You’ve probably heard the news that some teams have inquired about the availability of Joakim Soria. Most recently, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox have expressed an interest, there are rumors about the Angels, and there may be others we don’t know about. It’s obvious the Royals are shopping him around and if you’re like me, you’re both excited and highly concerned about what the Royals might receive in return for him if they pull the trigger on a trade.
While Soria is not yet a candidate for the Hall of Fame, he is arguably one of the top ten Rule 5 draft picks of all-time, he owns career marks of 2.40 ERA / 181 ERA+, 9.7 K/9, 1.043 WHIP (these numbers aren’t from his best season, I’m talking about his entire five year major league career), he averages 37 saves per season, he is a two time All-Star and his name has appeared on Cy Young and MVP ballots. In other words, he’s pretty stinkin’ good. Would the Royals seriously consider trading a young, successful pitcher whose best days may still be ahead of him? Believe it or not, there is precedent for the Royals to do just that.
Precedent #1 – The Royals traded Kansas City native and Rockhurst High School alum, 24-year-old David Cone to the Mets on March 27, 1987 for a cup of coffee and a pocket of magic beans named Rick Anderson who ultimately played 61 games for the Royals, Mauro Gozzo who the Royals lost to the Blue Jays in the 1988 minor league draft, and Ed Hearn who played a handful of games for the Royals at catcher until he quit baseball at the end of the 1988 season.
After leaving the Royals, one year later in 1988 25-year-old David Cone proceeded to go 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA, pitched a 3 up/3 down inning in the All-Star game that year, and subsequently led the league in strikeouts on two occasions, striking out 19 batters in one game in 1991. Only two pitchers in the entire history of the major leagues have struck out 20 in a game.
Let me quote “The Real Dirty” New York Mets blog regarding this trade – “Just before the ’87 season was to start, the Royals stupidly traded Cone to the Mets for backup catcher, Ed Hearn, relief pitchers Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo. It was Frank Cashen’s best post World Series deal.” That kind of sums it up, doesn’t it?
Do you think the Royals could have used a 25-year-old pitcher like David Cone in 1988? I know they could use one in 2012.
Precedent #2 – Apparently the Royals didn’t learn their lesson with the first David Cone trade. The Royals reacquired him as a free agent in 1992, he then proceeded to win a Cy Young in 1994, so of course the Royals traded him again the following year on April 6, 1995 to the Toronto Blue Jays. In exchange, the Royals received a cheese sandwich plus minor leaguer David Sinnes who was out of baseball completely by 1996, Tony Medrano, another minor leaguer who never sniffed the major leagues in 14 professional seasons, and Chris Stynes who played all of 58 unmemorable games for the Royals in 1995-96 proudly sporting a negative WAR.
After leaving the Royals, Cone went 18-8 in 1995 with a 3.57 ERA / 131 ERA+, 7.7 H/9, 7.5 K/9, led the league in innings pitched, came in 4th place in the Cy Young vote, and threw a PERFECT GAME in 1999 – for the Yankees, not the Royals.
Who do you suppose got the better of that trade? It wasn’t the Royals, I can tell you that for sure.
Precedent #3 – As if the previous two precedents weren’t bad enough, this one really turns my stomach. Bret Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards, he was selected as the 1985 World Series MVP, and in my opinion if he had been allowed to play his entire career for the Royals, his uniform number would be nailed to the base of the CrownVision alongside Brett, White, and Howser.
December 11, 1991 is the darkest day in the history of Royals baseball, the day the Royals broke my heart and made me momentarily consider turning in my Royals fan card. It was a Tuesday and I was on a business trip to Phoenix. Following dinner when I was watching SportsCenter in my Hampton Inn hotel room, I realized for the first time in my life that the men who ran the Royals were not perfect. Most all of the cornerstone Royals players from the glory years spent their entire careers in Kansas City and I had grown up to believe we were insulated from the chaos fans of other teams had to endure because of trades and free agency. That night, I learned I was wrong.
ESPN announced that the Royals had suddenly, stunningly, and inexplicably traded 27-year-old Bret Saberhaben, and baseball in Kansas City would never be the same again.
Have you noticed a pattern here? Every time the Royals have a pitcher who wins or is capable of winning the Cy Young, they trade him. I’m convinced that if Steve Busby hadn’t torn his rotator cuff in 1976, he would have eventually won a Cy Young and the Royals would have traded him too. As further proof of this, you’ll recall that it happened again just one year ago.
On December 19, 2010, the Royals traded the 2009 Cy Young award winner Zach Greinke to Milwaukee. This time, they received a bit more value in return than on the previous occasions. Jake Odorizzi is one of the most highly regarded pitchers in the minor leagues. Lorenzo Cain is projected to be our starting Center Fielder on opening day (although I believe that decision isn’t completely set in stone yet – call me crazy.) Jeremy Jeffress is another pitcher with potential to be successful in the majors. And finally, Alcides Escobar whose gifted glove now roams the left side of the Royals’ infield.
As of today, it would appear the Royals finally received fair value when trading a high potential pitcher. However, I reserve the right to amend this comment if Zach wins a couple more Cy Young awards, throws a perfect game, and carries his team on his back to the World Series as I believe he is capable of doing – if he feels like it. As you know, Zach is one of those guys who requires motivation to be successful. If he doesn’t find the right motivation, then the Brewers will rue the day they made this trade with the Royals.
In the best of all possible worlds, Zach will return to us in free agency next year and then I’ll celebrate with him when he experiences great success.
Unless a General Manager is trying to get fired, there are only a couple of reasons to ever give up a young, proven, successful pitcher.
