Tag Archive | "Mariano Rivera"

Should there be a third Royals All-Star?

For the first time in a decade, the Royals have more than one player named to the All-Star team. Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are the first duo to earn the honors since Mike MacDougal and Mike Sweeney in 2003.

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While Kansas City fans will enjoy watching Gordon and Perez in the Midsummer Classic, the Royals very easily could have had three All-Stars and some might argue they should. The third potential All-Star is closer Greg Holland, who has been lights out in the ninth inning pretty much all season.

Holland’s stats this year have been impressive.  He is 22 of 24 in save opportunities. He sports a whopping 15.4 K/9 with 60 strikeouts in 35.0 innings, good for a tie for first in strikeouts among American League closers. His 22 saves place him fifth in the league. He has converted his past 15 save opportunities and hasn’t blown a save since May 6. And right now, Holland is red hot. In an outstanding start to July, Holland has yet to give up a run in five chances. He has given up two hits over that time, while striking out 10 in five innings.

So, now that we’ve analyzed Holland’s numbers, the question becomes who does he replace on the team. The relievers selected to the American League squad are Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Jesse Crain and Brett Cecil.

Holland has a better ERA and WHIP than Rivera. Crain and Cecil are middle relievers who are having excellent seasons. Nathan is having arguably the best season among all American League closers and with the game in New York, Rivera is deserving of his spot in his final season. That leaves Perkins.

Perkins has had a very good year and AL manager Jim Leyland took notice, especially after Perkins has notched four saves this year against Leyland’s Tigers. But if you compare Holland with Perkins, it seems the Royals hurler may have been the better pick. Holland has a better ERA, more strikeouts and more saves. Both have blown only two save opportunities and Perkins has a slightly better WHIP. It may be splitting hairs, because Perkins has had a great year and it’s not always exclusively about the numbers (Leyland has seen Perkins more than Holland this year).

However, Holland has an excellent case for being the third member of the Royals in New York City next week.

Holland isn’t dwelling on his omission from the roster.

“It just didn’t happen,” Holland told the Kansas City Star. “There were a lot of guys who didn’t make it who were deserving too. So you’ve just got to move on. I thought I was deserving of consideration, and I imagine I got some. It’s tough to pick a team. That’s part of it.”

He still could be selected to the team should Leyland need to make an injury replacement. But, if not, Holland will enjoy the days off and hope he can continue his torrid July pace.

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Five reasons the Cardinals DON’T need Jonathon Papelbon

Earlier this week, a Boston-based baseball writer speculated in his column that the Phillies believe that St. Louis might be interested in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.

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Mind you, there was no real substance behind his assertion, but it made the usual rumor-mill rounds all the same. This move would make no sense for the Cardinals, and here are five reasons why:

1) Salary.
Papelbon makes $13 million, which is ridiculous money for a pitcher (not named Mariano Rivera) at such a fungible position on the diamond. Every year, closers lose their jobs, whether due to injury, ineffectiveness or trade. A large-market team like Philadelphia can absorb that kind of salary commitment much easier than St. Louis. Papelbon has pitched 70 innings in his career exactly ONCE (last season). From what I’ve read, the Cardinals try to keep their budget for salaries in the $100-110 million range. Earmarking over 10% of that to one reliever would be a stupid decision for any team in that salary range, especially one on the downside of his career, which leads me to my second point…

2) Papelbon is not a sure thing
The 32-year-old Papelbon, who has blown two of his past three save opportunities, including last night against Washington – has developed some troubling patterns since joining the Phillies: 1) he is allowing home runs at the highest rate since his rookie season in 2005; 2) his K/9 ratio has dropped from almost 12-to-1 in 2012 to 8-to-1 this season; and 3) his fastball velocity is dropping. In 2012, his average heater was 93.8 mph. This season, it has fallen to 92.6. When the difference between a fastball and slider decreases, both pitches become easier for hitters to pound. Papelblown, er, Papelbon used to be able to blow hitters away with his pure power stuff. That ability is starting to abandon him; and once the fastball goes away, it usually doesn’t come back. He might still be able to get by as a reasonably effective reliever, but that’s not exactly the best use of $13 million, is it?

3) No need.
This is perhaps the most obvious point. The Cardinals HAVE a closer with whom they are quite happy, thank you. Edward Mujica is 21-for-21 in save opportunities. Can’t be much more of a shutdown closer than that, can you? Now, is he the “prototypical” power closer who overwhelms batters with 95-plus gas or a devastating slider? No. In fact, he primarily has thrown a split-change since becoming the closer in April. But he has thrown the pitch so effectively that hitters are batting below .200 against him for the season. Is he the type of closer you can count on in October? Well, let’s look at the closers of the past five World Series champions:

Obviously, Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and maybe the greatest reliever of all time. But Romo? A career set-up guy who took over the closer’s job due to injury (very similar to Mujica). Wilson? More known for his beard and goofy antics than his dominant pitching. Lidge? Briefly dominant with the Astros (2004-05), imploded, then rebounded for one last great year with the Phillies in 2008. Motte, of course, was Tony LaRussa’s unofficial closer during the glorious run in 2011 and was superb in 2012, but he’s out for the year and an unknown quantity for the future. Other than Rivera, Mujica’s effectiveness matches up quite well with any of the other four.

4) Organizational depth.
Even if Mujica blows up in July or August, the Cardinals have alternatives on the roster. Trevor Rosenthal has been overpoweringly filthy in his 8th inning role, striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings of work and regularly touching 98 mph on the radar gun. Many people expected him to take the closer’s job instead of Mujica. He could be just as effective as Motte was in 2011-12, given the chance. Joe Kelly is another reliever whom I believe could succeed in the role. He has a mid-90s fastball and no fear of opposing hitters. Heck, I’d give Carlos Martinez or Seth Maness a shot at the job before I would even think about considering whether Papelbon was an option. The point is, the team has several in-house options that would be preferable.

5) What would the cost be to acquire Papelbon?
Philadelphia isn’t going to just give him away, of course. They have a barren farm system and need to rebuild.  Given that, you have to figure that they would ask for a top prospect like Martinez, Michael Wacha, or Oscar Taveras. Such a request should cause John Mozeliak to burst into a fit of laughter as he hangs up the phone. Sacrificing six years of cost-controlled Wacha for an overpriced closer with a declining fastball? PASS. Decisions like that get general managers fired. This is not something Mozeliak has shown any inclination to do since taking the reins as GM. Even if the Phillies requested lesser prospects or offered to pay, say, half of Papelbon’s contract, such a move would make little sense. This is another area where Cafardo’s speculation makes little sense. Has anyone with actual knowledge of the team reported any interest in Papelbon? If so, I haven’t seen it. This strikes me as a classic “let’s throw this against the wall and see if it sticks”-type rumor. That might have made more sense when Walt Jocketty was the GM, but that was many years ago.

If the Cards were to consider acquiring a veteran reliever, they would be better off with someone like the Rockies’ Rafael Betancourt – reasonable $4.25 million option for 2014, plenty of experience pitching for a contender, or Luke Gregerson from the Padres (which would give St. Louis the chance to reclaim Gregerson for its bullpen after the disastrous Khalil Greene trade). Not lobbying for Betancourt or Gregerson; just pointing them out as better options than Papelbon.

Finally, Papelbon doesn’t seem like a Cardinal-type player to me. Fox Sports loved to focus the cameras on him when he pitched for the Red Sox, and he comes off as an attention hog with a big mouth. It went over well in Boston when they were winning, but as the Red Sox struggled, he fell out of favor and they made no effort to sign him after the 2011 season.  Given how tight the free-agent market has become towards relievers, he was extremely fortunate to land a huge contract from Philly. Personally, I find the idea of him possibly wearing the Birds on the Bat as distasteful as I would Manny Ramirez or Ryan Braun. If they wanted an obnoxious relief pitcher with declining skills, they could have signed Wilson. Since that hasn’t happened, I’m going to assume the team doesn’t wish to waste its money in such a fashion, but I digress.

All one has to do is look at the situation logically, and frankly, it makes no sense for the Cardinals’ business model. The combination of drastically overpaying for Papelbon in terms of salary AND young talent is one that makes no sense for a team like the Cardinals. The only surprising aspect is how much attention it has drawn from other national baseball “experts,” when in fact it should be filed in the circular file where most rumors end up.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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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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How bad are the Kansas City Royals

This team is hopeless. Dayton Moore has run it into the ground. The Glass family hasn’t been willing to spend to keep pace with the big-market clubs.

Ned Yost is a terrible in-game strategist. He mismanages his bullpen. “The Process” is just a myth. Our so-called “best farm system in baseball” means nothing at the big league level.

