Welcome back to Smash or Pass, an offseason series in which we examine various free agents and trade targets to determine whether they make sense for the Red Sox. Today, we’re taking a look at someone a lot of people figured would already be on the Red Sox by now.
Who is he and where does he come from?
Jorge Soler is a 31-year-old designated hitter who can also play a little bit of outfield, although he his best known for smashing dingers into the next dimension. Originally from Cuba, Soler has been in the majors since 2014 when he came up with the Chicago Cubs. He has since played for the Kansas City Royals, the Atlanta Braves (with whom he won a World Series title) and, most recently, the Miami Marlins.
Is he any good?
Soler is very good at one thing: hitting the ball hard and hitting it far. He launched 36 long balls last year with Miami and ranked in the 91st percentile in barrel rate among MLB hitters, earning himself a spot on the National League All-Star team in the process. He also ranked 12th among qualified hitters in isolated power (ISO) at a mark of .262, just edging out National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. Buoyed by such power and his consistently solid work in taking free passes (career 10.5 percent walk rate), Soler produced a .250/.341/.512 slash line and a 126 wRC+ in 2023.
Soler’s power has been relatively consistent over the last five seasons. After meandering a bit and struggling to log consistent playing time from 2014 to 2018, in 2019, he broke out to wallop 48 home runs, and although he hasn’t reached those heights since, from 2019 to 2023, he ranked 17th in ISO and tied for the 16th-most home runs in MLB. It’s important to note that includes the 13 he hit in 2021 when he played in only 72 games due to multiple IL stints.
Now that we’ve established Soler’s bona fides as a slugger, you’re probably expecting a catch, and there are a few. From an offensive perspective, he is a bit one-dimensional as a hitter. The power is great and he does a solid job with drawing walks, but even with those skills, he’s not especially great at getting on base overall, meaning his success is exceptionally reliant on his ability to put the ball over the fence. For example, in 2021, he hit a respectable but not overly impressive 27 home runs and walked 11.1 percent of the time in 602 plate appearances split between the Royals and Braves. However, his final slash line of .223/.316/.432 equated to an exactly league average offensive profile by wRC+. (Although his run with Atlanta in both the regular season and playoffs was much better that year, ultimately netting him the World Series MVP crown). Such a reliance on homers makes Soler a bit streaky, as he produced marks of 107, 100 and 95 in wRC+ in the three seasons preceding his strong 2023. In fairness, one of those was the shortened 2020 season and another was that 2021 campaign we just talked about. Still, given those peaks and valleys, Soler certainly is an imperfect hitter.
Additionally, as you might expect for a player who is primarily a DH, Soler is a liability in the field. Despite being 26 percent better than league average offensively last season, he produced 1.9 fWAR, in no small part because of his defensive shortcomings when he did play in the field. In fairness, that wasn’t all that often, as the Marlins only played him in the field in 31 games, yet his defense still dragged him down quite a bit. In fact, only he, Kyle Schwarber of the Philadelphia Phillies and Spencer Torkelson of the Detroit Tigers hit at least 30 home runs last year and yielded less than 2.0 fWAR.
Poor glovework has been part of Soler’s profile for years, however, and for context, a player is usually considered a solid everyday player at 2.0 fWAR. A solid everyday player who might flirt with 50 home runs is certainly someone to take a look at and given Soler’s clear move to DH, defensive responsibilities likely won’t feature heavily in his future assignments.
TL;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.
137 G, 580 PA, .250/.341/.512, 36 HR, 77 R, 75 RBI, 11.4% BB rate. 24.3% K rate, 126 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR
Why would he be a good fit for the Red Sox?
As recently as a couple weeks ago, it seemed like the Red Sox thought he would definitely be a good fit. With Justin Turner and Adam Duvall still free agents and Teoscar Hernández, whom the Red Sox were interested in, a Los Angeles Dodger, the Red Sox have plenty of DH at-bats to hand out and Soler’s spectacular power would play nicely in the middle of the lineup, particularly at Fenway Park. Adding fuel to the fire: The Red Sox only hit 182 home runs as a team last year, ranking 18th in baseball. Soler can’t make them a power hitting team on his own (especially since Turner and Duvall contributed 44 combined last year), but he could move them in the right direction.
Why would he not be a good fit for the Red Sox?
The Red Sox greatest needs are on the pitching side of the equation and unless Soler has been hiding a sweeper, he obviously doesn’t help address those concerns. In addition, Soler makes for an odd fit for a Red Sox team that has struggled defensively, especially in the outfield, as he would likely force them to continue putting Masataka Yoshida in left field. Given Tom Werner’s sudden belief that all that is holding the Red Sox back is defense and not, say, a lackluster lineup and a shrug emoji masquerading as a starting rotation, Soler would seemingly no longer be a serious target for the Red Sox. That is doubly true when considering Sam Kennedy’s recent comments about the Red Sox’s shrinking payroll.
What would he cost?
When it put out its annual free agent ranking earlier in the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors projected that Soler would get a deal worth $45 million over three years. The Red Sox reportedly offered Hernández $28 million over two years, so if the Red Sox are still not willing to add a third year for a potential starting DH, that could be a stumbling block if Soler wants something more long-term.
Show me a cool highlight.
The announcers claim this ball landed, but I don’t believe it.
Smash or pass?
We may be asking this from the wrong perspective since the momentum has clearly shifted away from the Red Sox in terms of where Soler may end up. Soler may have played Smash or Pass about the Red Sox himself and pressed the pass button. Of course, there’s another potential explanation: The Red Sox are just waiting him out. (Thanks to OTM editor Dan Secatore for that thought).Taking out where they stand in Soler’s estimation currently, Soler would be a good signing for the Red Sox. The offense was mid last year and that was with Turner and Duvall turning in surprisingly strong seasons. They’ll need more offensive oomph to compete and given how lefty-heavy the Red Sox are, particularly at the top of the lineup, as long as he can keep the power going, Soler would fit in beautifully and provide much needed slugging and balance. Smash.