DETROIT -- For over three decades, Steve Balboni’s franchise record of 36 home runs in a season not only stood, but seemed virtually unbreakable.
Now it would appear the Royals’ club record for home runs in a season will be broken twice in two years.
Former Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas topped Balboni’s mark with 38 home runs in 2017. With his fourth-inning home run in a 7-0 win over the Tigers on Saturday night, Jorge Soler already has 33 home runs and he appears almost a lock to shatter Moustakas’ mark. Soler is on pace for 44 home runs.
Here are five things to know about Soler’s chase for a new franchise mark:
1. What will it mean to Soler?
Perhaps not as much as you might think. Through interpreter Pedro Grifol, Soler said, “Realistically, I haven’t thought about it at all. If I break it, I break it. But it doesn’t cross my mind.”
Soler admits, though, that his breakthrough season is some vindication after some observers thought the Royals didn’t get enough in return when they dealt closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for the outfielder in 2016.
“The only thing I have thought about was I was traded for a big-time pitcher and I wanted to live up to those expectations,” Soler said. “I didn’t do it at the beginning. But I want to thank the organization for believing in me, for trading for me with and giving up that caliber of a player [in Davis]. There’s a weight off my shoulders now because I’ve finally lived up to those expectations.”
2. What does the record chase mean to the Royals?
Vindication as well. “We traded Wade Davis for him,” manager Ned Yost said. “I think [the Cubs] knew what type of player he was, but they were desperate for a closer. I think right up until that point, he was pretty much off-limits in terms of trading him. Now people all around baseball are seeing what type of player he is.” Soler, though, said what’s most important is how the Royals view him. “It’s just important that the people in Kansas City know what I can do,” he said, “and that they can appreciate how I can help this team.”
3. Will Soler’s season affect the Royals financially?
This will cost the club in terms of payroll. As MLB.com reported in June, there is a provision in Soler’s contract that the Royals inherited from the Cubs that allows him to opt out of his deal in order to file for arbitration. He is scheduled to make $4 million a season through 2020, but he almost certainly will take the arbitration option and will be up for a significant raise this offseason.
4. How will the record chase affect the lineup down the stretch?
In a few weeks, the Royals will want to get a look at some September callups, such as Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio, which will make for a crowded outfield and DH situation. It will be especially crowded once Adalberto Mondesi returns from the injured list, which will push Nicky Lopez back to second base more regularly and subsequently Whit Merrifield to the outfield. Soler plays almost daily anyway and he certainly will have to do so until he tops the record. “I haven’t even thought much about it right now,” Yost said. “When he gets to 35 or 36 home runs, then I’ll probably start thinking about the record.”
5. How has the record chase altered the organization’s view of Soler?
Yost and Royals general manager Dayton Moore have said all along that this was the type of player they always thought Soler was. And Yost has beamed lately when discussing Soler’s overall improvement defensively and at the plate.
“He’s a very diligent worker and is always asking questions,” Yost said. “To be honest, we don’t really know what his ceiling is. We don’t. He’s obviously a big-time power hitter. But I think he’ll hit for average, too, maybe .285 or so. I don’t think he’ll ever hit .320, but he’ll have a huge OPS, in the .900s, with all that power.”