The Kansas City Royals and slugging outfielder Jorge Soler agreed to a $7.3 million contract for next season, allowing the sides to avoid salary arbitration Friday and keep things amicable between them as they explore a long-term deal.
The contract includes a $50,000 bonus for making the All-Star Game and a $100,000 bonus for winning the Hank Aaron Award, which is voted by fans and the media and given out to the best hitter in each league.
The 27-year-old Soler was the only Royals player eligible for arbitration, and even that was due to a clause in his previous contract signed with the Cubs in 2012. The provision allowed him to opt out of the deal after the 2018 season, but he chose not to exercise it because he was injured much of that year and preferred the guaranteed $4 million last season.
It wound up being a good gamble. Jorge proceeded to hit .265 with a franchise-record 48 homers and 117 RBIs last season, providing one of the few bright spots for a Royals franchise that lost more than 100 games for the second straight year.
Soler's total made him the first Royals player to lead the American League in home runs, and it eclipsed by 10 the total that Mike Moustakas set in 2017. It also set a big league record for a Cuban-born player, surpassing Rafael Palmeiro's totals from the 1999 and 2001 seasons, while his 117 RBIs tied for second in the American League.
Along with a high strikeout rate, Soler's biggest problem throughout his career has been staying healthy. The strapping outfielder played in just 35 games after he arrived from Chicago ahead of the 2017 season, and he was limited to 61 games during his injury-plagued 2018 season, before playing all 162 games last season.
That gave the Royals confidence that he can help to form the foundation of their next youth movement.
Almost all the players that were part of their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and '15 are gone, and a new wave is arriving in Kansas City. Those already in place include shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, third baseman and outfielder Hunter Dozier and second baseman Whit Merrifield – the elder statesman of the group at 30 years old.
First baseman Nick Pratto, outfielder Khalil Lee and catcher MJ Melendez are among the touted prospects who could be on their way to Kansas City soon. But most fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of pitching prospects Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic, all of them advanced college arms chosen in the 2018 first-year player draft.
The Royals are at a crucial juncture off the field, too.
Longtime manager Ned Yost retired after last season and Mike Matheny was hired to replace him, shortly before owners voted to approve the purchase of the franchise by Kansas City businessman John Sherman from the family of David Glass.
The Royals also are close to finalizing a new television rights deal that could double the $20 million they had been making each of the past 11 seasons, and discussions are likely to begin in the next few years on whether to renovate Kauffman Stadium or potentially build a new downtown ballpark.