For a player with serious promise to end up in Tampa Bay as a free agent, serious things have to go wrong. Unfortunately for Geovany Soto, he has watched his career completely come apart, but it could be exactly the set of circumstances to land Soto with the Rays. But will the Rays be interested in Soto after just how much his production has dropped off the past two seasons?
It seemed everything like Geovany Soto was going to be a star. As a 25 year old rookie catcher for the Chicago Cubs, Soto had a monster season, posting a .285/.364/.504 line (119 OPS+) with 35 doubles, 23 homers, and 86 RBI in 141 games and 563 plate appearances, getting all but one first place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. The next season, he fell victim to the sophomore slump, managing just a .218/.321/.381 line (80 OPS+) with 19 doubles, 11 homers, and 47 RBI in 102 games, but he actually cut his strikeout rate from 21.5% to 19.8% while raising his walk rate from 11.0% to 12.9%, so things were still looking up. Sure enough, Soto delivered a huge 2010 that was every bit as good as his rookie season, delivering a .280/.393/.497 line (135 OPS+) with 19 doubles, 17 homers, 53 RBI, and 83 strikeouts against 63 walks in 105 games and 387 plate appearances as only a pair of shoulder injuries could slow him down. But since then, Soto’s newfound patience has completely disappeared- his strikeout and walk rates slipped from 21.0% and 13.0% from 2008 to 2010 to 24.0% and 9.0% the last two seasons- and his performance has slipped considerably. In 2011, he managed just a .228/.310/.411 line (96 OPS) with 17 homers in 125 games and 474 PA’s, striking out 124 times against 45 walks, and then in 2012 he completely fell off a cliff, managing just a .198/.270/.343 line between the Cubs and Rangers, a 64 OPS+ that was 16% worse than Jose Molina. Add in that Soto is just a decent defensive catcher, throwing out just 26% of attempted basestealers in his career, and that he has spent time on the DL each of the last four seasons, and suddenly his free agent value will be next to nothing when the Rangers officially refuse to tender him a contract this offseason after he made 4.3 million dollars going through arbitration for the second time in 2012. Should the Rays give him a chance to reestablish his value on a 1-year deal?
Soto will turn 30 in December. He should be in his prime right now. But we honestly have no idea what Soto has left at this point. A key for him will be getting back to his 2008 to 2010 performance at the plate, restoring his patience and letting his power come out naturally. But the chances of Soto actually getting back to that seem small. Soto has a .248/.336/.437 line (102 OPS+), and the Rays would love to get that level of production after their catchers managed just a 79 sOPS+ in 2012. The problem has been that Soto’s career numbers are extremely uneven as he has been within 10 points of that 102 career OPS+ just once in his career, when he had a 96 OPS+ in 2011. Soto has been feast or famine his entire career and his struggles that last two seasons combined with the loss of his approach at the plate puts him in question to approach his career numbers ever again.
It would be inconceivable for any team in baseball to offer Soto a major league contract this offseason unless they completely disregard his stats and sign him purely on name recognition. With money apparently out of the equation, the Rays should offer Soto a minor league deal this offseason and try to convince him that they’re the right place for him to sign because he’ll have no one standing in his way for regular playing time if he hits. Soto has everything to prove moving forward as he tries to pick up the pieces of his career, and expecting anything from him no matter where he ends up next season would be completely misguided. At the same time, though, Soto would be the type of upside play Andrew Friedman and the Rays love to do, and on a minor league deal with no risk, he seems like a player they really could sign.