Not exactly the biggest news of the winter meeting, but the Rangers agreed to sign Joakim Soria to a two year contract today, and Danny Knobler suggested that it would be in the $8-$9 million range, and Alden Gonzalez adds that Texas got a team option for a third year in the deal as well. This is a bit of an unorthodox move, as Soria had Tommy John surgery in April, and is unlikely to be ready for the start of the 2013 season. In general, guys coming off surgery have to settle for one year deals, then get bigger contracts once they’ve proven they’re healthy. Ryan Madson, for instance, just signed a one year deal with the Angels, and his timeframe is pretty similar to Soria’s.
However, just because it’s unusual doesn’t make it a bad idea. Often times, these one year deals turn out to be good value buys for the signing team, as the injury issues serve to drive the player’s leverage — and consequently, his price — significantly below what similar healthy players are signing for. Under the previous free agent compensation system, a team could extract one year of value from a good reliever, then collect draft pick compensation after they walked in free agency the next year. Now, though, the qualifying offer drastically reduces the chances of compensation for a relief pitcher, which drives down the team’s incentives to churn the bullpen each winter.
So, I wouldn’t be overly surprised if two year, low AAV deals become a bit more common, as teams try to get a low cost healthy season as the benefit to paying for the cost of rehab. Even if Soria only throws 20-30 innings in 2013, having him potentially available for the postseason and then having him locked in for $4 or $5 million in 2014 could make this a pretty nice bet for Texas, and the overall guarantee is low enough that it won’t be a killer even if Soria never does return to previous form.
And, of course, with a 38-year-old Joe Nathan lined up to closer in 2013, injury or performance issues are always possible, and this gives the Rangers a secondary option for the second half of the season if Nathan needs to be replaced. Given the high cost of closers at the trade deadline, making this kind of deal now to prevent yourself from having to pay those exorbitant rates later could end up saving the team value in the long run, especially if Soria returns to form and can provide value as the team’s closer in 2014 and 2015.