Fixing the Royals: Start with Trading Joakim Soria
As an aside, I assume at some point you will be able to access an archive of our show on that Web site. They are just getting started and do not have everything all "squared away" yet. Hopefully an archive will become available: It was simply one of the three best radio shows I have been involved in this season...of course, I've only been on three times, but still.
Until a few months ago, I would have called the idea of trading Soria simply ludicrous. After all, he is the team's second-best pitcher without a doubt, a premier closer in the league, and a young player signed to a very favorable long-term deal.
He is one of probably just three players on this team (Zack Greinke and Billy Butler are the others) that you could put on any roster in either league and they would be equally as valuable to another team as they are to the Royals.
After a little tidbit over at MLBTradeRumors mentioned that "baseball sources" believe the Royals could extract two or even three good young players in exchange for Soria, my opinion began to change.
If you discount Kila Kaaihue (because, after all, the organization certainly has), then the only possible offensive reinforcements in the high minors are Jordan Parraz (who has one season above A ball and can't stay healthy), Jeff Bianchi, and David Lough (both of whom have just half a season in AA on their resumes).
If there is an organization crying out for high-level offensive prospects, it is the Royals.
With little money to spend in free agency this offseason, Kansas City has very little hope of making the type of additions that will get them into contention for 2010. You can make a very real case that Joakim Soria is actually more valuable to a team in or on the verge of contending next year than he will be to the Royals.
Is this a chance for the Royals to infuse much needed offensive talent into their organization?
In the fantasy world that resides inside my head, this is a no-brainer. You trade Soria for a major league-ready outfielder and two top prospects who are likely to make the majors by next summer.
By next fall, the Royals have added three young regulars to its anemic lineup to team with budding star Billy Butler and ever-steady David DeJesus. Plus, with any luck, both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer will have ended solid years in AA and be poised to join the big club by sometime in mid to late 2011.
Given the bevy of arms in the Royals organization—I can reel off five names that could be potential closers by 2011 without even dipping into the deep cache of young starters in A ball—would not the team be far better off under this scenario than it would hanging on to Soria and winning 75 games in 2010 instead of 68?
Of course, there are no other general managers in my head, so it makes it pretty easy to manufacture a deal that brings the Royals back to prominence. Given that, let's take a look at some past "closer deals" to see just what sort of return a team actually received.
Eric Gagne to the Red Sox—Summer 2007
At this point in his career, Gagne was coming off a lost year due to injury and had signed a one year deal with Rangers to prove he was healthy. Given that, he does not really compare with Soria, but he was still a once dominant closer who did have 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA for the Rangers at the time of the trade.
In return for Gagne, the Rangers received 17-year-old Engel Beltre, who was and still is considered a possible future star. At the time, Beltre was in the midst of just his second season of rookie ball.
Texas also received 25 year-old lefty Kason Gabbard, who had compiled a 3.64 ERA in 67 big league innings and had a 3.24 AAA earned run average on his ledger prior to being called up. At the time, Gabbard looked like a solid, if unspectacular starter.
Also included was the Red Sox's first-round pick from the 2003 draft, David Murphy. At the time, the 25-year-old outfielder had put up a AAA line of .280/.347/.423 in 100 games after posting a .766 OPS split between AA and AAA in 2006.
Since the trade, Murphy has put up a DeJesus-like .809 OPS in 266 games for Texas.
Jose Valverde to the Astros—Winter 2007
At the time of this trade, Valverde was 27 years old and coming off a 47 save-2.66 ERA season for Arizona.
In return, the Diamondbacks got 27-year-old utility man Chris Burke, a former No. 1 pick in the 2000 draft. Burke had compiled a .249/.319/.359 line over four seasons with the Astros, but could pretty much play anywhere. He has since become unemployable due to non-production, but at the time, I guess you could say he was kind of a "Willie Bloomquist type."
Also involved in the trade was Houston's then No. 5 prospect: 23-year-old right hander Juan Gutierrez.
He had sniffed 21 major league innings and posted a 4.15 ERA in 156 AAA innings in 2007. The year prior, Gutierrez had struck out a batter per inning in AA on his way to a 3.04 ERA in 104 innings of work.
At the time, there was an expectation that Gutierrez was either ready or nearly ready to take a spot squarely in the middle of the Diamondbacks' rotation.
The final piece of the trade was 28-year-old reliever Chad Qualls. A former second-round pick in 2000, Qualls had posted a 3.39 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 284 major league innings.
He was coming off a third straight good season—in fact, Chad's 2005 through 2007 run was one of the most consistent for a middle reliever I have ever run across—but had never closed.
It is noteworthy, however, in analyzing this trade, to remember that 2008 would be Valverde's final year before free agency and the Diamondbacks were not in a money spending mode. Without a doubt, that reduced the value they received in exchange for Jose.
George Sherrill to the Dodgers—Summer 2009
Okay, let's get one thing straight here: Joakim Soria is better than George Sherrill. Not only that, but the Dodgers were trading not for Sherrill the closer, but for Sherrill the set up guy.
That said, Baltimore still got the Dodgers' No. 8 prospect, Josh Bell, and 21-year-old right handed starter Steve Johnson.
Bell was in AA at the time of the trade and had slugged 43 extra base hits in 94 games on his way to a .296/.386/.497 line. Overall, the 22-year-old sported a career minor league OPS of .841.
While there is/was some debate about whether Josh can stick at third base defensively, he is viewed as a real possibility to be a middle of the order major league bat.
Johnson was not one of the Dodgers' prime pitching prospects, but he still had put up a 3.82 ERA in 97 Advanced A innings and struck out 15 batters in his first 11 innings of AA ball this past summer.
This column has gone on long enough for one day, but I think it gives us something to think about heading into the offseason. Next time, I will continue this line of thought/reasoning/outright lunacy and propose some possible trading partners and what they might reasonably offer in return.
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