- His career is already going downhill. A downhill trend could be caused by overuse (see Gil Meche circa 2009), or maybe because he’s thrown too many sliders. It’s possible that last year’s performance could be evidence that Soria has peaked and his best years are behind him. If true, then this could be the reason Soria’s name is being mentioned in trade talks.
- You have a talented, ready replacement that will cushion the blow of his departure. The signing of Jonathan Broxton and the presence of Greg Holland and others in our bullpen make this a real possibility.
If reason number one is being used by the Royals to consider trading Soria, then we need to judge whether or not there is a chance he can recover from a subpar summer in 2011. I think he can, and baseball has seen plenty of examples of other players with great bounce-back years.
In 1979, Rollie Fingers, one of the greatest relief pitchers in the history of the game saw his ERA jump to 4.52 / 78 ERA+ from a career mark of 2.90 ERA / 120 ERA+. His save count dropped to 13 after he had saved 37 games the prior year. In 1980, he rebounded with a 2.80 ERA / 123 ERA+, which was even better than his career average. There are many more examples of a successful closer losing his touch one year and then finding it again the next. Unless Soria has suffered some sort of injury that we aren’t aware of, I would expect him to recover from his off year in 2011.
If Soria has become expendable, it could also be that the Royals brass have decided that their replacement options are just as good. Maybe they would be happy with Jonathan Broxton closing games. Let’s compare stats:
- Joakim Soria – lifetime ERA 2.40 / 181 ERA+ (seriously, it’s 181, that’s not a misprint), WHIP 1.043, yearly average of 37 Saves
- Jonathan Broxton – lifetime ERA 3.19 / 132 ERA+, WHIP 1.2332, yearly average of 15 Saves (or closer to 24 when he’s healthy and placed into the closer role)
Which of these two players would you want closing out your games? Both are 27-year-old two time All-Stars who have skills, but they both underperformed last year leaving us with question marks. Joakim gave up more runs in 2011 than in the previous two years combined, and Broxton only pitched a total of 12.2 innings with an ERA+ of 67 and is recovering from both shoulder and elbow surgery. Is Broxton the guy you want to pin your hopes on? Is he healthy? And yes, he was good from 2006-2009, but Soria was better. MUCH better.
Shortly before he signed with the Royals, Broxton’s agent said his client “is amenable to an incentive-laden one year-contract, perhaps with a vesting option for 2013. He wants to re-establish himself as an elite reliever, but does not need to become a closer immediately.” Now let me ask you something. If a player’s own agent doesn’t think he is ready to be a closer again, is there anyone in their right mind who really thinks Broxton should be placed in this position again before he proves himself? I hope not.
I will be the first to admit the Royals have some great young arms in the bullpen and I believe a couple of them have the potential to close out games for us in the future. Notice I said “potential.” You may recall that when Soria was asked to briefly step down from the closer role last year due to poor performance, the team wasn’t presented with any save opportunities. So, we were not able to learn whether Aaron Crow, Greg Holland and crew could step up and deliver. This was the perfect opportunity to discover if we had the talent to absorb a loss of the magnitude of a Joakim Soria. Shortly after his demotion Soria was promoted again, and now we have no evidence to support the possible theory that we have ready replacements for Joakim.
And here’s another problem. If the Royals trade him now, wouldn’t they be selling him low considering the fact he had an off year in 2011? The rumor is that the Royals would consider parting with Soria in exchange for a front-line starting pitcher. In theory that sounds good, but I’d like to know the Royal’s definition of “front-line” and whether another team would think he was worth this much.
The Red Sox acquired Andrew Bailey last week so they no longer need a closer, but let’s play out this scenario with Boston to see what might have happened had the Royals traded Soria to them. The Red Sox sent a package of prospects to the A’s, but that’s not what the Royals need, we have plenty of prospects. We need a “front-line” starter. The Red Sox must have at least entertained the possibility of sending us one of their top 2 or 3 starters, or the talks would have gone nowhere past an initial phone call.
Would the Red Sox have given us Josh Beckett?? Not bloody likely, the Red Sox would never give him up. How about Jon Lester? I’m sure you remember him, he tossed a no-hitter against the Royals in 2008. Would that be enough for us to be satisfied that we received fair value in the trade? What if Boston sent Clay Buchholz to KC? He’s not an ace, but he’s a good pitcher, with a lifetime ERA of 3.64. However, he’s coming off a back injury that kept him in the trainer’s room nearly all of 2011. Would you risk trading Soria for a player whose health was uncertain?
There’s no way the BoSox would have given up Beckett or Lester, taking Buchholz would be a big risk, and I don’t think the Red Sox have anyone else of equivalent value for Soria who would meet our needs.
If you’re reading this blog, that means you follow baseball, so you’ve probably heard the news that our old pitching coach Bob McClure was recently hired by Boston. It seems reasonable that McClure might want to work with some guys he’s comfortable with and this is likely one of the reasons why the Red Sox inquired about Soria. My guess is McClure may not go away so easily and we probably haven’t heard the last of his attempts to acquire Joakim or possibly another of our stable of young arms to bolster his bullpen.
Recently I wrote about how those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. I think the lesson here from history is if you can’t get fair value that meets your needs, don’t give up the player in a trade. I absolutely wouldn’t give up Soria for prospects, that’s not what we need right now. What we need is a #1 or #2 quality starter and anything less than this in exchange for Soria is not fair value and not worth considering. A true #1, or a young #2 with potential to dominate (not a catcher – I’m talking to you Blue Jays prospect Travis d’Arnaud, not a minor league second baseman, etc.), and club control for at least three years – otherwise the Royals should just say no. There are a lot of worse things that could happen to us besides getting “stuck” with Joakim Soria through 2014.
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