Bullpens are all the rage nowadays, and with the explosive Kansas City Royals relief corps essentially shortening games to six innings throughout the team's run to the World Series, constructing a strong group of pitchers to come in after the starter is being given more weight than ever before. The bullpen stood out as one of the Red Sox' major weaknesses throughout the course of the 2015 season, with managers John Farrell and Torey Lovullo consistently forced to turn to guys like Alexi Ogando and Jean Machi in tight games.
Fortunately for Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski, due to their flukiness and the general year-to-year unpredictability of relievers, bullpens can be easy to tear down and build back up in just an offseason. Matt Collins looked at Darren O'Day as an option for the team and several reports say that the team at the very least holds interest in exploring a deal for Cincinnati Red closer Aroldis Chapman. But here's another guy for Dombrowski to potentially explore as an option for the Red Sox: Joakim Soria.
Besides having a name that seems fitting for an Eagle, Soria remains a solid reliever. Over the last three seasons, Soria ranks just outside the top-50 among all relievers in fWAR. The 31-year-old reliever might not necessarily be the closer the team hopes to come out of the offseason with, but Soria provides a solid late-inning option out of the bullpen for a variety of reasons. In 2015 between Detroit and Pittsburgh, Soria posted a 1.09 WHIP while striking out 64 batters in 67.2 innings pitched while walking 19 hitters and allowing eight home runs (though Soria allowed none in 29 games after the Rangers dealt him to the Pirates).
Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery twice, Soria has not lost any velocity on his fastball, sitting around 90-92 mph over the past few seasons. Soria has maintained a solid strikeout rate over the past three seasons, posting 10.65 K/9 in 2013, 9.74 K/9 in 2014 and 8.51 K/9 in 2015. While that downward trend in strikeout rate (and paralleling drop in strikeout percentage) is a cause of concern for a 31-year-old reliever heading into his ninth year at the major league level, as Ben Buchanan pointed out, it does not necessarily mean Soria is declining, but perhaps just a matter of hitters adjusting and Soria doing likewise.
The upside of Soria, beyond him being a consistent bullpen presence, is that he would not cost them the potential eight-digit salary some of the elite relievers, perhaps along the lines Darren O'Day, will receive on the open market. O'Day's contract will likely set the market for relievers and teams will follow suit shortly afterwards. Soria plugs in a hole in the Red Sox relief corps that plagued the team all season. He's at the point in his career where he's still a very good reliever, but does not necessarily need to be a closer. Soria could likely close should the situation arise, but given his role as a set-up man with the Pirates, closing games can't necessarily be an expectation for Soria given his injury history and his age.
Whether or not Soria is a fit for Boston depends on a couple of things. How O'Day's free agent situation resolves itself will have a massive ripple effect for many relievers and their prospective contract situation. Even for the Red Sox, the back end of the bullpen is not necessarily clear. While Koji Uehara performed admirably in the closer's role last season before his injury, whether or not he is the answer at the closer spot is a question that Dombrowski needs to address. Dombrowski previously rule out Junichi Tazawa at the closer spot, and someone in the vein of Soria provides insurance for Uehara should an injury happen.
Dombrowski says Sox likely to make 'painful' move
What that move will be is unknown, but it will likely involve prospects.
The issue that the Red Sox now face with getting Soria is that there are a whole lot of teams out there looking for arms to help shore up the back end of their bullpen. A lot of teams who end up missing out on the O'Day sweepstakes — and there will be a lot of them — will likely turn their heads towards a guy like Soria. If some sort of desperation for relievers arises out of the ruins of the pursuit for O'Day, the money on Soria could go quickly and to a place that the 31-year-old hurler isn't worth. Sure, Soria likely won't get the four-year, $36 million deal that Andrew Miller got, but if you look at the contract someone like Luke Gregerson received last year and kick it up a couple of million (for inflation), then you're inching towards an area that starts to make Soria a semi-uncomfortable option given the price.
A lot of what Soria makes this offseason hinges on what kind of deal O'Day gets and how the rest of the teams react to not signing him. Soria presents one of the better options on the open market, but not without a few caveats. Despite the injury past, the consistent velocity post-surgery certainly serves as a sign of encouragement for any team pursuing Soria as an option at the back end of the bullpen. At the very least, Soria provides some stability at the back end of the bullpen. If 2016 marks his full recover from Tommy John surgery, he could prove himself as one of the elite relievers in baseball, something he was not too long ago.
Dombrowski had no choice but to go out and sign a few relievers, some established, some prospects, some likely free-agent fliers. Regardless, the bullpen, as the Royals showed, can play a major, underrated role in establishing dominance in the playoffs and provide stability to the starting rotation. Joakim Soria certainly represents an option, and a strong one at that, to help stabilize the back of the Red Sox bullpen, but there are certainly other routes the team can take, whether it's asking for Matt Barnes or Pat Light to step up or trading for a flamethrowing Cuban closer. Regardless, Dombrowski will do something.