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Joakim Soria Rumors
As the Royals look to even the score in the World Series against the Giants, other teams in the division are shifting their focus to the offseason. Here are a few notes from the AL Central…
- The Indians are expected to exercise their $3.5MM club option on Mike Aviles rather than pay him a $250K buyout, reports Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Indians could have reasonably gone either way, as the team has some limited financial flexibility (a topic I highlighted in yesterday’s Offseason Outlook). It appears that his versatility will earn him a spot on the 2015 club. The 33-year-old batted .247/.273/.343 in 374 plate appearances with Cleveland last year.
- MLB.com’s Jason Beck spoke with Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, and while the GM didn’t specifically say that the team would exercise its $7MM club option on Joakim Soria, he certainly implied as much with his comments: “We still have to make the final decision, but it’s a situation where we look at him as being an important acquisition toward this [coming] year also.” Dombrowski said that the team views Joe Nathan as its closer next season, though he indicated that Nathan will have to perform up to his previous capabilities in order to hold onto that role.
- The Twins declined their $3.6MM option on Jared Burton earlier today, and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that the team hasn’t expressed an interest in bringing the 33-year-old back, even at a lower rate.
Though the White Sox weren’t in a position to add veterans on short-term deals last offseason, GM Rick Hahn feels that with the club closer to contention, that’s an avenue worth exploring, writes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. “We’re never going to move our eye from those long-term targets being a priority,” Hahn said. “At the same time, we may be in a position where some shorter-term deals with some veteran-type players might make some sense in order to get this team closer to where we want to be.” The additions of Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, the progression of Jose Quintana, and the selection of Carlos Rodon in last year’s draft have all accelerated Chicago’s timeline to contend again. Hayes feels that an outfielder and/or DH would make sense, and he also mentions the bullpen. I think they could look to upgrade behind the dish as well, as Tyler Flowers whiffed at a 36 percent clip last season and is a long shot (to say the least) to repeat his .355 batting average on balls in play. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently provided a preview of Chicago’s upcoming offseason.
More from the AL Central…
- Once arbitration numbers and league-minimum players are accounted for, the Indians project to have $72-75MM committed to the 2015 roster, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian writes in his most recent inbox piece. The team has typically operated in the $80-85MM payroll range, so there’s some degree of financial flexibility. However, Bastian notes that with the large number of contracts spread around the team, Cleveland is limited as to where and how it can upgrade what was a stagnant second-half offense. He feels that third base and right field are the most logical areas to target, noting that the trade market may be “more opportunistic” for the Indians this offseason.
- The Tigers will look to upgrade on a bullpen that melted down and, in the estimation of many, cost them their season in the playoffs, writes James Schmel of MLive.com. However, he cautions not to expect a new closer in 2015. There’s a “strong chance” that the team will exercise Joakim Soria‘s $7MM club option, Schmel writes, and he also notes that Joe Nathan, Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon, Blaine Hardy, Kyle Lobstein and Luke Putkonen are expected back. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jim Johnson and Joel Hanrahan are likely on the outs. Schmel lists some speculative bullpen targets for Detroit, including Luke Gregerson, Andrew Miller, Neal Cotts and Pat Neshek, and as he notes, the Tigers have been linked to Gregerson in the past and nearly reacquired Miller this past July.
Offense is at a premium this season and Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn’t think it will improve any time soon, writes MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. “The hitter’s at a total disadvantage right now,” Maddon said. “And there’s no advantages on the horizon. I don’t see it. That’s why it’s going to take a lot of creative thinking. It could be just going back maybe to something that had been done before. I’m not sure. But right now, offense is going south, and it’s going to continue going south based on pitching and defense. Everything, data, video, all the information benefits them over offense.” Maddon also pointed to improved bullpens throughout baseball as another factor in the depressed offensive numbers.
Here’s more from the American League:
- July acquisition Joakim Soria deserves a shot at pitching in high-pressure situations for the Tigers, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. Soria could be the best relief pitcher the Tigers have and they paid a price to get him, so they should utilize him in the best way possible, Iott argues.
- The Indians led the majors in errors for much of the sesaon, but there likely won’t be sweeping changes in Cleveland’s infield, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer.
- Nelson Cruz reiterated he would like to stay with the Orioles, but extension talks will still wait until after the season, tweets Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.
- Tim Bogar is now the clear runaway favorite to be hired as the next Rangers manager, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (on Twitter).