Something about our development of young pitchers is causing them to break down. Luke Hochevar is the new Kyle Davies. We should never have given Salvador Perez such a big contract at 21 years of age. Johnny Giavotella should have made the big league roster instead of Chris Getz.

I heard every one of these opinions expressed ad nauseum during the month of April. Particularly on talk radio, but also in the traditional newspapers and of course in the Internet blogosphere, Everyone piled on like a rugby scrum.

Now the team is the hottest in baseball, as of May 16, having knocked off the mighty Texas Rangers in back-to-back road contests.

I know this Royals team isn’t among the league’s best. But they are winning at that pace at the moment, and they’re steadily climbing back toward .500.

The negativity rubbed me wrong in April, and I couldn’t be happier that the Royals are vindicating themselves now.

Sure, the 12-game losing bender made me sick. But the rats fleeing the ship made me even sicker.

Think about it. Which team could have survived losing their ace reliever, centerfielder, catcher and a key starting pitcher (Felipe Paulino) at the start of a season?

Could the Rangers? They haven’t made a roster move yet. Take four key pieces from that team and see how good they would be.

Could the Yankees? They’ve limped along after the loss of Mariano Rivera.

I’m not trying to make excuses for the 12-game bender. But just as we’re probably not as good as our record in May would indicate, we probably weren’t as bad as we played in April.

I’m trying to not get too high over winning 12 of our last 18. But I don’t appreciate everyone who jumped off the bandwagon when we were 3-14. Maybe they didn’t belong on the bandwagon after all. Just stay off and leave room for the real fans.

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Contest: Tickets To The K

The K

Our friends at Sports Vacation Guys have made it their business to help people find their ultimate trip built around their love of sports. It is a unique idea that allows them to build your ultimate vacation and make sure you see the game you want, in the city you want, and help you see some of the sites that the area is most famous for.

The inspiration for Sports Vacation Guys was an annual trip known as The Bachelor Stadium Tour (BST). The BST takes a group of friends and builds an exciting weekend filled with baseball and big cities. This year, over Labor Day Weekend, the pals will embark to Kansas City for two games at Kauffman Stadium to see the Royals take on the Cleveland Indians. From there, they will hop a plane and head to Target Field to see the Minnesota Twins take on the Chicago White Sox in a Labor Day doubleheader.

The Sports Vacation Guys want to share the first stop of their trip with you, Royals fans. So, let us know in the comments below what your ultimate sports vacation would be. The best submission (chosen by myself and a representative from Sports Vacation Guys) will receive two tickets to the September 4th game between the Royals and Indians with The BST.

Just to get you started, here is what some of our favorite baseball people around the internet said when we asked them to do the same.

Dennis Lawson – Pitchers Hit Eighth

If I had the opportunity to take an ultimate baseball weekend trip, my destination would be New York City. I’d go for a double dip – day game at Citi Field and a night game at Yankee Stadium. Since it’s the “ultimate” trip, the scheduling would work out perfectly, so I’d get to see Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals clobber RA Dickey and the Mets in the afternoon. That should leave me with enough time to grab some New York style pizza and get to the Stadium to catch CC Sabathia and the Yankees take on Josh Beckett and the Red Sox. Naturally, the only way for that marathon to end would be with “Enter Sandman” blaring as Mariano Rivera enters in the bottom of the 9th to close it out. With all that baseball in one day, I’d have plenty of time the rest of the weekend to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Times Square.

Drew Sarver – My Pinstripes

My ultimate baseball trip would involve a Midwest visit to Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. Starting with a day series in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. And of course one game watching from the rooftop across the street. Then on to Detroit’s Comerica Park to watch Justin Verlander toe the rubber for the Tigers, and finally back east to Cleveland’s Progressive Field to watch the Indians take on the New York Yankees. A side trip would include a trip to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Daniel Shoptaw – United Cardinal Bloggers, C70 At The Bat

Well, typically, it’d be in St. Louis. Do some shopping, see the Arch, Grant’s Farm, things like that with the family. Outside of that, I don’t know. Washington would be great with all the monuments, etc. Though if you are just talking baseball, spending some time in the Iowa cornfield diamond would be right up there.

Jason Turbow – The Baseball Codes

I’d ordinarily be tempted to say a trip to Wrigley Field, preceded by a Friday taping of Oprah. Now that she’s closed up shop, I’ll go with Boston. Fenway provides the most wondrous ballpark experience I’ve encountered, and a weekend in Beantown would allow me to walk the Freedom Trail and head to the Public Garden for a photographic recreation of “Make Way for Ducklings,” the Robert McCloskey classic I read to my kids at least once a week. (I will be taking pictures because my children will have stayed home. With this in mind, a tour of the Samuel Adams Brewery might be in order, as well.)

Hilda Chester – Fan of the site

The perks of getting to see my team play the Braves in Atlanta not only allow me to see Turner Field, but I will also get to check out the Georgia Aquarium and take in the history of the south by visiting places like Martin Luther King Jr Historical Site. Most importantly- getting to ATL allows me to try the good ol’ Southern cooking first hand.

Shai Kushner – Baseball Digest

While I’m still not totally sold on west coast baseball …

I would love to take a trip along the west coast and catch as many games as I could from Seattle to San Diego, picking up some family along the way to come along for the ride.

I’ve been to Dodgers Stadium as well as Angels Stadium of Anaheim Stadium South of Los Angeles Stadium, but haven’t checked out the other new ballparks in that time zone.

Of course the drive along the coast would be almost as much of a highlight, even if it’s a little out of the way.

Michael Lynch – Seamheads

I’d love to go back to Fenway Park to watch my beloved Red Sox for the first time since 2004. I’m originally from Brookline, MA and visiting the places I used to hang out and the historical landmarks in Boston would be amazing. I’d also get to spend time with my mother and stepdad, which would make it that much better.

Rob Rains – St. Louis Sports Page
My ultimate trip that revolves around baseball would be to pack my family into an RV and go to as many ballparks as we could in one summer. We took a “Halls of Fame” trip where we went to as many Halls of Fame as we could between St. Louis and Cooperstown and you’d be surprised how many there are if you take side trips.

Jamie Shoemaker – Through The Fence Baseball

An ultimate weekend trip would be centered around the Atlanta Braves. I’ve been to the stadium twice, including a sellout against the Yankees in which the Braves won 5-2. The weekend would start off by visiting the CNN center where the Atlanta Braves clubhouse store is. They frequently have autograph signings and in my perfect weekend, Bobby Cox and the greats would be there signing autographs. This would ultimately include John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andres Gallaraga, etc. just to name a few. During the game, Chipper Jones would win the game with a landmark grand slam that landed into my hands. I would then meet Chipper and the rest of the braves to return the ball to Larry. In the end (hopefully after receiving all the memorabilia for returning the ball) I would have a room full of Atlanta Braves signed gear and a poster of Chipper Jones and I.

To top it off, there would be a concert afterwards, in which my favorite band, Shinedown performs with Halestorm opening. Yeah, that might have been a reach, but it’s the ultimate weekend!

Michael Engel – Kings Of Kauffman

I’ve always been interested in the early history of America. If I had the opportunity to run off for a weekend, I can think of no better place to visit (that isn’t Kauffman Stadium of course) than Boston.

Naturally, Fenway Park is the baseball stop. There are few iconic locations in professional sports anymore, but Fenway may be the most recognizable ballpark in the game today.

Along with that, there’s the city of Boston itself with all the historic landmarks, the quirky street layouts, and a few dozen breweries (or thereabouts). I’m not a fan of the Red Sox in any way, but as a baseball fan, it would be tough to turn down a chance to see the Green Monster – and the rest of the city is a nice bonus, too.

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Is it time to move Soria?

The Zack Greinke saga is officially over, but Greinke may not be the only superstar that is headed out of Kansas City. The number one question that is on every Royals fan’s mind is: What will the Kansas City Royals do with their All-Star closer Joakim Soria? The Royals’ Front Office has stated multiple times that they are not willing to trade Soria, but the fact of the matter is that there may not be a better time than now.

Could Soria be the next star to go?

After the New York Yankees lost out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, Yankees GM Brian Cashman stated that his number one priority is to restock the Yankee bullpen. They had their sights set on resigning reliver Kerry Wood, but Wood decided to return to the team where it all started for him, the Chicago Cubs. They were able to lock up the machine that is Mariano Rivera for two more years, but they can’t expect to get much more out of Rivera beyond those two years. It would put a lot of minds at ease in New York if they knew that they had their closer of the future waiting in the wings in Soria.

