SURPRISE, Ariz. Once the initial shock wears off and the Kansas City Royals look forward, they might see the loss of closer Joakim Soria actually turn into a positive.
Even, though, in the short term, it's a downer.
Soria has been among the most consistent closers in baseball since the Royals spent 50,000 to select him from San Diego in the draft at the 2006 winter meetings. Since taking over the closer role from Octavio Dotel on July 31, 2007, Soria has converted 150 of 167 save opportunities. The 89.8 percent success rate ranks behind only Mariano Rivera (92.1 percent) and Jose Valverede (90.4 percent).
And the Royals have 6 million tied up in salary for Soria this season, which he will spend rehabilitating from the Tommy John surgery he is scheduled to undergo on April 3 the second such surgery of his career. Given the 12-14-month recovery time typically required after the surgery, the odds are the Royals will pay Soria's 750,000 buyout to get out of their options for the 2013 and 2014 seasons at 8 million and 8.75 million.
In the long term, though, this gives the Royals a jump start.
They have a veteran who can replace Soria Jonathan Broxton, a sizable addition (he's listed at 300 pounds) who got closing experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A two-time All-Star with the Dodgers, Broxton, 27, was signed to a one-year, 4 million deal in the offseason as a setup man for Soria, and could now move into what was supposed to be Soria's role.
But the Royals would seem best served to keep Broxton in that position, as an insurance policy, and find out how Greg Holland responds to the challenge of getting the 27th out. Yes, the Royals did put former first-round draft choice Aaron Crow back into the bullpen, which is where most scouts feel he belongs long term.
But it's Holland who has piqued the interest of most baseball people. They like everything about Holland, from his ability to his demeanor to his limited service time which means he not only can be statistically efficient if he lives up to his potential but also be cost efficient.
As a rookie last season, Holland compiled a 1.80 earned run average, allowing a .175 batting average. He struck out 74 in the 60 innings he worked over 46 appearances. And for the men who pay the bills, he won't even be eligible for arbitration until the 2014 season.
He not only has a chance to give the Royals a boost by saving games but could help their bottom line by saving money on their closer.
He has an opportunity to prove he can be the young arm that provides the finishing touches from the youthful nucleus the Royals have put together. This group gives the folks in Kansas City hope they might enjoy a pennant race for the first time in more than 25 years.
This is a franchise, remember, that has only one player (Jeff Montgomery) in its local version of the Hall of Fame who was not with the franchise during a 10-year run (1976-85) in which it made seven postseason appearances, including winning the 1985 World Series.
It's also a franchise that, since Dayton Moore arrived from Atlanta to assume the general manager role, has been able to build a talent-rich farm system that is flirting with reaching the postseason.
That is not likely this year, though. Because, with or without Soria. Detroit has too much talent, and it has enough money it was able to compensate for the loss of Victor Martinez by signing Prince Fielder.
But next year or the year after, the Royals' core of Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon is talented enough to embark on another run of postseason opportunities.
And now Holland gets a chance to show he can be a part of that nucleus.
He is, after all, only 26, and he does have mid-90-mph velocity.
He also has that attitude.
I love his body language, manager Ned Yost told reporters after a recent spring game. What you see on the mound is what you see in the clubhouse. There's no flash. Some guys' personalities will be different off the mound, but his isn't. He is a quiet guy who goes about his business."
His business is getting hitters out.
"I've always felt confident," Holland said, "but there were times early in my career where, when stuff started going bad, the game would speed up a little and you can't focus on what you need to do. It's that deer in the headlights, I guess you'd say.
"I'm getting the hang of keeping my head where I need to be, concentration-wise. You learn to limit mistakes. That comes from being able to refocus after something bad happens. You have to go about your business as usual."
Right now, the Royals' focus needs to be on Holland and just how easily he can move into that closer role this year and for the years ahead, as well.