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Offseason Target: Joakim Soria

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A look at the veteran free agent reliever

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With the Red Sox having just brought Nathan Eovaldi back on a four-year deal and signing Steve Pearce to a one-year deal earlier in the winter, they have just one more mission left for the offseason. Well, at least in terms of positions to fill on the roster. There are still moves that can and will be made — most notably in likely dealing one of their three catchers — but the one big task that remains is beefing up the bullpen. The preference here is that they bring aboard two new relievers, but grabbing at least one is certainly necessary.

Right now, the market for relievers is moving very slowly, with a few smaller moves being made but none beyond that. The word is that Craig Kimbrel, obviously a target for Boston, is the one holding up the market and once he signs things should pick up. When that happens, if the Red Sox aren’t the ones to sign him, they’ll be there to maneuver the rest of the market. Fortunately for them, there are a whole lot of options out there. We’ve looked at David Robertson and Kelvin Herrera already, and today we’ll tackle a different veteran righty in Joakim Soria.

The rumors haven’t really been swirling too much with regards to Boston on the reliever market, but we have some heard some whispers here and there. Including among them is the fact that they could take a look at Soria if they don’t end up with Kimbrel. That comes from Masslive’s Chris Cotillo.

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It makes sense that Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox would have some interest in Soria, as he is a veteran who fits their needs in the late innings. He certainly doesn’t have the pedigree of Craig Kimbrel — basically nobody does — but he has been a very good bullpen piece all over the league for a very long time. Soria was a closer for a long time in Kansas City earlier in his career, and since then he’s bounced around in Detroit, Texas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee as well as having another stint with the Royals. Most of that time has been spent in a set-up role, but the production has been the same.

Over the course of his long career, the 34-year-old (he’ll turn 35 in May) has been consistent with his production just about every year. There have been times when his ERA has jumped higher than you’d like, but we know that ERA is far from the best measure to judge a single season from a reliever. His FIP has also taken a couple of jumps, and while that is a bit more worrisome it was twice in his 11-year career and due mostly to fluky jumps in home runs. What hasn’t jumped at any point in his career is his DRA, which has been remarkably consistent. After adjusting for park effects, Soria has never posted a DRA- worse than 85, meaning he’s never been worse than 15 percent better than the league-average pitcher.

So, he has the consistency, and despite the age he also has the recent performance. Soria was outstanding in 2018 pitching for both the White Sox and the Brewers. Over the course of the entire season between the two teams, the righty made 66 appearances and tossed 60 23 innings. Over that time, he pitched to a 3.12 ERA, a 2.44 FIP and a 2.56 DRA. That last number put him 43 percent better than the league average and put him 19th on the DRA- leaderboard among the 273 pitchers with at least 60 innings. Soria was good at everything last year, striking out over 11 batters per nine innings, walking just barely over two per nine and allowing just four homers all year.

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The big concern with any possible deal with Soria would, of course, be the age. As mentioned above, 2019 will be his age-35 season, and that kind of age along with the volatility of relievers is a legitimate cause for concern. I obviously can’t guarantee anything, nor would I ever want to, but there’s little sign of decline for Soria thus far. This past season, he posted the third-highest swinging strike rate of his career and the lowest contact rate on pitches in the zone. That is often my favorite quick judge of stuff, and only ten pitchers had a better rate. Soria was right between Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander on this list.

In terms of repertoire, he leans very heavily on the fastball. Again, that could be an issue for someone of his age. In a scenario where Soria’s velocity falls off, that could be a spell for trouble. While true, it should be noted that he has always succeeded on movement more than velocity. He’s a rare right-handed reliever where his fastball sits just around 93 mph at its peak. Now, it should be noted that the velocity did fall off last year, it was by less than a mph and still averaged 92.99 mph, per Brooks Baseball. He can make that work.

So, Soria has been consistent, is coming off a huge season and isn’t showing much in terms of noticeable decline. All of that sounds good, so what will it take? Ideally, given his age, you would be able to get a one-year deal. That isn’t likely with Soria’s track record, though. Instead, the consensus is that he’ll receive a two-year deal with an average annual value somewhere in the $7-$9 million range. Maybe Dombrowski would be able to work that into a one-year deal with an option if he offers a higher AAV, but even if he couldn’t this would still be a deal worth looking into. The Red Sox need to collect as much talent as possible in the back of their bullpen, and Soria would provide a steady baseline to add to that group.