable clip for a player holding a full-time big league job. He hasn’t finished a game above the .200 mark since May 15. He hit eight home runs in 43 games last season; Tuesday, he equaled that number in his 86th game, and surpassed it the next day in his 87th.
Soler’s 2021 is an unmitigated disaster, yet his name continues to appear on Manager Mike Matheny’s lineup card almost every night—about 93% of the time, in fact. Two months ago, there were arguably valid reasons why Soler, then hitting no better than he is now, wasn’t benched.
Today, there’s only one—the Royals must hope against hope Soler catches fire so hot that some contending team will want his power for the stretch run. “Showcasing” him is the only method left to justify the madness of playing him every day.
But it is an effort destined for little, if any, success. Soler is unlikely to attract serious suitors, much less any willing to give the KC Royals significant value in return.
His depressing numbers aside, Soler is the ideal trade candidate. He’s playing out his one-year, $8.05 million contract, and less than half of that money remains to be paid, meaning any club acquiring Soler won’t break its bank. Sadly, though, his value has probably fallen below such clubs’ interest thresholds. He has prodigious power, as the 48 homers with which he shattered Kansas City’s single-season record in 2019 prove, but he isn’t doing what he does best—pumping baseballs over outfield walls—and he isn’t getting enough other hits.
His swing has too many moving parts, most of which usually appear out of synch with the others, and he overswings too frequently. Defensively, his glove turns no heads. He shouldn’t be a regular outfielder, and he certainly isn’t a late-inning defensive replacement.
In short, it’s hard to imagine any contenders voluntarily including Soler’s name in discussions they might have with KC General Manager Dayton Moore before the trade deadline expires next Friday afternoon. Don’t expect the Royals to trade Soler unless they’re able to throw him in on a much bigger deal.
Should the KC Royals keep Jorge Soler if they can’t trade him by Friday?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal “No.” The Royals traded star reliever Wade Davis to the Cubs for Soler in Winter 2016 so Soler could hit home runs for them. They wanted his power for the final year of their limited window of contention; it was an uncharacteristic move for a team wisely not wedded to power, but KC did it anyway.
It took three seasons for the deal to truly pay off. Injuries slowed Soler in 2017 and 2018, seasons over which he produced a combined 11 home runs, but he broke out in 2019 with his Kansas City record-breaking, American League-leading 48 homers, a respectable .265 average, and a commendable .354 OBP. Those 48 homers now look like an outlier.
Much to his credit, Soler appears not to have lost confidence or the will to solve whatever ails his bat. But he really isn’t doing anything for the KC Royals. He’s driven in four runs this month, which matches the RBIs he had in all of June, and his three July homers are the most he’s hit in any month this season. His .183/.281/.328 slash line speaks for itself.
If the Royals can’t trade him, they need to let Jorge Soler go. Without delay. Not, of course, to make room for a more productive player to enhance the club’s chances to contend (those chances are gone), but instead to create roster space for an outfield prospect to show what he can do for the last two months of the season.
Like Edward Olivares, for example, who probably ought to be in the big leagues anyway. He’s hitting .242 in three trips to Kansas City this season, but has ripped Triple-A pitching so far with a .323/.394/.549 line and 11 homers in 49 games.
Or Kyle Isbel, who earned an Opening Day lineup spot with a good spring, singled and drove in a run in his first big-league at-bat, went 5-for-9 in his first two games, and was hitting .265 when he found himself demoted to Triple-A for the early May start of Omaha’s season.
Isbel had a so-so May, hitting .250 with a homer and five RBIs. June wasn’t good—he batted only .208. July, however, has been just fine for Isbel, who’s slashing .328/.443/.578 in 19 games. He went 1-for-4 Saturday to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, a span over which he’s batting .432.
Olivares and Isbel are outfielders of the future for the KC Royals. Jorge Soler is not. Kansas City showed its willingness to let another prospect return to town to show what he can do when Matheny announced Friday he’ll start MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 KC prospect Daniel Lynch (Isbel is No. 6) against Detroit today; now, the Royals need to do the same with Olivares or Isbel.
And Jorge Soler, in a way neither he nor the Royals ever intended, holds the key to that door.
The KC Royals need to trade Jorge Soler if they can. If they can’t, they need to let him go.