These words have probably been written by someone about every power hitter in a Royals uniform from Bo Jackson to Mike Moustakas and so far they’ve all been lies but here goes anyway:
Jorge Soler is the Royals’ best chance to break the longest single-season home run record in baseball in more than a decade.
Don’t take my word for it. Royals general manager Dayton Moore says Soler — the 6-foot-4 Cuban slugger acquired from the Cubs for Wade Davis — has more raw power than anyone he’s had on a major-league roster in Kansas City.
“I would say so, can you think of anybody else?” Moore said. “This guy’s got more power. More raw power. He does.”
Soler was introduced Tuesday to Kansas City in a news conference at Kauffman Stadium. He turns 25 in February, and has a reputation of being raw both at the plate and in right field. But the power is intriguing.
You can see that in highlights, and you can see that in statistics. Last year, he homered in 4.6 percent of his plate appearances, and homered once every 18.9 at bats. To put that in perspective, Eric Hosmer just hit a career-high 25 homers. That worked out to be 3.8 percent of his plate appearances, and once every 24.2 at bats.
Last year, Kendrys Morales hit 30 home runs — the most by a Royals player since Jermaine Dye in 2000 — homering in 4.9 percent of his plate appearances and once every 18.6 at bats.
Just for fun: at the same age Soler played last season, Bo Jackson homered in 5.1 percent of his plate appearances and once every 18.0 at bats. The year Steve Balboni hit the 36 homers that still stand as the Royals’ record, he homered in 5.4 percent of his plate appearances and once every 16.7 at bats.
Soler is switching leagues, and coming to a much bigger stadium. Also, he has just 765 plate appearances across three seasons, and inexperienced baseball players are hard to project. So he remains a longshot.
But this is the kind of power the Royals cannot afford in free agency. They have to develop it, which is hard, or find it in trades like this — which may even be harder.
The Royals’ hope is that this works like the Zack Greinke trade, and the parallels are intriguing. The Royals were effectively forced to trade Greinke, because he had become so unhappy in Kansas City, and flipped him for big league-ready talent.
The package was highlighted by Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. The Royals did not know that Cain would finish third in the 2015 American League MVP voting or that Escobar would be the 2015 ALCS MVP. But the front office did know that each was athletic, and could play top-shelf defense, and should improve.
Davis is bringing back just one big-league-ready player, not three — if you include reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who struggled in two seasons here — but he is also not a 26-year-old Cy Young winner with two years of club control like Greinke.
This is, then, Moore and the Royals doing the best they can in a difficult spot.
Soler is here because of baseball’s economics and Royals owner David Glass’ decision on payroll dictates his team attempt the most difficult balance in professional sports — simultaneous championship contention and rebuilding of the roster.
This is the Royals’ decision. Glass governs the payroll, and collectively he and the front office decide how to operate. Other teams, like the Nationals and Astros, have embraced losing. The idea of “tanking” has become a major discussion point around baseball.
There is value in losing, because you get higher draft picks, and a bigger bankroll to sign them. Revenue sharing can keep teams afloat if attendance goes down, and TV and other media money continues to increase.
Full disclosure: this is the route I would take, in the hilarious alternate reality in which I ran a major-league baseball team.
In this reality, Moore and most of the people he surrounds himself are fundamentally opposed to anything that smells like tanking — even as he allows it could be an easier and more efficient way back to the top.
“I would rather try to execute deals like this that continue to help us try to win now, and put us in a better position in the future,” he said.
Moore didn’t bring this up, but he was part of perhaps the best example of simultaneous contention and rebuilding in modern baseball history in the 14 consecutive division championships with the Braves.
Those were different times, and the Braves had financial advantages the Royals do not. Most importantly, the Braves had three no-doubt Hall of Fame starting pitchers (plus Chipper Jones).
But the principle is there — build around a few selected star veterans, and cycle younger players through.
We’ve always tended to look at 2017 as The Last Year, but the Royals have seven players — Alex Gordon, Sal Perez, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura among them — signed for $72 million in 2018. The payroll that year figures to approach or even surpass $100 million — still a precipitous drop from this year, but not the bottoming out that other clubs have done.
Again, I believe the smarter way is the more painful way, to embrace the benefits of losing, make it hurt for a few years while you pick at the top of the draft, and then come back with another wave of talent like the Royals debuted in the early part of this decade. There are others around baseball who’ve made it work, and some within the Royals front office who would quickly get behind that philosophy.
The Royals, and maybe this is admirable, are taking a different path. They’re going to try to do it all at once.
Which is why Soler is here, with a dreamer’s chance of breaking Steve Balboni’s record.