The Rays’ specialty the past several years has been signing once-promising relievers coming off frustrating seasons to cheap contracts and proceeding to revitalize them. Joakim Soria does not fit their usual model. Players like Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth had struggled in previous seasons, but their issues stemmed more from control and command than injury problems. For Soria, he struggled a bit in 2011 after four fabulous years with the Royals, posting a 4.03 ERA in 60 appearances, but his FIP was still 3.49 as he managed a 9.0 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9. Soria’s major issue is that he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2012, missing the entire season, missing the entire season, and Soria’s recovery process is still ongoing. Even more problematic is that it was the second Tommy John Surgery of Soria’s career. Because of the surgery, the Royals will almost assuredly decline his 8 million dollar option for 2013, making him a free agent. Will the Rays look to sign Soria hoping to work their magic again?
One of the defining characteristics of Rodney and Farnsworth as they headed to Tampa Bay was that they still had electric arms, pumping fastballs in the mid-90’s and sometimes higher. Despite his past dominance as a closer for the Royals, Soria’s fastball has always stayed right around 91-92 MPH. His success has been tied to his fastball control, but also to his outstanding secondary pitches, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. That could be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing after his surgery. He’s not going to lose velocity after his surgery, but at the same time he may have trouble getting the same type of bite on his breaking pitches- he may never get it all the way back- and he doesn’t have the fastball velocity to compensate.
The big question with Soria would seem to be how his free agency is going to go. He’s coming off a second major surgery, but as the same time he’s just 28 with a track record of almost nothing but success. Just about every team in baseball wishes they could get a pitcher like Soria was from 2007 to 2010 minor league deal. But the problem is that a second Tommy John Surgery is a very serious issue that few pitchers have been able to overcome. Soria may have as good a chance as anyone at coming back, but there is serious risk with him. He may never be more than a fraction of the player he used to be. And the Rays have traditionally stayed away from injured pitchers knowing that even if they could make some adjustment with him to help improve his performance, it doesn’t help if he can’t stay on the field.
Every team in baseball would have to at least give a look to Joakim Soria on a minor league deal. But Soria is a different case from what the Rays have dealt with in the past with these relievers, and he’s especially a bad candidate to return to his previous level in 2013 because you never know what he’ll be like in his first year back after surgery. If Soria were to be available on a minor league deal, the Rays would have to give him a look, but they don’t have the motivation to sign him knowing that the risk with him is even higher than the other players they’ve acquired. The bidding for Soria could get interesting because of just how good he was in the past and some team may offer him a major league deal worth a couple million dollars. The Rays will not be that team. There certainly is a chance that Soria comes to the Rays on a minor league deal, but despite their track record for turning struggling relievers around, Soria is not the right fit for them.