The Mariners and Diamondbacks are among the clubs with interest in free agent slugger Jorge Soler, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Soler opted out of the final year and $13MM on his three-year contract with the Marlins at the beginning of the offseason.
That decision came as little surprise when looking at Soler’s production this past season. The 31-year-old (32 in February) popped 36 home runs while slashing .250/.341/.512 in 580 plate appearances with Miami. His 11.4% walk rate was the second-highest of his career and best since 2016, while his 24.3% strikeout rate was the lowest of his career. Soler averaged a hefty 91.3 mph off the bat and ranked in the 91st percentile of all MLB hitters in terms of “barreled” ball rate, as defined by Statcast. In a market largely devoid of power bats, Soler has clear middle-of-the-order upside, and his recent K/BB improvements are particularly encouraging.
The Marlins are said to have some interest in a reunion, but both Seattle and Arizona are obvious fits for a hitter of this skill set. The Mariners opted not to make Teoscar Hernandez a qualifying offer and let him walk in free agency, removing one of their top power bats in the process. They later traded Eugenio Suarez and his $12MM salary to the D-backs, receiving backup catcher Seby Zavala and high-upside reliever Carlos Vargas in the process. The M’s also engineered a salary-motivated deal sending Marco Gonzales and Evan White to the Braves alongside Jarred Kelenic, netting righties Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips in the process.
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said earlier this offseason that he hoped to lower the team’s strikeout rate, and moving on from both Hernandez (31.1%) and Suarez (30.8%) work toward that end. Soler has long had strikeout issues of his own, but he’s at 25.1% over the past three seasons. That’s a notable decrease from both Hernandez and Suarez, and Soler has more power than either player. Dipoto has also spoken this winter about how he’d be comfortable deploying a full-time designated hitter. Soler, of course, would fit that billing. He can still play right or left field in a pinch, but his defensive deficiencies are well known.
The trades of Suarez, Gonzales and White have left the M’s with a projected payroll under $120MM. Dipoto, meanwhile, has suggested that despite the cost-cutting measures so far this winter, the overall payroll could still rise higher than last year’s $140MM mark. There’s room to add Soler and still pursue other offensive upgrades (particularly if the Soler deal is backloaded). Soler is also quite familiar with new Mariners hitting coach Brant Brown, who held the same role in Miami last year.
Down in Arizona, the D-backs have significantly boosted payroll by acquiring Suarez and agreeing with Eduardo Rodriguez on a four-year, $80MM contract. Their projected $133MM payroll is a tick higher than the franchise-record mark of $131.5MM, but the Snakes are also coming off an unexpected deep postseason run that saw them advance all the way to the World Series. Presumably, there’s some extra resources in their supply as a result of that increase in revenue. And, the surge into the Fall Classic’s spotlight in many ways shows that the core of this group has arrived, and the time to supplement it is now.
Rosenthal reports that the Diamondbacks’ preference would be for a right-handed bat that can slot into the middle of the lineup. Again, Soler fits that description aptly. The D-backs have an all left-handed outfield (Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, Dominic Fletcher), so adding Soler for some occasional corner work and plenty of designated hitter plate appearances would help to balance out the lineup.
There’ll surely be competition for Soler’s services, and the question of asking price is paramount for a pair of suitors who are likely working with limited financial maneuverability, to varying extents. Rosenthal suggests both Arizona and Seattle would prefer to spread out their remaining resources over multiple hitters. Without knowing exactly how high D-backs owner Ken Kendrick is willing to take payroll, it’s hard to say whether there’d be room to add Soler and look for further supplements (at least via free agency). With regard to the Mariners, it seems plenty feasible to sign Soler to a multi-year deal — MLBTR predicted a three-year, $45MM deal, for what it’s worth — and still have room to make some further additions if the payroll indeed can increase over last year’s roughly $140MM threshold.