Breaking down the Soria deal
The Tigers are waiting until a Thursday morning conference call to talk in depth about their big move to land Joakim Soria from the Rangers. For now, however, here are a few key points to keep in mind:
1. Soria will set up for Joe Nathan, at least for now
Dave Dombrowski confirmed this much Wednesday evening. That’s believed to have been the plan on all the trade discussions the Tigers held on bullpen help this month. While Soria set up for Nathan with good success for 26 appearances last year, Nathan hasn’t had any role but closer over the last 10 years. So for now, if he’s going to have a role, it’s going to be the ninth.
If Soria eventually closes, it’ll leave the Tigers needing another arm for the seventh or eighth, because their current bullpen doesn’t have enough depth to cover the gap. The advantage of Soria setting up, if Nathan can hold down the ninth, is that it allows Chamberlain to enter in the seventh, an inning in which the Tigers’ numbers are almost as ugly as the ninth.
2. Two solid pitching prospects is the going rate for quality late-inning relievers this summer
Reports from before the All-Star break had the Rangers seeking 2-3 prospects for Soria, and it’s believed the Rangers’ initial asking price was steeper when the Tigers first inquired about Soria. But much like the two-year, $20 million deal Joe Nathan got last winter, the Tigers had to adjust to the market. The Rangers acquired a Triple-A relief prospect from KC for middle reliever Jason Frasor, and the Padres got a decent haul from the Angels for Huston Street.
No question, it shortens the prospect ranks for the Tigers going forward. Corey Knebel had the potential to become a late-inning arm in Detroit as soon as next year, and a cost-controlled reliever at that, while Jake Thompson had the makings of a mid-rotation starter. However, the Tigers have a club option on Soria for next season (and a reasonable one at $7 million), and they could also get Bruce Rondon back from Tommy John surgery next spring.
Thompson’s departure becomes bigger if the Tigers lose both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to free agency. If they re-sign one, Robbie Ray likely fills the other slot. Beyond that, Drew VerHagen also has the opportunity to step up. With Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez both signed long-term, and Drew Smyly not up for free agency until after the 2018 season, the Tigers have enough candidates to fill potential holes, even with Thompson no longer in the picture.
3. Are the Tigers done adding relievers?
That might depend on what the asking price is. They have the prospect depth to put together another package, but that’s where the deals begin to hurt the near future, rather than the distant one. While the idea of having Joaquin Benoit and Soria sounds appetizing, it would leave the Tigers on the hook for $26.5 million in relievers next season (Benoit’s $8 million salary for 2015 is guaranteed, with an $8 million option or $1.5 million buyout for 2016). Chad Qualls has a more reason $3 million salary for next year, but has said he wants to remain in Houston. Koji Uehara is up for free agency.