As Kansas City braced themselves for the Winter storm conditions, the Royals released this nugget of information that brought some levity to the cold and ice accumulating around the metro:
Despite Soler opting out of his original deal with the Cubs, Soler and the Royals still avoided going into arbitration, and ended up negotiating a deal before the deadline. Dayton Moore has long been known for avoiding arbitration, as the only case he had involved Brandon Maurer in 2018. Due to Soler’s sudden breakout in 2019, many thought it could be possible that Soler would be Moore’s second case of arbitration, as Soler was expected to put in a figure in the $10-plus mark per year. With the Royals and new ownership looking to be more frugal in 2020, it seemed possible that the Royals and Soler would engage in a stand-off over an extension and take this to arbitration, as it was unlikely that the Royals wanted to engage in another $10-plus million per year contract on the payroll.
While Soler certainly deserved a $10 or more million per year contract after his production a year ago, he and the Royals settled for a one-year extension for $7.3 million. While it may not have been the amount Soler necessarily wanted or deserved, the man still got a pay raise (his original contract had him due for a little over $4.6 million this upcoming year), and he still is under club control for at least one more season.
Thus, while Soler may not have gotten the long-term extension he wanted, but he still has one more year to see if the Royals can negotiate some kind of long-term extension. And by Soler settling for a little less than expected, the Royals will have a little more payroll flexibility which may not necessarily be utilized in 2020, but could give them some options in 2021 and beyond.
So, let’s take a look at how this deal is a win for both Soler and the Royals.
Why this is a good deal for Soler
As stated above, Soler probably deserved a plus-$10 million per year deal. Last year, in addition to setting a Royals home run record with 48 dingers, and posting a .265/.354/.569 slash line over 162 games and 679 plate appearances, he also accumulated a 3.6 WAR, which was a Royals high for 2019. If you correlate that WAR into a monetary amount, Soler would have been worth $29.1 million to the club last year. Now, for those who may think 2019 was a fluke, Steamer projects a .257/.349/.503 line and a 2.2 WAR for 2020 for Soler. Hence, even with a slight regression in production next year, the Royals would still be getting a steal on #SolerPower if they negotiated something closer to that $10 million mark that people were projecting.
Thus, in many ways, some may think that Soler is getting hosed by Moore and the Royals. However, when looking at the whole picture, this deal actually works pretty well in Soler’s favor.
First, Soler only signed to a one-year extension, which means that he will have one more season to negotiate a long-term deal with the Royals next off-season. Having that kind of year-to-year flexibility is nice for a player like Soler who surprisingly was thrusted into the “best Designated Hitters in baseball” discussion. While Soler certainly had a breakout, his value on the open market currently may not have been as high due to the fact that he has not proven much before last year, and he has a reputation for being bad defensively, which limits his value to primarily American League clubs. Thus, while some fans may think that Soler would have gotten some value in a trade this off-season, in reality, Soler probably would not have fetched much in terms of prospects.
Hence, having another year to prove himself is good for Soler in order to generate more value should the Royals let him go to free agency in 2022, or if they want to trade him next off-season. If he continues to mash like he did in 2019, it will be hard to justify that Soler was a fluke, which means that Soler will be due to get a bigger pay day personally after the 2020 season.
Another reason the one-year deal is good for Soler is that he gets to feel things out in the Royals organization, and isn’t hamstrung long-term should new management not be a fit for him. Luckily for Soler, Pedro Grifol, who was a big influence in helping Soler break out in 2019, is back on the Royals bench. Thus, it is likely that Soler will continue to be comfortable with this new Royals coaching staff. That being said, who knows how Soler will mesh with new Royals manager Mike Matheny. While Matheny claims to have changed his approach and outlook from his St. Louis days, it is possible that Soler and Matheny could not click. And if that happens, it will be a lot easier to trade Soler on a one-year deal rather than trying to do so if Soler had two or three more years on his contract.
Granted, I am like 95 percent sure this won’t happen (I think Soler is grateful the Royals have given him a chance after he flamed out in the Cubs organization), but you never know with clubhouse dynamics. Should things go unexpectedly between Matheny and Soler, this one-year deal will benefit Soler, since he can part ways with relatively little stress, at least contractually speaking.
