During spring training, Joakim Soria went down with an elbow injury and later needed a second Tommy John surgery. A two-time All-Star, Soria was slated to be the team’s closer in 2012. Instead, he was the first of many significant injuries suffered in the early part of the season.
Earlier today, he tweeted that he was throwing for the first time following the surgery, which Bob Dutton described as 25 throws at 45 feet without incident.
Soria is under contract through 2014 if the Royals were to pick up two option years. He’s due $8 million next season if they do so, but the Royals can buy out the deal for $750,000 and Dutton reported that they intend to do just that. The implication is that the Royals and Soria will try to renegotiate a deal. Since this was Soria’s second surgery, a salary of that amount is an unnecessary risk. Jonathan Broxton filled in as closer to mixed results (depending on how much you trust ERA) and Greg Holland has taken the reins since Broxton’s trade to Cincinnati in July.
From the Royals perspective, they’d be looking for a short-term contract with performance incentives to limit their risk. Soria would be coming back probably around the end of spring training next year if his timetable is typical of most pitchers who’ve had the procedure done, so it may be difficult for him to find a taker if he were to look elsewhere. The deal he’d get from another club probably wouldn’t be much different than what he’d be offered by the Royals.
Most likely, he’d fit in the bullpen in low leverage situations until he showed that he would be able to handle a typical workload. With his experience in the back of the bullpen, he’d ultimately be headed back to a setup role and perhaps as closer again (though the Royals have plenty of options for that spot if Holland faltered).
Another option is to take the opportunity to avoid an overloaded bullpen and address another area of need – the starting rotation. Earlier this season, Kevin Scobee appeared on the Royalman Report to discuss the potential of converting some relievers into starters. He’d suggested that now would be a great time to try it with Soria because he’s essentially starting from scratch. He hasn’t thrown since March, and the training to return to regular pitching could be set up so as to use him as a starter. The Royals had always intended on using him as a reliever in healthy years, so his training would reflect that. Now, he’s rebuilding his arm strength, the Royals could approach it differently. If it didn’t work out, they could always shift gears and put him back in the bullpen. Soria has four good pitches that he uses regularly and never had the typical closer’s velocity, so his repertoire fits the starting pitcher model more. He may be open to the idea too, since starters will build up more innings (if healthy and effective) and more stats – so if he does sign an incentive-laden deal, he’d be closer to some of those incentives with more innings.