Jorge Soler, Marlins reach deal

JUPITER, Fla. — Jorge Soler, last fall’s World Series MVP with the Braves, has agreed to a three-year contract with the Marlins, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The deal is worth $36 million, according to Feinsand, adding that Soler has opt-outs after both 2022 and ’23. Miami has not confirmed the deal.

From the very beginning of the offseason, the Marlins have made adding middle-of-the-order bats a priority after finishing 29th in OPS and runs, as well as 28th in homers, in 2021. Prior to the lockout, Miami dealt for reliever Louis Head (Rays) and utility player Joey Wendle (Rays), signed Avisaíl García to a four-deal deal, and inked ace Sandy Alcantara and shortstop Miguel Rojas to extensions. The Marlins reportedly expressed interest in outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, who ultimately signed with the rival Phillies. Miami also inquired about Pirates All-Star center fielder Bryan Reynolds, likely finding the asking price to be too high.

Between the acquisitions of Soler and García, the Marlins picked up the second-best (3.6) and fifth-best (0.4) right fielders, in terms of 2021 WAR, on the free-agent market. That duo combined for 56 homers and 156 RBIs last season.

A native of Havana, Cuba, the 30-year-old Soler originally signed with the Cubs in 2012 and made waves as a top prospect whose 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame could unleash light-tower power. But between injuries and inconsistent performance, it wasn’t until 2019 — three seasons after a trade from the Cubs to the Royals — that Soler put it all together.

The past few seasons have been a roller coaster ride. In 2019, Soler played in all 162 games for the Royals, posted a .922 OPS and led the American League with 48 home runs. But he couldn’t match that level of production during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, then started slowly in ’21. By the time the Royals sent him to the Braves in a Trade Deadline deal, Soler was batting just .192 with a .658 OPS.

But he already had begun to turn his season around in Kansas City, and that continued in Atlanta. His production in 55 regular-season games there — .269/.358/.524 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs — looked similar to what he had done during his 2019 breakout. Then there was the postseason, when Soler captured World Series MVP honors for his role in the Braves’ triumph over the Astros, having launched three key home runs and slugged .800 in 20 at-bats.

While that power is the key to Soler’s game, he also is prone to the swing and miss. But when Soler makes contact, he often crushes the ball, as evidenced by his 82nd-percentile barrel rate. His 43 homers of at least 420 feet since 2019 are the most in the Majors.

However, defense is not a strength for Soler, who has started more than 200 career games as a designated hitter. As a corner outfielder (353 games in right field, 60 games in left), he has increased minus-17 Outs Above Average since 2016, including minus-6 last season. In 2021, Soler ranked in the second percentile in outfielder jump, per Statcast, and minus-11 recorded Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs.

As things stand, Miami is still without a natural center fielder on the 40-man roster after designating for assignment Monte Harrison. For now, the plan is for several players to see time in center: Jesús Sánchez, Bryan De La Cruz, utility player Jon Berti and García. Roman Quinn and Delino DeShields Jr. are in camp as non-roster invitees. Prior to the signing of Soler, Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar were set to split time at first base and DH, though Soler would be better suited for the latter role because of his defensive liability.

“Ideally, we want a center fielder who is an offensive threat,” general manager Kim Ng said on Friday. “That would be our primary objective. If that’s not possible, and you’re not going to mortgage the future for one, then I think you have to go to Plan B. And Plan B, there are some good offensive players out there on the market. Like I said the other day when we acquired Avi García, he has played some center field. Bryan De La Cruz has played some center field. We’re going to mix and match and look at what our options are.”

With the 40-man roster full, the Marlins will need to make a corresponding move to make room for Soler.

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