KC gets RHP Kalich, sends Soler to Braves

July 30th, 2021

The Royals executed a deal right at the buzzer of Friday afternoon’s Trade Deadline, sending outfielder to Atlanta for Minor League pitcher Kasey Kalich.

In a deal that saw conversations begin three to four days ago before coming together about 45 minutes before the Deadline, the Royals traded a slugger who has been on a power surge lately for a high-upside prospect while offloading the rest of Soler’s one-year, $8.05 million contract.

Despite struggling mightily in the first half, Soler will provide outfield depth and a big bat for the Braves, who are in the thick of the National League East race.

Kalich, the Braves’ No. 21 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings, was Atlanta’s fourth-round pick in the 2019 Draft out of Texas A&M, and the Royals liked him ahead of that Draft and again this summer when they scouted him in the Minors. They believe he has the potential to be an impact arm at the back of the big league bullpen in the future. The 23-year-old will join High-A Quad Cities and enters the Royals’ prospect rankings at No. 24.

“I remember us talking about him specifically, the power to his pitches,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “Big, physical guy. … Got a plus fastball with the plus slider. And we feel like he’s got a chance to be a power arm in the bullpen in the future. He’s currently pitching in High-A, and that’s where he was seen. We like his upside.”

Kalich has a 3.26 ERA over 20 appearances this year, with 35 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He doesn’t have pinpoint command, but if he can get back to the strike-thrower he was with the Aggies, he has a chance to move quickly in the system.

Soler, a free agent at the end of the season, has hit six home runs in 12 games since the All-Star break after hitting just seven in 82 games in the first half. The 29-year-old was originally acquired from the Cubs in December 2016 and is part of Royals history after setting the franchise record in '19 with 48 homers. He also set a career high in hits (156), doubles (33), RBIs (117), walks (73) and runs scored (95) that season. In '21, Soler hit .192 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs with the Royals.

“Soler is just an unbelievable guy,” second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “An unbelievable human. Just a great guy to have in the clubhouse. I loved coming in every day and getting to see him, mess with him and watch him smile. He’s just an incredible teammate. Obviously, he’s got stupid power. It’s unfortunate he hit a little snag this year, because he’s such a great hitter and he’s got such crazy power that he’s gonna make [Atlanta’s] team a lot better when he goes over there.”

As the trading season comes to a close, the Royals did what most expected: They dealt two players with expiring contracts at the end of the season in Soler and veteran lefty Danny Duffy, who was sent to the Dodgers on Thursday, while keeping their core group of players with multiple years left on their contracts together.

While most of the roster stayed intact, players said it wasn’t easy to see Duffy, who was drafted by the Royals 14 years ago, and Soler say goodbye.

“Danny was amazing as a teammate,” starter Brad Keller said. “From the moment I came over to the Royals, he welcomed me with open arms. It’s one of the toughest things, seeing a guy like him go, because he was so genuine and so personable.

“Whenever you come to a new team [and] you see a guy like Danny, whose stature was pretty high -- played for Team USA, World Series -- and for him to just be so genuine about everything was just really amazing. It’s tough to see him go.”

Keller is part of that core group that includes Merrifield, Carlos Santana, Salvador Perez, Andrew Benintendi and Mike Minor. Teams also checked in on reliever Scott Barlow, who still has three years of club control. But the asking price was rightfully high, and the Royals view Barlow as a big piece of their future bullpen.

With young prospects on the rise and the young pitchers starting to establish themselves, the Royals have maintained their stance that they expect to compete in 2022, and that made them hesitant to trade key contributors of that team unless they were “overwhelmed” by an offer, Moore said.

It’s also a possibility that the Royals discuss trading those types of players in the offseason, although Moore emphasized that he wants veteran players on the roster when the Royals begin to transition their prospects into the Majors.

“You’re more successful at doing that when you have guys like Carlos Santana and Whit Merrifield and Mike Minor as a part of your Major League team,” Moore said. “Veteran guys who have won and to help stabilize a lot of things. … But also, I think the most important time, if you’re going to maximize a deal and you want to get back Major League talent, the time to do that is in the offseason. Now, there’s more available. Free agency floods the market at times. But free agency can be expensive.

“But I would say it’s more the previous answer -- it’s more about putting the most competitive team you can on the field with veteran guys in the mix with young guys to stabilize the environment and balance out your lineup. That’s really the main focus there.”