The 2011 Rangers, gunning for a repeat run to World Series, were led in relief appearances by Neftali Feliz, Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Arthur Rhodes.
Think about that.
It’s not as if the club had a Phillies-like rotation full of horses.
Knowing that the club needed to be a lot stronger out of the bullpen down the stretch and into October, Texas gave up Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Wieland on the final two days of July for Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, and a relief corps was instantly remade.
And not just for three months, since Uehara and Adams were controllable for an extra year as well.
This year, the Rangers will add two impact arms to the bullpen after the season is underway. And it won’t cost a controllable, high-upside corner bat, or a controllable back-of-rotation innings-eater, or two promising pitching prospects on the doorstep to the big leagues.
Feliz should join the bullpen sometime in the season’s middle third. And so should Joakim Soria.
And both are under club control for the next three years.
There might even be a third impact arm added to the bullpen at mid-season, should Colby Lewis return and supplant someone from the rotation, as expected, but Feliz and Soria are pretty sure bets.
Soria may not be a completely familiar name to the casual fan, but neither were Adams and Uehara – closing games for the Royals is probably as far off the front page as pitching in middle relief for the Padres or Orioles – and he’s been one of baseball’s best relief pitchers for a long time.
From his Rule 5 season of 2007 through 2010, Soria appeared in 238 games for the Royals, finishing 192 of them, allowing a scant 6.4 hits and 2.5 walks per nine innings while fanning 9.9 per nine. Opponents hit an anemic .197/.259/.287 over those four years, during which the righthander’s ERA was 2.01. He saved 132 games in 145 chances, stranded 71 percent of the baserunners he inherited, and allowed only three would-be thieves to steal a base – while an equal number were cut down.
Soria’s 2011 season was not as clean – he put up his customary walk and strikeout rates but allowed 62 hits in 58 innings and had a 4.50 ERA – and 2012, a year in which Kansas City realistically would have had the chance to move the impending free agent in July for a haul of young players, was wiped out when he was shut down in mid-March with elbow pain that led to Tommy John surgery (his second) in April.
Rather than exercise a club option for 2013 at $8 million (the Royals also held an $8.75 million option for 2014), Kansas City bought Soria out ($750,000) in October. Texas has signed him for two years at $8 million – combined – and has a club option to keep him around in 2015 as well.
There’s a very good chance that Soria is this team’s next closer. No telling when a transition from Joe Nathan (on whom Texas has a club option for $9 million in 2014 – which he can opt out of if he finishes 55 games this year) could take place, but Soria is 10 years younger than Nathan and, if he returns to form as Nathan has, gives Texas a natural successor without the club having to depend on Tanner Scheppers or Wilmer Font, for instance, developing into a ninth-inning answer.
For what it’s worth, Jim Bowden of ESPN/XM thinks Nathan will be setting Soria up by this October. That’s probably a bit ambitious – but it’s certainly not out of the question.
Still, the greatness of this deal is that – unlike the Angels’ deal with Ryan Madson – it’s not a one-year shot that would allow Soria to reestablish his worth and head right back out into free agency. He’s here for a long time.
Soria is younger than Alexi Ogando. He’s younger than Craig Gentry.
He’s had those two elbow surgeries, the first at age 19 while in the Dodgers system (at a time when both A.J. Preller and Don Welke were with that organization), but so did Brian Wilson and Jason Isringhausen and others. There was reportedly plenty of interest in Soria this winter, including from the Angels, but this is where he wanted to be, even though he’d suggested he was looking for a club who would let him close games this year.
There have long been suggestions that Soria’s repertoire could work in a starting role, but that’s not the plan here. He’s going to join the bullpen mix whenever he’s ready, possibly as soon as May, and then Texas gets the 28-year-old for the rest of 2013, and then 2014, and then, if it chooses, 2015.
This is a window-extending move. Get used to that.
Soria saved two Zack Greinke starts in his 2007 rookie season, including his first career save.
He saved four Greinke starts in 2008.
He saved six Greinke starts in 2009.
He saved eight Greinke starts in 2010 – in fact, he saved eight of Greinke’s 10 wins.
There’s some mathematical symmetry there, and though Greinke’s departure from Kansas City interrupted the progression, I’m very interested in the possibility that things pick back up in Texas between the two, but that’s fodder for another day that may never come.
If it doesn’t, it will be because Greinke chose to pitch for many years somewhere else – unlike Soria, whose decision to pitch in Texas for many years, a stretch that ought to begin sometime during the 2013 season without the cost of a couple key prospects, fires me up a whole lot.