Right now may be the time for the Royals to strike. Granted, they may not want to push their fan base any further away, but this would be a move much like the Greinke deal. They would be able to address both immediate needs, as well as continue to stockpile prospects for their already potent farm system. The Royals should take this opportunity to take advantage of a desperate Yankee Front Office. The Boston Red Sox landed the two biggest players not named Cliff Lee this offseason in signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez. With those moves, many people in the baseball world are saying that the Red Sox are the team to beat in the American League, which cannot be going over too well in New York. The Yankees were so sure that their huge offer to Lee would sway the southpaw to the Bronx that they did not focus on any other player. After Lee spurned the Bombers, there was little left on the board for the Yankees to throw their wads of cash at. Cashman now says that his motto for the remainder of the offseason will be patience, but do not let that fool you. There is a sense of panic in the Big Apple.

If the Yankees were to offer catcher Jesus Montero, the “lightning in a bottle” outfielder Brett Gardner, and possibly a young pitcher, it might be an offer that Royals cannot walk away from. Now, it may not seem like the Yankees would be willing to give up such a package for a reliver, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Yankees certainly do not want another team in the AL to swoop in and pounce on Soria before they have a chance. From the Royals’ perspective, GM Dayton Moore has said that he wants to be strong up the middle. After the return that he received for Greinke, the only spot that remains to be addressed is the catcher position. Now, the Royals did get a young catcher in Lucas May from the Scott Podsednik deal last season, but May struggled in his stint with the big club. The Royals, if they completed a deal like this hypothetical one, would have Montero catching, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and either Gardner or Lorenzo Cain in centerfield. It would be safe to say that the Royals would be incredibly strong up the middle.

Obviously, there are many arguments for keeping Soria. He is under club control through the 2014 season for a considerably inexpensive amount, especially with how overpaid closers are in today’s game. Also, dominant closers, which Soria has been for the majority of his stint in Kansas City, are very hard to come by these days. If the Royals are committed to competing for a division championship in 2012, and they really believe that they can, it would be tough to do without Soria anchoring that bullpen.

So, now comes the time to weigh the pros and cons of dealing Soria. While the Royals’ brass has stated multiple times that Soria is not going anywhere, there is no doubt that some internal discussions have happened. If the Yankees come knocking, it would be worth it to at least hear them out.

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2010 Year In Review: Royals Pitcher Of The Year – Joakim Soria

You can tell how much respect Joakim Soria gets outside of Kansas City by the fact that national sportscasters – people who are paid to be baseball experts – can’t pronounce his first name.

(For the record, it’s pronounced ‘Wah-Keem.’)

But here’s the simple truth: Joakim Soria is the best young closer in the game.

And he has never been better than he was in 2010. The Mexicutioner compiled a career-high 43 saves, struck out 71 batters in 65.2 innings, and tallied a 1.78 ERA.

Really, though, Soria has been dominant for three straight seasons. In his worst full season – 2009 – Soria had a 2.21 ERA with 30 saves. His worst season.

Joakim Soria has a career WHIP of .988. That’s extremely rare. WHIP is Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. The lower the WHIP, generally, the better the pitcher. Very few pitchers ever compile a single season with a WHIP below 1.

The two pitchers frequently considered the best closers of all time, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, have career WHIPs of 1.0035 and 1.0584, respectively. They’re also third and seventh, respectively, on the list of all-time lowest career WHIPs for pitchers with over 1,000 innings.

Even though Soria’s WHIP of .988 is extrapolated over only three and a half seasons, it’s still startling.

Soria’s WHIP numbers are bound to increase over the coming years, but if he were somehow able to maintain his blistering pace through 1,000 innings, he would be second on the all-time list, behind only Addie Joss.

For a closer, WHIP may be even more important than it is for a starting pitcher. What does it mean for Joakim Soria? It means more often than not, he can come in the game in the ninth inning and sit the opposing batters down 1-2-3.

No drama.

The Royals have had three great closers in team history. Joakim Soria is one of them. The others are Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery. Not bad company for the 26-year-old. In his Royals career, Montgomery compiled 304 saves, and Quisenberry chalked 238 in Royal Blue. Soria already has 132.

(The next player on the Royals’ all-time saves list is Doug Bird, who collected 58 saves for the Royals through the mid-seventies.)

We all know Soria’s backstory by now. The Mexico native was a Padres farmhand who had shown promise in Winter League ball as a starter, even throwing a perfect game in Mexico. He was left unprotected by the Padres in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, and the Royals scooped him up. It’s one of the biggest Rule 5 coups in recent memory, along with Johan Santana, Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton, who was also taken in the 2006 draft.

