The Cincinnati Reds struck gold with a pair of mid-30’s relievers around this time last year, signing both David Hernandez and Jared Hughes to a pair of reasonable two-year deals that have already more than paid off. Hughes posted a stellar 216 ERA+ in 78.2 groundball-heavy innings - good for 3.3 bWAR - while Hernandez’s 64 innings of 167 ERA+ ball was worth 1.8 bWAR and helped solidify what had otherwise been a lackluster unit for several years running.
The Reds, while trying in earnest to ‘get the pitching’ this offseason, have been primarily connected to starting options from both opposing teams and the pool of free agents. According to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, however, it seems they also have interest in one of the more established relief arms in the game in Joakim Soria, too.
Source: The Dbacks, Angels, Yankees, Braves and Reds are among the teams that have shown interest in veteran reliever Joakim Soria. More talks are expected at next week’s Winter Meetings. Soria has been working out near his home in Scottsdale. Check @MLB for updates.— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) December 3, 2018
Soria, who’ll turn 35 in May, has twice been an All Star in a career that dates back to 2007, with both appearances coming as a member of the Kansas City Royals, for whom he tallied 160 saves between 2007-2011. Tommy John surgery soon followed to cost him all of the 2012 season, and while he returned to the big leagues in 2013, he’s not yet recaptured the same initial electricity from his first stint with Kansas City.
I emphasize ‘first stint’ with Kansas City since he has been a Royal again since 2013 - along with tenures with the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox, and Milwaukee Brewers in that span, too. And while he’s not completely regained that early All Star form, he’s been plenty formidable in that six year window, pitching to a 3.36 ERA (125 ERA+) with a 3.12 FIP and elite 9.8 K/9 across 319 IP. Age, it appears, isn’t even slowing him down yet, as his 92.4 mph average fastball velocity in 2018 was actually higher than his career 91.8 mph mark, while his 11.1 K/9 mark in 2018 was bested only by the 11.7 mark from his All Star 2009 campaign.
Unlike Hughes and Hernandez, though, it seems Soria may be a bit pricier than their two-year, ~$4 million total commitments. After wrapping the 2018 season with Milwaukee, Soria declined a $10 million player option for 2019 that was the final bit of the three-year, $25 million contract he originally signed with the Royals prior to the 2016 season. So, whether he’s worth a guarantee larger than that while entering his age-35 season becomes a significant question, as does whether the Reds are a right-enough fit for him.
In signing existing ‘closer’ Raisel Iglesias to his new, guaranteed, less-nebulous three-year, $24 million contract just two weeks ago, the concept of using Iglesias in a more expanded role became a hot topic, specifically with him perhaps moving from primarily 9th inning role into one in higher leverage situations at any point late in games. More specifically, using him in a fashion similar to how Milwaukee used lockdown reliever Josh Hader in 2018 became a go-to comparison, while would in theory leave the 9th inning to someone else in the Cincinnati bullpen in 2019. Soria, for what its worth, logged 16 saves as the White Sox closer in early 2018 before a trade to Milwaukee - not to mention that new Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson was Soria’s pitching coach with the Brewers to finish 2018.
Obviously, the need for quality starting pitching to get to a bullpen of any caliber is still a priority, but Soria would, in theory, be an obvious upgrade to the Cincinnati bullpen for 2019. Whether or not he’s the right fit at that price point is the issue, however, as guaranteeing him some $20 million might deplete the financial resources that would otherwise go towards improving the starting rotation. And while having an elite-level bullpen is awesome and great and wow, not having a good enough rotation to ever give them leads to protect is somewhat the ‘Billy Hamilton can’t steal first base’ of pitching conundrums.
Still, that the Reds are interested in Soria at this point sends a pair of important signals - first, that they’re willing to target good pitchers even if they appear to be costly, and also that they’re not solely focused on the starting rotation while trying to ‘get the pitching.’