Joakim Soria: Future Starter for the Royals?

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I don’t have to tell you how bad Joakim Soria’s 2016 has been. With a bullpen not nearly as loaded as previous years due to injuries and losses in free agency, this team has badly needed him to be a competent late inning reliever. In reality, he has been one of many reasons why the Royals players will be watching October baseball from their couches this year.

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This presents a certain amount of worry about the two years and 17 million dollars remaining on his contract. Put me on record now as saying Soria will be better in 2017. Mostly because it is hard to imagine him being worse. However, there may be an interesting light at the end of this tunnel. Soria’s contract includes the following bonus incentive clauses:

2017 – $100,000 for 130 innings pitched, $100,000 for each 5+ IP performance (up to the 200 inning mark), $250,000 for each of 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30 starts.

That is interesting language for a guy you signed to be your 7th or 8th inning guy.

To be fair, he has similar bonuses in his contract for 2016 and, even with his struggles, there was never a sniff of him moving to the long guy/spot starter role. Luke Hochevar’s most recent contract also has comparable language and he was never seriously mentioned as a rotation possibility either.

But with a full off-season ahead to make the transition, it is an interesting consideration. Davis and Herrera are still under contract for 2017. There is a strong possibility that Holland and/or Hochevar will be brought back. Matt Strahm has emerged (though he will more than likely be looked at for the rotation next spring). GMDM has shown a knack for developing or slyly finding dominant bullpen pieces.

And the inconvenient truth is that the 2017 Royals starting rotation looks pretty bleak beyond Duffy, Ventura and Kennedy. Volquez will more than likely not have his mutual option picked up by the team or be extended a qualifying offer, therefore hitting free agency. Dillon Gee has been okay at times, but too inconsistent to be counted upon for the future. Medlen and Minor have not panned out as hoped. Vargas was expected to be back at some point this season and has yet to make a major league appearance. Chris Young has earned himself the dignity of riding off into the sunset a la Jeremy Guthrie. There is some starting pitching talent in the low and mid minors (Mills, Skoglund, Junis, Fernandez, etc.), but nothing that is definitively major league ready.

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Point being, there is more current need for starting pitching than bullpen pieces. There may actually be some ground to stand on in regards to transitioning Soria back to a starter’s role to help get additional value out of his contract.

He did have some success as a starter early in his career. From 2005-2006 in a Mexican league that is most comparable to the AAA level and briefly in the San Diego Padres high A affiliate, Soria pitched 181.2 innings of 3.48 ERA baseball that included 18 starts and a perfect game. The Royals plucked him in the Rule 5 draft shortly thereafter and moved him into the bullpen. He excelled as one of the best closers in Royals history for a stretch of time.

History is littered with dominant bullpen arms that were failed starters. That is usually the way it goes. However, this is some history of failed relievers turning into competent or even better starters. See Derek Lowe, CJ Wilson and Ryan Dempster as recent examples.

Do I think it will happen? No, probably not. It feels like a little too much “egg on the face” for an organization (specifically a manager) who tends to be defiantly supportive of his decision making.

At the same time, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if next spring Soria is in the hunt for a rotation spot.

 

 

 

 

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Author: Zach Hodson

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