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said on WEEI radio’s Dennis and Callahan show today that extension talks with ace Jon Lester have been tabled until the offseason. Lucchino reminded that Lester’s preference is to avoid negotiating during the season. Lester told reporters, including the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, that he wasn’t surprised to hear Lucchino’s comments (Twitter link). However, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com does hear from a source that Lester would be open to signing a midseason deal if the Sox were to offer market value for his services right now. The other possibility for Lester could be a trade, if the Sox fall further back in the East — a concept which Lester admits he has considered (via the Globe’s Nick Cafardo). Lester said if it came to that, he wouldn’t harbor any ill feelings toward the organization.
Here’s more on the BoSox and the AL East…
- Lucchino also said on WEEI that he expects the Red Sox to be active at the trade deadline, though he noted that nearing the deadline with a sub-.500 record is new territory for the Sox. Asked about buying or selling, Lucchino referred to the trade deadline as a “binary process” and implied that the Sox could do some of both.
- Also of note from Lucchino is that the Red Sox plan to engage John Lackey in extension talks after the season. Lackey’s Tommy John surgery in 2012 triggered a $500K option for the 2015 season due to an injury clause in his contract. Lucchino is quoted: “I think that there will be some contract negotiations with him probably at the end of the year as well and we’ll see what his frame of mind is with respect to longer-term contracts.”
- The Blue Jays were in the mix for Joakim Soria before the Rangers traded him to the Tigers, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (Twitter links). Talks never became too serious or progressed to the stage where offers were exchanged, however.
- Morosi also notes that the Yankees are still looking to add a starter to their ranks (Twitter link). Earlier today, he noted that the Yanks scouted Ian Kennedy‘s last start, though reports from earlier today indicated that the Padres would need to be “overwhelmed” to move him.
- Rays president Matt Silverman tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that there are some “obvious flaws” with the Competitive Balance Lottery, in which the Rays were not awarded a pick yesterday. As Topkin notes, seemingly less-needing teams such as the Cardinals, Orioles and Rockies all received picks. Silverman went on to say, however, that even if the lottery were better constructed, it would “only scratch the surface of the competitive balance issues plaguing baseball.”
Last night, the Tigers landed one of the top available relievers on the trade market in Rangers right-hander Joakim Soria. While Soria should go a long way towards shoring up Detroit’s bullpen, many have wondered if Detroit might continue to work the phones for an additional relief option, particularly given the struggles of left-handers Phil Coke and Ian Krol. I asked Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski earlier today if he might go after a southpaw in the next week.
“I don’t know I would get into what we’re specifically addressing, but we’re open-minded to different thought processes. Our bullpen has struggled at times and we want to have people that put up zeroes out there,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve tried a lot of guys at that and we remain open-minded if something makes sense to make us better before the trade deadline.”
The Tigers have been in need of bullpen reinforcements for some time and Dombrowski has been focused on Soria “for a while.” The GM said that he started chatting with Rangers GM Jon Daniels in June and things picked up more and more with time. And while Soria didn’t come cheap — he cost the Tigers promising pitching prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel — he believed that it was a price they could afford to pay thanks to their pitching depth. Soria’s affordable $7MM club option also helped Dombrowski to pull the trigger since he will likely be more than just a rental.
“I don’t think it made the deal, but it was a real plus for us,” the GM said.
Of course, if things went differently for the Tigers this season, they might not have had to make a trade like this at all. Dombrowski acknowledged that he’d be in a “different situation” if Bruce Rondon was with the club. They’re also “not counting” on a 2014 return for Joel Hanrahan and the odds were termed as being “highly unlikely.”
While Soria has a long history as a successful closer, Dombrowski is insistent that Joe Nathan will continue to pitch in the ninth-inning despite his struggles this season. When asked what it might take for Soria to possible leapfrog Nathan and close out games, the Tigers GM declined to speculate or set expectations for the 39-year-old. For now, Soria is there to help build a better bridge to Nathan and the veteran appears to be all for it. Before pulling the trigger on the deal, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones asked Nathan and Ian Kinsler about how they feel Soria might fit in with the team. One of the replies they got back was, “Why don’t we have him yet?’“
Last night, the Tigers landed right-hander Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for two of their top prospects — right-handers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Detroit has long been said to be in pursuit of relief help, and they’ve now added one of the top bullpen arms on the market. Here are some reactions to the deal as well as a few additional bits of info about the Tigers’ trade talks…
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that Soria was the Tigers’ primary bullpen target, and they didn’t pursue former Tiger Joaquin Benoit all that aggressively before landing Soria last night.
- Likewise, ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweets that the Tigers were never in on Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon all that seriously.
