In the ever revolving door of the closer, no player is safe even if he is productive. Case in point: Joakim Soria, who had to fight in the pre-season to win the closer’s job in Texas replacing Joe Nathan, now he has been traded to the Tigers to set up for, you guessed it, Joe Nathan. But Soria is used to biding his time as the closer so moving to Detroit will put him in a pennant race and in position to be the closer if Nathan cannot turn around his turbulent season. General Manager Dave Dombrowski has already stated that Joe Nathan will remain the primary 9th inning option. Texas receives two high end arms that will benefit their system. Jake Thompson projects to be a #3 or #4 starting pitcher down the road and Corey Knebel will enter the Rangers farm system with the potential to close down the road. This is a precarious spot for Ron Washington in regards to his bullpen going forward. Neftali Feliz has done the job before and seems to be the consensus choice but the dreaded bullpen by committee may be the short term solution with Neal Cotts and Shawn Tolleson tossing their hats in for the job as well. Here is the breakdown:
Detroit Tigers: Acquire Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria 2014 Stats: 1 W, 17 S, 33.1 IP, 42/4 K/BB, 2.70 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
Considering that the Tigers team ERA for relievers is 4.41 and WHIP is 1.43, Joakim Soria will provide a much needed boost not only to their peripheral statistics, it gives them a legitimate closer in case they need to make a change. Even though Soria is not an overpowering pitcher (90 MPH fastball) his arsenal (79 MPH slider, 70 MPH curve, 85 MPH change) pounds the strike zone and makes his fastball seem faster due to his ability to mix pitches and change speeds. Soria is in the midst of his best Swinging strike % (SwStr%) of 10.9 since his pre-TJ surgery season. Joe Nathan’s struggles have been well documented. Here are his statistics as of today:
Joe Nathan 2014 Stats: 4 W, 20 S, 36.2 IP, 39/16 K/BB, 5.89 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
I can understand that standing by a well respected veteran can be the right thing to do, but as Tiger fans may soon see, the set-up man will assume higher leverage situations as the season progresses. Nathan’s FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 4.17 suggests his struggles are more than just bad luck. He is on pace for a career high in walks and has struggled with his command all year. Even though the Tigers are not making a change now, I would not drop Soria just yet. This could be his job in a month or less. If you own Joba Chamberlain, you can safely drop him.
Texas Rangers: Acquire Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel
Jake Thompson 2014 Stats: (A+,AA) – 6 W, 89 IP, 81/227 K/BB, 3.12 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Corey Knebel 2014 Stats: (AA,AAA) – 4 W, 3 S, 33.1 IP, 43/17 K/BB, 1.62 ERA, 0.93 WHIP
It’s hard to figure who is more excited, the Rangers, getting two pitching prospects or both of the players returning to Texas where they grew up. Starting with Thompson features a 90-94 MPH fastball that he can dial up a bit faster when needed. His slider is a reliable out pitch for him. Thompson’s change-piece is a work in progress but if he can develop a third plus pitch and clean up his fastball command, reaching a future #3 is a definite possibility.
Knebel has had a cup of coffee with the Tigers and he featured a 96 MPH heater along with an 82 mph curve. He can dial up the fastball as high as 98 MPH and his two pitch combination aids his profile as a future closer down the road. With the mixed bag currently in the Ranger bullpen, this trade makes him a player for AL-only gamers to stash down the road. He is probably not ready this year but a September promotion may be in store and if he does well, he could be a factor as soon as 2015 in this depleted pen.
Rangers Closeing Options:
With Joakim Soria leaving for the Tigers, it will be interesting to see where Ron Washington goes next. This is going to not only be a tough one to call, but how many opportunities will be presented to close out games the rest of the way? The obvious option is Neftali Feliz, he is still young, has worked his way back from the minors and has experience closing. Neal Cotts and Shawn Tolleson may also receive a chance if a committee emerges. Here is how each of them stack up this year:
Neftali Feliz 2014 Stats: 10.1 IP, 4/3 K/BB, 2.61 ERA, 0.77 WHIP
His surface numbers look pretty good and he did pitch effectively in New York on Tuesday, but his FIP is 5.75 and xFIP is 4.83. Of bigger concern to me is the fact that his fastball has lost four MPH. While Soria has worked with lower velocity over his career Feliz has not. If his command struggles continue it may be a tough return to the closer position. Not only is his fastball velocity down, but his changeup is as well, dropping 2 ticks. Opposing batters have hit .286 against it and slugged .714. Now this is small sample size but Feliz is going to have to adjust to the lower velocity and he cannot rely on his slider as much even though it is his best pitch. Feliz is going to get the first crack to close, but he did appear in the sixth inning Tuesday and that is not when the closer in waiting appears.
Shawn Tolleson 2014 Stats: 2 W, 49.1 IP, 47/19 K/BB, 3.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Tolleson, like Soria, features four pitches. His fastball averages 93 MPH, which he throws 59% of the time. He also has an 89 MPH cutter (17%), an 81 MPH change (12%) and an 82 MPH slider (11%). One of the nice things about Tolleson is that he is effective to both left-handed and right-handed batters: vs. LHB: .214/.299/.403; vs. RHB: .198/.276/.400. It is a reach but Tolleson could get the first save chance based on his season thus far.
Neal Cotts 2014 Stats: 2 W, 43 IP, 50/18 K/BB, 3.35 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Cotts has been solid over the last year but his last two weeks have been a bit of a struggle as reflected in his WHIP. What is strang is that he has been a reverse splits guy; tougher on righties (.248/.330/.320) than left-handed batters (.266/.343/.429). Like Tolleson, he may get a chance moving forward and is worth keeping an eye on
Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!