Outfielder Jorge Soler was out of the starting lineup again Wednesday as the Royals concluded a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers. It was his second consecutive day off and his fifth in the last seven games. In his team’s last 11 contests, he has started just four times.
Soler, 25, is fully healthy. Royals manager Ned Yost confirmed as much on Wednesday afternoon. But as rookie outfielder Jorge Bonifacio continues to produce at the plate, Soler has seen his playing time reduced to a part-time role.
On Wednesday, it was more apparent than ever. The Royals were facing a left-handed starter in Detroit’s Matthew Boyd. Yost opted for the right-handed hitting Bonifacio in right field and Salvador Perez at designated hitter, offering a start to backup catcher Drew Butera. Yost said he wanted to give Perez a half-day off. Alex Gordon, a struggling left-handed hitter, started in left field.
“It’s been a little bit tough, kind of finding spots for him,” Yost said of Soler. “Especially the way Boni has been playing. It’s kind of hard to take [Bonifacio] out of the lineup now.”
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Soler entered Wednesday hitting just .164 (9 for 55) with a .292 on-base percentage and one homer in 18 games. His offensive performance has lagged after an injury derailed his spring preparation near the end of camp.
Acquired in the offseason in a trade that sent closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs, Soler was expected to begin the season as the Royals’ starting right fielder. But then a strained oblique muscle delayed the start of his season. He made his Royals debut on May 6.
Bonifacio, meanwhile, entered Wednesday having clubbed seven homers and posting a .837 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in 33 games since arriving from Class AAA Omaha in late April. On Wednesday, he was in the lineup for the 13th straight game, including the last seven in right field. Yet even as Bonifacio has drawn regular duty, Yost has been loathe to name him as his regular starter in right field.
“He’s been playing out there a lot,” Yost said on Tuesday. “But I’m not going to label him my starting right fielder.”
The hesitance comes, in part, from Bonifacio’s limited time at the major-league level and the upside the organization still sees in Soler. Last December, the Royals saved close to $7 million in payroll by swapping Davis for Soler. Yet they also exchanged a short-term asset for a long-term one, trading one season of Davis, who will be a free agent after 2017, for four seasons of Soler, a former top prospect with prodigious power and a modest track record of success at the major-league level.
The Royals believe the trade will be judged over the length of Soler’s time in Kansas City. He will not be 26 until next February. He also has one option year remaining, meaning he could be sent to Class AAA Omaha to receive more at-bats. He is also under club control with a cost-controlled contract. Soler is slated to make $4 million per year over the next three seasons, though he does have the choice of opting out of the contract and entering into salary arbitration this offseason. Either way, the Royals will control him through the 2020 season.
“He’s going to be [a good player],” Yost said. “And he’s going to be for a long time. ... Soler is going to be a good player. He just needs to develop some.”