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Should Soria stay, or should he go?

Last week, the Royals declined closer Joakim Soria‘s $8MM 2013 option and invoked a $750,000 buyout, making him a free agent. This wasn’t a surprise move, seeing Soria spent 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery and he’s not expected to pitch until May or June of 2013.

The Royals would like to sign Soria to a lower cost deal with performance bonuses. But his agent, Oscar Suarez, claims eight MLB clubs have an interest in the closer. Soria would also be open as a setup man for the New York Yankees, if they were interested. So far, the Yankees haven’t haven’t contacted Suarez or Soria.

It’s still early in the offseason and Soria doesn’t have any serious offers yet. Whatever the offer, it’s likely to be a low cost deal with performance bonuses. Soria is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, but he still would generate a lot of interest.

Over his five year Major League career, Soria has 160 saves, a 2.40 ERA and a 3.92 strikeout to walk ratio, making him one of the better closers in the Majors. He did struggle in 2011 with a 4.03 ERA, 28 saves and 3.53 SO/BB ratio, prompting the Royals to briefly move Soria to a set-up role early in the season. His 2012 spring wasn’t much better before the Royals shut him down due to his elbow injury.

There’s some uncertainty how Soria will pitch when he does come back. Will he be the Soria of 2007-2010, or the Soria of 2011? There’s enough uncertainty where a team is unlikely to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract.

Is Soria worth the Royals trying to re-sign him? After he when down, the Royals used Jonathan Broxton as their closer before they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in late July. Then Greg Holland took over, who had 16 of 20 save opportunities, finishing with a 2.96 ERA and a 2.68 SO/BB ratio.

The Royals say they’re comfortable with Holland being the closer, despite the small sample size of August and September. Holland will be 27 this month, just a year and a half younger than Soria, so age isn’t an issue. However, the team has Holland until 2017, so he could be a long-term solution as the Royals closer if Soria doesn’t come back or only stays a season or two.

It’s safe to say if other teams take a chance signing Soria to a two plus year contract, the Royals will let him walk. A healthy 2012 Soria could have made an already good bullpen that much better, but with Holland’s performance as closer and club-friendly salary, the team figures they could get close to Soria-like results with Holland. Even if Soria signs a one-year, club friendly deal, there’s a good chance they will let Soria walk after 2013, especially if Holland has a great season.

If Soria was a starting pitcher, there’s a good chance the club would pay the $8MM option and hope he would contribute to the starting rotation. But the Royals believe they have a capable, low-cost closer in Holland and while having Soria in 2013 would be nice, he’s not essential. The team will make an effort to sign him, but they’re not going to be too disappointed if Soria goes elsewhere.

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