- Soria himself is very excited to join the Tigers, agent Oscar Suarez old FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi (Twitter link), specifically mentioning excitement over a chance to win. That excitement isnt surprising for Soria, who didn’t have much of an opportunity at the postseason early in his career with the Royals (he wasn’t with the club for their recent improvements).
- The Tigers have the prospect depth to add another relief arm if they wish, but it will depend on the asking price, writes Jason Beck of MLB.com. Beck notes that Detroit probably wishes to avoid too much long-term depth to the farm system, but he mentions Chad Qualls as a possibly more affordable option to pursue. Beck also reports that the initial asking price on Soria was higher than the one the Tigers ultimately wound up paying.
- ESPN’s Keith Law understands the deal for both Detroit and Texas (Insider subscription required and recommended). While the Tigers paid a steep price, he notes that Soria will be worth about an extra win over the remainder of the season and will be featured in some very high-leverage postseason innings. From Texas’ standpoint, they get a raw but projectable 20-year-old in Thompson who needs to learn to get more plane on his fastball and develop a changeup to succeed as a starter, plus a controllable potential seventh- or eighth-inning reliever in Knebel.
- Jim Callis of MLB.com “loves” the Rangers’ end of the deal, calling Thompson a potential No. 2 or 3 starter and noting that Knebel has closer upside (Twitter link).
- Soria’s value in the postseason could be significant, writes Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron. Cameron examines the usage of teams’ best relievers in last year’s playoffs, noting that while a typical elite reliever throws about five percent of his team’s innings during the regular season, that number increases in the playoffs due to more off days and the increased importance of late innings. The Red Sox used Koji Uehara for 9.6 percent of their postseason innings, which translates to about 140 innings during the regular season (a value of 246 innings when accounting for the increased leverage index).
- R.J. Anderson and Jordan Gorosh break down the trade over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required/recommended). Anderson notes the steep price Detroit paid as well and wonders if the Tigers are done adding relievers. If Dave Dombrowski is serious about truly upgrading the bullpen (which he clearly seems to be), the Tigers should look to add another arm, Anderson opines. Meanwhile, Gorosh feels that Thompson could make an appearance on the back end of B-Pro’s offseason Top 101 prospects list, writing that he has the potential to be a “very strong No. 4 starter” and could have been the best pitching prospect in Detroit’s system (thereby implying that he likes him better than Robbie Ray).
10:25pm: The Tigers have announced the deal, making it official.
9:23pm: The Tigers have agreed to acquire reliever Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for right-handed pitching prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, Kyle Bogenschutz of Scout.com was first to report on Twitter. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports confirmed that an agreement is in place (via Twitter).
With the acquisition of Soria, the Tigers now possess both of the Rangers’ most recent closers (having signed Joe Nathan as a free agent over the offseason). It appears that Nathan will retain the closer’s mantle for the time being, but regardless the team will now have an additional premium arm to throw into high-leverage situations. At the moment, the team owns the fifth-worst relief ERA in baseball.
Soria, a 30-year-old righty, owns a 2.70 ERA with a spectacular strikeout to walk ratio of 11.3 K/9 against only 1.1 BB/9. Indeed, his FIP stands at a miserly 1.07, which handily leads all pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings. Other ERA estimators (2.25 xFIP; 1.84 SIERA) concur in Soria’s excellence to date in 2014.
He is playing out the back end of the two-year, $8MM deal he signed to join the Rangers after Tommy John surgery led to the end of his tenure with the Royals. But Soria also comes with a seemingly reasonable $7MM club option. (That option would increase to $8MM if he finishes 55 games; he is sitting on 32 at present. The contract also includes performance bonuses.)
The return would appear to be substantial. Both Thompson and Knebel rated among Detroit’s ten best prospects coming into the year, per Baseball America, with the former landing at fourth and the latter at sixth on BA’s list. If anything, their stock has risen since that time.
Thompson, a 20-year-old starter, just earned a promotion to Double-A after posting a 3.14 ERA over 83 innings with 8.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 at the High-A level. Baseball America says he has mid-rotation upside. He has a low-to-mid 90s fastball and promising slider, but profiles as a mid-rotation arm if he can develop a consistent third pitch from amongst his other offerings (curve and circle change).
The 22-year-old Knebel, meanwhile, has already made his big league debut after being selected 39th overall in last year’s draft. Though he surrendered six earned runs in 8 2/3 MLB frames, he also notched 11 strikeouts against just three walks and has dominated minor league hitters. He profiles as a potential future closer, says BA, though Detroit had weighed the possibility of trying him as a starter.
