July 15, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Joakim Soria (48) pumps his fist after beating the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Royals won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The departure of Jose Valverde has left the Detroit Tigers without a closer (in name) and with a vacancy in their bullpen that they appear likely to fill via free agency. I usually don’t advocate for signing a player that has a history of being a closer due to the expense involved (past saves are a rather useless stat to pay for), but a player who could end up being worth the money is former Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria.
Soria missed the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery. That’s nothing to take lightly, but the procedure is becoming so routine for pitchers that it’s tempting to shrug off as being no big deal. The surgery came on the heels of a rough 2011 campaign — the only season of his career where he wasn’t completely dominant — but the poor ERA number (4.03 compared to his 2.40 career mark) was due more to a large increase in HR/FB rate and an abnormally high (for him) BABIP. Perhaps the ligament damage that forced the surgery contributed to his uncharacteristically poor season.
Even through his struggles in 2011 he maintained a strikeout rate of nearly a batter per inning, and he didn’t see a dip in fastball velocity. Those factors, combined with the fact that he’ll only be 29 next season, make him a relatively strong bet to bounce back, and apparently several teams agree.
Andrew Marchland of ESPN New York reports that the market is relatively hot for Soria:
"Yankees GM Brian Cashman has yet to inquire. Eight other clubs, all contending teams, have already contacted Suarez about Soria. Soria could also return to Kansas City, which declined his $8 million option for next season, allowing him to become a free agent."
I don’t know what sort of contract Soria would demand, but his value is apparently lower than one year, $8 million (otherwise Kansas City would have picked up the option even if only to turn around and trade him). I think the Tigers would be looking to pay well south of that figure ($8 million is a lot for a reliever), but Soria has been worth about 1.3 WAR for every 50 innings pitched in his career, so if he could regain his career-level effectiveness, he could be well worth $6-7 million per year. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate paying him that salary (except, perhaps, on a one year deal), but he is the rare reliever that could justify that type of annual rate.
Marchland says eight contending teams have contacted Soria’s agent about a deal. Could one of those clubs be the Detroit Tigers?