Why this is a good deal for the Royals
As Royals fans have begun to take notice, the Royals new ownership group led by John Sherman seems to be taking a more conservative approach this off-season when it comes to building a roster. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Moore has not had the best track record when it comes to signing free agents. For every Homer Bailey deal that has worked out in the Royals favor, there is an Ian Kennedy, Brandon Moss or Chris Owings signing that seems to negate that good will. Limiting Moore on cheap, low-risk deals is probably the best approach for the Royals in terms of building a competitive roster now while not sacrificing assets for the future.
As of now, the Royals are looking at a projected 26-man Opening Day payroll $75.25 million, which would be the Royals’ lowest Opening Day payroll since 2012, when it was $64 million. While some Royals fans may be disappointed that Moore and the Royals are going “frugal” to start a new era of Royals baseball, a more conservative approach, highlighted by Soler’s deal, will actually pay dividends for this organization beyond 2020.
First, the Royals are not contending in any way, shape, or form in 2020. Right now, the goal for the Royals would be to get to the 70-or-above win mark, which as of now, may be a lofty goal. The Royals still have some hamstringing contracts left on their payroll, including Kennedy (who is due $16.5 million in the final year of his deal) and Danny Duffy (who has two years and roughly $30-million left). Unfortunately, no other teams are biting on those deals, so the Royals have to ride it out for the time being. While Kennedy and Duffy are solid Royals citizens, and have found roles in the Royals clubhouse (Kennedy saved his ass by becoming a solid closer last year; but unfortunately, no team wants to pony up almost $17 million for a closer), they are not moving the needle when it comes to getting this club closer to that 70-or-more win mark that the club needs to hit to show the Royals fanbase that they are improving.
Thus, Soler’s modest deal keeps costs low for the Royals, and keeps their options flexible in the future once Kennedy comes off the books this year, and Duffy in 2021. I am sure that came up in the negotiations between Moore and Soler’s team: play for a little bit now, and become the leader in 2020 with a nice, hefty extension. After 2021, there will be no $10-plus million per year contract players left on the Royals roster, as not only Duffy comes off the books, but so does Salvador Perez, and it seems unlikely that the Royals will sign him to another similar extension in a couple of years. Thus, the Royals can give him more money next year, knowing that they will have more payroll flexibility after this season.
And not only does waiting on a Soler deal give them flexibility now, but also in the future, as they can commit more money to their pitching prospects waiting in the wings in KC as soon as next season. If Brady Singer comes up and is gang-busters, or if Daniel Lynch progresses faster than people expect, the Royals can lock them down after this year, which I am not sure they could do as easily if Soler had a massive extension signed this year. However, not only can they lock down Singer and maybe Lynch next year, but they can also adjust Soler’s deal as necessary, which is how it should be. The Royals should be adjusting payroll based on their future…not their veterans who may be there only a few more seasons after 2022.
Lastly, Soler’s “modest” deal also gives the Royals the ability to make one last, low-risk, low-cost signing in the Maikel Franco mold. As of now, it seems like that money will go to Alex Gordon, per this tweet from Royals MLB.com writer Jeff Flanagan:
I don’t know if this happens if Soler is making $10-11 million on an extension, which is why I think we have not heard anything about a Gordo signing until the Soler extension. Now, this isn’t a slam dunk signing by any means. While Gordo has done a ton for this organization, and it would be awesome to see him retire as a Royal (I was more prone to this idea before the Franco signing), the idea of Gordo returning for one last season seems to be polarizing with Royals fans:
Whether the Royals use that $3-4 million they saved with Soler on Gordo (which I’m ‘meh’ on) or on another pitcher to boost the rotation or bullpen (which I’m more ‘hmm’ on), the fact of the matter is that Moore probably has one more “big” signing to make before the Royals report to Surprise for Spring Training.
The Royals can be thankful that Soler and his team gave the club that kind of flexibility by taking a “team-friendly” extension.
Let’s hope Soler and the Royals capitalize on this deal in 2020 and beyond.