Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 11/29/11
Could the Kansas City Royals be preparing to part company with Joakim Soria one of the best closers in club history? It's suddenly a legitimate question, and not just because Soria "struggled" through the only so-so season of his five-year career in Kansas City. The first jarring hint that the Royals might listen to offers for Soria came Tuesday morning, when the club announced a contract agreement with former Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton. Broxton, a dynamic finisher who has averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings in a seven-year career, spent most of 2011 on the sidelines before surgery on both his shoulder and elbow. General manager Dayton Moore, who plays his cards so close to his chest that they might show up on lung X-rays, gave away nothing after the Broxton news broke on Tuesday. "We're delighted to add someone as talented as Jonathan to our bullpen," Moore said in a statement released by the club. "He will be used in a setup role to closer Joakim Soria, and will help solidify what we feel is a young and talented bullpen." Obviously, that's exactly what Moore would be expected to say even if he spent the same afternoon trying to piece together a trade of Soria. Of course, there's a darn good chance that Moore meant exactly what he said and that it would take something out of this world to pry away Soria. That doesn't slow down rumors. After all, this is baseball in the offseason. With Broxton's surgery apparently successful and doctors pronouncing him fit to pitch in spring training, there was considerable interest in the as a free-agent market. The Royals nailed him to a one-year contract. The 27-year-old Broxton is a monster, both in appearance and career performance. He's listed at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, which is probably fudging on the low side. He basically blew through the National League on the strength of an overpowering fastball until he began having problems in the middle of 2010. The Dodgers tested Broxton at that time and insisted he had no physical problems. They took the same stance last year until it was announced that he had loose chips in his elbow. The shoulder problem was never publicly acknowledged by the Dodgers, although Broxton had complained of pain in his shoulder when he was hit hard early in the 2011 season. The moment Broxton's signing was announced on Tuesday, trade rumors involving Soria began flying around MLB within minutes. One of the loudest if not the most logical came from Toronto, where a reporter who covers the Blue Jays suggested that the team was talking to the Royals about Soria. According to that speculation, Kansas City would acquire high-upside, low-performance outfielder Colby Rasmus and presumably more from the Jays for Soria. That conversation makes a bit of sense, at least to the point that Toronto is hunting for a closer, and so far seems put off by the age and potential salary of San Diego star Health Bell. But Rasmus so far has not delivered on high expectations, either with the Cardinals or Blue Jays and has displayed an attitude problem in St. Louis, as well, demanding to be traded. The Royals likely would be more interested in pitching prospects, or if there truly is conversation with Toronto, perhaps Moore would discuss Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, who burst onto the scene last year and could be converted to play second base. Lawrie, however, is not only talented but a native-born Canadian, which makes him even more valuable to the Jays. However this saga with Soria turns out, money ultimately could be a factor. While the man his teammates call "Jack" is under club control for three more seasons always an attractive proposition for suitors he will soon be making pretty big money by Royals standards. Soria is due to earn 6 million in 2012, with club options in place that would pay him 8 million in 2013 and 8.75 million the following year. Those numbers look just fine to big-money clubs such as Boston, the Yankees or even Toronto, but for the Royals, that salary level must be reserved for players who are absolutely crucial to the club's future. So the real question here is whether Moore feels Soria is still so valuable that the salary figures make sense. After four years of nearly flawless performances including a save success percentage of 91 percent, second only to Mariano Rivera in that span Soria had some bumps in 2011 as he fought a shoulder injury. Soria converted 28 of 35 save opportunities and was tagged with blown saves in five of his first 12 chances. He also was fortunate to escape in a few other situations and posted a 4.03 ERA, astronomical by his standards. Soria's career ERA is 2.40, and his highest single year after becoming a full-time closer was 2.21 in 2008. Even more unusual was that the fact that Jack got knocked around occasionally last season, giving up 60 hits in 60-13 innings after posting a career WHIP (walks and hits to innings pitched) of 1.022 through his first four years. Moore has become something of a magician of buying low and selling high, an essential skill for a small-market GM. And now Moore is looking at a bullpen that features Broxton clearly gifted if he's healthy, with two All-Star appearances on his resume along with second-year reliever Greg Holland (5-1 with an ERA of 1.80 and an almost invisible WHIP of 0.933 in 2011). Holland struck out 74 and walked 19 in 60 innings, although he never pitched regularly in the closer role. The Royals also have young right-hander Aaron Crow, a starter in college at Missouri -- possibly headed into the rotation, according to multiple reports -- and the organization's minor league pitcher of the year, ninth-inning specialist Kelvin Herrera. In short, there appears to be uncommon depth in the Kansas City bullpen. But when the conversation turns to proven, healthy major league closers, Soria appears to retain the highest card in the deck. Moore has stated endlessly that virtually anyone can be traded if the price is right, but a deal involving the popular, successful Soria would have to knock out the lights. Rumors, however, are free. So there will plenty of imaginary deals done before spring training. Only Moore knows whether he's even considering a real one.
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