Jorge Soler Should Be a Power Source for the Offense-starved Marlins

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Miami Marlins added a much-needed source of offense to their lineup, agreeing to terms with outfielder Jorge Soler on a three-year contract worth $36 million. Soler, now entering his age-30 season, had a rough start to the 2021 season, hitting a woeful .192/.288/.370 for the Kansas City Royals. The Braves, meanwhile, basically had to replace their entire outfield halfway through the season, leading to the trade that sent Soler to Atlanta in return for relief prospect Kasey Kalich. Better times were ahead, as Soler hit .269/.358/.524 (132 wRC+) for the Braves down the stretch. Even better was his .948 OPS in the playoffs, including three World Series home runs, which led to a World Series MVP award.

Soler’s deal with the Marlins comes with an important concession in the form of opt-outs after each of the first two years of the contract. He’ll turn 33 during his next deal and ordinary corner outfielders entering their mid-30s don’t typically end up with highly lucrative contracts. Those opt-outs are especially useful for Soler, as he’s a player whose exact level of play is hard to gauge; he spent the first half of 2021 producing like he was barely a Triple-A hitter, but in ’19, he hit .265/.354/.569 (136 wRC+) and led the American League in homers with 48. If he were to repeat his 2019 performance in his first season in Miami and opt out, ZiPS would project a five-year, $110 million contract. That’s a pretty big jump compared to the two years and $24 million the Marlins would otherwise owe him, but as I said, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what Soler’s baseline expectation should be. The contract structure actually incentivizes him to opt-out to a degree; the last year of the contract is only worth $9 million.

The Marlins have one of the most exciting young rotations in the majors but are held back by a bland, aging offense that lacks real star power. Miami ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored in 2021, and the team’s collective 84 wRC+ was 26th in baseball. This has been a long-term problem for the franchise; only once in the last dozen years (2017) did Miami finish in the top half of baseball in wRC+. Even worse, the team’s best offensive player in 2021, Starling Marte, was traded to Oakland in July and is now a Met; he only needed 64 games to lead the Marlins in WAR.

What the club really needed this winter was a center fielder, but it wasn’t a good free agent market for players at the position. Past Marte and Chris Taylor, the options were almost nonexistent. As it is today, Avisaíl García might end up starting in center, which isn’t a prospect I’d be particularly excited about.

As with Nick Castellanos, ZiPS sees Soler as being significantly more valuable at designated hitter than in right field; I’ve included both sets of projections as it seems likely he’ll split time between them:

ZiPS Projection – Jorge Soler (RF)
2022 .228 .326 .465 499 71 114 25 0 31 77 67 1 112 -6 1.7
2023 .229 .327 .472 475 67 109 25 0 30 73 64 1 114 -6 1.6
2024 .225 .322 .449 457 62 103 24 0 26 67 60 1 107 -7 1.0

ZiPS Projection – Jorge Soler (DH)
2022 .229 .326 .466 498 71 114 25 0 31 77 67 1 113 0 2.0
2023 .228 .325 .464 474 67 108 25 0 29 72 63 1 112 0 1.9
2024 .226 .320 .447 456 61 103 23 0 26 66 58 1 106 0 1.4

ZiPS sees Soler as being worth about $33 million over three years playing right field and $41 million as a designated hitter. Our current Marlins depth chart has a relatively even playing time split for him across the two positions, so let’s call it $37 million. (Plus, it makes ZiPS look right, which I’m always in favor of!) ZiPS has a generalized model for opt-outs that projects the probability that opting-out is a good idea for a player, then rescales it from 0-100% to 10-90%. The computer evaluates the opt-out as being worth an additional $7 million, making the deal a de facto three-year, $43 million agreement.

Given that transactions are still coming in fast and furious right now, changing rosters as quickly as I can enter playing time assumptions into the model, I won’t run the entire ZiPS seasonal projection, but the system pegs the strength of Miami’s roster as about that of an 82-win team. Teams with that projection are interesting, and I already had the Marlins with a one-in-four chance of making the playoffs right after the new postseason structure was negotiated. Now, the rest of the division having been active might cancel some of that out, but there are reasons to be hopeful about the team. They don’t necessarily need a great offense to make the playoffs; given their pitching, achieving mediocrity may do the trick.

Soler and García represent the team’s two biggest free agent signings since Wei-Yin Chen signed a five-year, $80 million deal after the 2015 season. The new CBA might encourage the Marlins to continue to spend money (at least sometimes) due to a change that didn’t get much publicity during the negotiations. From Evan Drellich’s piece at The Athletic on a memo sent to player-agents outlining some of the changes in the new agreement:

Per the union memo, sustained profitability for clubs remains admissible in any grievance challenging revenue-sharing usage. In the past, a team with a payroll up to or less than 125 percent of the amount it receives in revenue sharing had the burden of proving during the grievance process that it was using the revenue-sharing dollars appropriately, as described in the CBA. That figure is now 150 percent.

The CBA requires money coming from the revenue-sharing pool (as opposed to sources of shared money like national revenue, internet revenue, merchandising revenue, and international revenue) to be used to directly improve on-field performance. The commissioner is tasked with the responsibility of enforcing that requirement, and enforcement has generally been lacking. If the commissioner doesn’t enforce this provision of the CBA, the MLBPA’s only recourse is a grievance process in which they bear the burden of proof. (The union has a pending grievance against the Marlins, Rays, A’s, and Pirates for not directly utilizing revenue-sharing money towards on-field improvement.) As we saw with the Kris Bryant service time manipulation case, that’s a sizable burden to overcome.

However, there’s an exception here: that threshold referenced above, for which the team bears the burden of proof, not the MLBPA. The Rays have typically received $50 million – $60 million from the revenue-sharing pool. Previously, if the Rays received $60 million from the shared pool, the burden of proof would be on them to outline the use of the money if their payroll was under $75 million. Now, that figure would be $90 million.

The Marlins need to add as much offense as they can to get the most out of their tremendously talented young rotation. Soler brings them that much closer to meaningful September games, and if he can somehow channel the player he was just three years ago, we may have ample reason to regret — or celebrate, depending on whether you hate fun — the removal of the park’s home run sculpture. Maybe in the 2020s, we’ll finally get a great Marlins squad that isn’t immediately burned to the ground by the team’s owners.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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CC AFCmember
4 months ago

Man, I love the NL DH already. I could have 4 chances per game to see Jorge Soler send a ball to Nepal, or I could see a pitcher flail around twice a game before the bench brigade takes over? Tough choice, that

4 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Who doesn’t want to watch pitchers trying to bunt? Also, are comments now moderated?

4 months ago
Reply to  carter

The Marlins traditionally have been pretty NSFW…