The Royals have been the example by which other teams strive to model their bullpen after. Their relief core has been hands down the best in baseball over the last three years. Unfortunately for them once dominant closer Greg Holland become a non-tender after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In an effort to compensate for that loss the Royals are close to signing right-handed reliever Joakim Soria to a three year, $25 million deal.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 7, 2015
Joakim Soria is no stranger to Tommy John surgery himself. He underwent the medical procedure in 2012 and as a result missed that entire season as well as some of 2013. However upon his return he began to re-establish himself as a quality late inning reliever.
In 2013 he tossed 23.2 innings for the Rangers with a 3.80 ERA and 3.68 FIP. Those numbers were rather pedestrian but that’s not unexpected right after recovering from TJ surgery. His 27.7 K% was impressive though. He picked right up the following season throwing 44.1 innings with the Rangers and Tigers. He accrued a much more palatable 3.25 ERA and 2.09 FIP.
This past season he spent time with the Tigers and Pirates. His K% declined some to a still above league average 23.5%. His 2.53 ERA was a good deal better than his 3.71 FIP, but his velocity jumped 2 mph. He also saw a spike in home runs which hasn’t been an issue for him in the past. The velo spike is generally a good sign and the home run spike could be a single season anomaly.
The Royals clearly felt he had shown enough to warrant the three year commitment. Soria certainly benefited from the anemic relief market. With Darren O’Day off the market and Ryan Madson signed earlier, Soria was easily best free agent reliever left on the market.
Speaking of Ryan Madson, he received a similar 3 year deal. He too suffered from TJ surgery in the past. Perhaps this is an indication that clubs aren’t all that concerned about how reliever post TJ. Or it could simply be a reflection of the market.
There was a time when any kind of three year deal was saved for only the high end relievers. That time has long since passed. Darren O’Day’s 4 year contract is an example of what the top end relievers are getting now. Last year Zach Duke received 3 years and $15 million after only one good season as a reliever. Even then he was only viewed as a decent middle reliever.
The money in baseball is at absurd levels now. But teams aren’t just paying more in AAV, they’re paying more in years too. There is no better example of this than Madson’s and now Soria’s contracts: 3 year deals for relievers with TJ surgery in their not so distant past.
The Royals needed to add a reliever to replace Greg Holland. They’ve been able to survive a mediocre rotation with the help of an elite bullpen. And with the market the way it is, they did the best they could. Soria is still a quality reliever. He might not be a “closer” type anymore but he won’t need to be in Kansas City. Assuming the elbow holds up this is probably going to be viewed as an acceptable expenditure three years from now.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs