The holiday season is upon us, and the Yankees’ wishlist is a long one. They could use upgrades at shortstop, the starting rotation, center field, and first base, and with the uncertainty over when the next CBA will be ratified, they may have to scramble to strengthen the roster. One thing New York doesn’t lack is hard-hitting corner outfielders, but if they did want to add another big bat to their lineup, there are few sluggers on the market more fearsome than Jorge Soler.
2021 Stats: 149 games, .223/.316/.432, 27 HR, 70 RBI, 11.1 percent BB%, 23.6 percent K%, 97 OPS+, 101 wRC+, -7 OAA, -0.2 fWAR
Soler’s season got off to an abysmal start in Kansas City. At the time of his July 30th trade to the Braves, he was batting .192/.288/.370 with a 79 wRC+ and an MLB-worst -1.2 fWAR. Then, seemingly in an instant, Soler flipped the script and turned into one of the more productive sluggers the rest of the way out. In his remaining 55 regular season games in Atlanta, he slashed .269/.358/.524 with a 132 wRC+ and bested his Royals home run output 14 to 13.
The change he made to produce this improvement was simple — he became more selective at the plate, allowing him to do what he does best: punish the baseball. His reduced his whiff rate by six points, chase rate by five points, and overall swing rate by three points. As a result, his contact rate jumped 5.2 points while his strikeout rate fell 8.3 points.
This career renaissance culminated in a prodigious World Series performance against the Astros. His three home runs propelled the Braves to their first title in 26 years and earned World Series MVP honors. That kind of power display on the biggest stage could not come at a better time as Soler hits the free agent market this winter.
And it’s not like his World Series heroics came out of left field either. He put the whole league on notice with his breakout 2019 campaign, leading the AL with 48 home runs while grading out as the best fastball hitter in baseball, worth +29 runs per Statcast’s Run Value metric. He’s never quite achieved the heights of that season, but still remains one of the prototypical power hitters in the league, ranking in the 78th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard hit rate, barrel rate, chase rate, walk rate, expected slugging, and expected wOBA while maintaining 99th percentile max exit velocity.
The question is how sustainable those gains are. In the intervening 137 games between the 2019 season and his trade to Atlanta, Soler carried an 88 wRC+ while striking out almost 30 percent of the time — can the new-found plate discipline be counted on in the future? There’s also the question of his defense. Well, there’s actually not any question, he’s really bad. His -7 Outs Above Average places him in the fourth percentile while he consistently sits in the bottom one percent of the league in outfielder jump.
Ultimately, I just don’t see how Soler would fit into the Yankees’ plans. Between Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo, they already have a logjam of corner outfield/DH types. And seeing how the team utilizes the DH spot as a rotating rest position instead, it’s hard to see how Soler would get any sort of consistent playing time. Throw on top the sub-standard defense and I’m not sure if it makes any sense for New York to pursue the reigning World Series MVP.