With Soria and Huston Street now taken, the relief market now lacks somewhat for obviously available closers. Jonathan Papelbon is surely available, but of course comes with a still-sizable contract. The Padres will presumably listen on Joaquin Benoit, but may want a large return to part with him after dealing Street. And it remains to be seen whether names like Koji Uehara and Steve Cishek could be had.
The Tigers, Pirates and Indians are interested in Padres reliever Joaquin Benoit, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports. The Padres have already shipped out one reliever with closing experience, trading Huston Street to the Angels, but Heyman writes that Benoit will likely fetch a less attractive return, since teams generally view him as a setup man, not a closer.
Heyman notes that the Tigers or Pirates could use Benoit in the eighth inning, allowing Joe Nathan or Mark Melancon, respectively, to continue to close. (Those two teams are also interested in Joakim Soria of the Rangers, Heyman notes.) It isn’t yet clear whether the Indians will be buyers.
Benoit is owed $8MM next year plus $8MM or a $1.5MM buyout in 2016. His 2016 option will vest if he finishes at least 55 games in 2015. Benoit has a 2.04 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 39 2/3 innings with San Diego this year.
11:10am: Morosi’s colleague, Ken Rosenthal, adds that the Tigers are also interested in Joaquin Benoit but are not actively pursuing Huston Street at this time (Twitter links). The Tigers, according to a rival executive with whom Rosenthal spoke, are interested in adding a reliever that doesn’t view himself as a pure closer, suggesting that a new acquisition may not supplant Nathan as the primary ninth-inning option.
The back end of the bullpen was a worry that Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski hoped not to have when he signed Joe Nathan this offseason, but the former Twins/Rangers stopper hasn’t pitched like himself in 2014. Nathan has posted a 5.61 ERA in 33 2/3 innings with the Tigers, and while his strikeout rate remains strong (9.4 K/9), his walks are up and his fastball is averaging a career-worst 91.7 mph. That velocity dip could have something to do with the increase in his home run rate and decrease in swinging-strike rate as well.
Soria, on the other hand, has been excellent in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. The former Royals closer has turned in the best strikeout and walk rates of his career (11.9 K/9, 1.2 BB/9) en route to a 2.67 ERA and 16 saves in 30 1/3 innings of relief work.
An acquisition of Soria would give the Tigers an improved ninth-inning option not only for 2014 but also 2015, as his contract contains a $7MM club option ($500K buyout). Beyond that, Soria is highly affordable in 2014, as he’s earning just a $5.5MM salary, of which $2.19MM remains.
This would be the second straight season in which the Tigers have acquired bullpen help, should a deal come to fruition. However, the asking price on Soria will undoubtedly be higher than last year’s asking price for Jose Veras. Detroit sent Danry Vasquez and David Paulino to Houston in order to complete that deal.
The Rangers have reportedly been receiving a good deal of interest in their bullpen arms, and they’ve already shown a willingness to move veteran pieces by sending Jason Frasor to the Royals this week.
The Angels and Padres don’t match up on a deal for right-hander Ian Kennedy, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, but the two sides are still discussing closer Huston Street (Twitter link). Rosenthal notes that the Padres are still listening to offers from other clubs with interest in Kennedy.
The Angels have been connected to Street several times, and the pitcher himself even said he would welcome a trade to the Halos when asked by Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times. That’s not to say that Street wants to be traded to Anaheim — he’s said multiple times that he loves San Diego — but rather that if he is traded, he’d prefer it to be to a contending team. Street also told Shaikin how exciting the concept of playing alongside names like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols would be, and he offered high praise for manager Mike Scioscia.
According to Shaikin, the Angels prefer Street to Jonathan Papelbon and Joakim Soria. Street, who has pitched to a 1.09 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 33 innings this season, is earning $7MM and has a $7MM club option on his contract for 2015. As such, the price tag on him is likely to be fairly substantial, though not as steep as the presumed price tag on Kennedy.
As far as Kennedy goes, it’s not entirely surprising that the two sides don’t match up. The Angels’ weak farm system has been well documented, and there’s been a great deal of speculation that they could have trouble landing significant upgrades on the trade market. In a second piece, Shaikin spoke with GM Jerry Dipoto, who said that he doesn’t want to deal any pieces from his big league roster in trades.
That, of course, implies that a young player who could be of interest to a rebuilding club, such as slugging first baseman/DH C.J. Cron, isn’t likely to find himself as part of a trade. As Shaikin writes, Dipoto knows that means he doesn’t have the pieces to acquire David Price, but the team is still in active pursuit of pitching upgrades. Based on all of these reports, it seems that Street is the primary target for the time being, though I’d expect the Angels to cast a wide net over the next few weeks.