Finally, Soria is starting to receive national respect. He is now a two-time All-Star selection, and just this week we found out he received a fourth-place vote for the AL Cy Young Award, making him the ninth-place finisher for the award.

Of course, the vote was probably from a Kansas City sportswriter.

But Soria’s stock should continue to rise. And here’s the best news for Royals fans: he’s under team control through 2014.

RUNNER UP: BRUCE CHEN

Although Soria was the clear winner for the I-70 Baseball Pitcher of the Year award, Bruce Chen came out of nowhere to finish a respectable second.

Chen was the definition of a “journeyman” when he came to the Royals in 2009, having played for eight teams previously. He showed flashes of brilliance early in his career with Atlanta and Philadelphia, but he was a surprise success in Baltimore in 2005, with a 13-10 record and a 3.83 ERA.

Chen latched onto the Royals with a minor-league contract in 2009, after missing all of 2008, and he struggled through the season. But Chen found his form in ’10, pitching 33 games total including 23 starts. His 4.17 ERA helped him become the team leader in wins, compiling a 12-7 record.

It looks as though Chen’s days in Royal blue may be numbered; reports indicate the free agent is seeking a two-year contract, and the Royals are probably only willing to offer one.

Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the content editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at mattkelsey14@yahoo.com.

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Taking A Closer Look At Joakim Soria

Just like some baseball fans that I know, I was skeptical when a young prospect was selected to become the Royals’ closer during the 2007 season. Part of the reason was because I have followed the Royals since the late eighties and saw closers come and go in the organization. Some were crafty veterans who, if brought into the game, would almost guarantee a Royals victory (Jeff Montgomery and Dan Quisenberry). However, I still had a bad taste in my mouth from one of the Royals’ most recent young closers to get the boot, Mike MacDougal. He had one pitch that was effective, for a while. In fact, he actually earned an All-Star nomination. However, inconsistency after that nomination did MacDougal in rather quickly, and he was soon traded away.

Joakim Soria, like many other closers, has one or two pitches that he primarily relies upon. He does have more than that in his arsenal but every good pitcher has a “punch-out” pitch he has worked at for years, trying to make it perfect every time he throws it. His fastball is not as fast as a Nolan Ryan’s, but had some bite to it. In just his second full-season in the majors, Soria was mentioned in conversations with Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera in terms of stat comparisons and effectiveness to end the game for his team.

If you are a fantasy baseball advocate and you were not able to grab those two in the past few seasons, you should have grabbed Soria. Not just for the saves, for his ability to strike people out too. In every single season, including his rookie year, he averaged at least one strikeout per inning pitched. This means every time he makes an appearance (usually one or two innings at most), he strikes someone out.

Soria is fifteen years younger than Rivera, but comparisons of these two closers have already been made. The biggest difference is the four World Series rings Rivera has. I am hesitant to put Soria on the same level as Rivera, just because he is still early on his career. Yes, he is showing striking similarities to the most intimidating pitcher the Yankees have on their roster. The Royals’ coaching staff and front office recognized this by giving him pay raises in each of the past three seasons.

The Royals need to keep him. He has provided leadership, composure and consistency in a bullpen that has been anything but. He is someone you can build a bullpen to support. He has filled a role that the Royals asked him to do and has done so better than any Royal in the past ten years.

After four seasons in the majors, he is averaging 33 saves per season. Rivera has an average of 37.27 in his fifteen years with the Yankees. Dennis Eckersley averaged 32.5 saves/season in his twelve years as a relief pitcher. Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, has an average of 33.9 in his eighteen seasons as a closer. What these three great relievers have in common are three things: opportunity, longevity, and consistency. It is too early to tell, in my opinion, if the Royals have another hall-of-famer in their bullpen. They have had one in their 41-year history.

I want Soria to stay a Royal his entire career. I cannot think of any Royals fan, coach or current player who does not want this.

I want him to become mentionable in hall-of-fame related conversations. Being mentioned in the same breath as the all-time greats is great for a team that has had so many sub-par things going for them in recent memory.

I think that he has what it takes to last as long and still be just as effective as a Rivera, Lidge or Hoffman. As long as he sticks to the regiment that has made him this way. I do not want to see another MacDougal or Jose Rosado.

The Royals have let too many quality young players go since the strike in 1994. They need to keep this one. He is lights out.

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