Every year, the shelves that line the MLB Off-Season Shoppe find the stock changing dramatically. This year, relief pitchers are aplenty while starting pitching is rather bare. Thus, teams like the Kansas City Royals who need multiple starters aren't going to find much to choose from. However, for those teams looking for relief pitchers, there's several options to consider. Luckily for the Royals, however, the first buyer to strike -- the Philadelphia Phillies with their signing of Jonathan Papelbon -- is likely to cause a positive ripple effect.
That's good news for the Royals. Hardly any team besides the Phillies is going to want to pony up to that price that Papelbon commanded: four years at $50 million. Yet several teams need a closer. Ryan Madson is still available, the former Phillies closer, but he turned down an $11 million/year deal just a few days ago from his former team. Heath Bell will command top dollar. K-Rod, Francisco Cordero and Joe Nathan will all be expensive. And most of those players are rather old.
Just who are the shoppers? The Florida Marlins are offering everyone but Joe Paterno a new contract in their hopes to make a splash in their new digs as the Miami Marlins. MLB Trade Rumors also lists the Texas Rangers, Washington Natonals, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox as players. Of course there could be other teams. That's the surprising nature of this off-season.
Perhaps there are enough pitchers to go around in an ideal world, but who wants to pay top dollar for some of these options. Joe Nathan is 36 and has injury history. Heath Bell will be 35. Cordero is 36. For a team wanting to cement their closer position this off-season and not have to break the bank, there's one option that stands out: the Kansas City Royals Joakim Soria.
Joakim Soria had some uncharacteristic issues this year and even lost his closer job for a while. After years of hovering around a 2.00 ERA, last year it jumped to 4.03. Yet he still finished with 28 saves and his peripherals of walks and strikeouts mostly remained the same with career averages. Soria was giving up a few more hits than normal last year, but it's clear he got back on track after a rough start.
He pitched a scoreless September and if it wasn't for a month of May where he had an 8.71 ERA, his season would have looked much better. It's the only rough patch in five full major league seasons who owns a career 2.40 ERA and 160 career saves and is still only 27-years-old. Yes, that's right, 27.
As for his contract? He has a club option this season for $6.5 million that the Royals already exercised. Next season it becomes $8 million in 2013 and $8.75 million in 2014. In other words, entering his prime, Soria is still millions below market value for the best closers on the market.
Simply put, Soria is the best closer for the money on the market. And of course, that will cost a team some significant trade value. But a team is going to have to put up one way or the other -- money and/or prospects and the Phils already took the best prize off of the market. Once Madson falls, it's between aging options, risky projects (i.e. Jonathan Broxton) or trade candidates. And if a team is willing to go down that road, the Royals hold the greatest prize of all.