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Arizona Diamondbacks sign reliever Joakim Soria to a 1-year deal

The D-backs add an experienced veteran to the back-end of the bullpen.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks have had a mostly sit and wait approach during the offseason, waiting until just days before the resumption of Spring Training. Today, the team and reliever Joakim Soria have reportedly agreed to a 1-year contract.

The deal is reported to pay Soria a base of $3.5M over that one year and has incentives that can earn him up to $500K based on the number of appearances.

From 2015-19, Soria has appeared in 72, 70, 59, 66, and 71 games between the different teams he’s suited up for. In 2020, he was able to avoid loud contact, with a 3.2% barrel rate and a .243 wOBA against. His strikeout and walk rates dropped to 25.0% and 10.4%, while also becoming an extreme fly ball pitcher. According to Fangraphs, over 51% of contact against him was of the fly ball variety. Statcast also reported his exit velocity data for that season to be 88 MPH and a launch angle of over 22 degrees. So his way of getting outs when the batter does make contact is inducing lazy fly balls to the outfield. Over his career, he’s been able to suppress the efficiency of contact in one way or another despite possessing a fastball that is below average in both velocity and spin.

With some uncertainty in the bullpen and the potential for a lot of moving pieces this year, the team is looking to add a veteran contributor to provide some consistency. Last year, the only reliever who provided consistently good performances was Stefan Crichton. Crichton ended up becoming the closer by default for the final month of the season. Soria has experience in that role, with 223 saves in his time with Kansas City and Detroit, so there is a safety net at the role should the team need to make a change for that role.

The biggest concern for the D-backs is they are adding a 36-year-old reliever who does have some declining peripherals and could be exposed if his ability to suppress contact wanes. Soria has a track record of pitching effectively for a very long time despite not possessing a dominant fastball in terms of velocity or spin, so you’re hoping that trend continues for 2021. If things don’t work out, the commitment only ends up being that one year. On the flip side, if Soria continues to perform the team can either flip him at the deadline for a lottery ticket prospect or make a potential Wild Card run if, and that’s a big if, the team is able to compete for any postseason spot in 2021.

[Michael beat me to the news, but waste not, want not... So here’s the piece I never quite got to publish!]

If there is a signature move of the Arizona front-office in the Mike Hazen era, it’s probably this. More or less, you sign a veteran reliever for one year, with closer experience, who comes relatively cheaply since they aren’t an incumbent in that role. 2017 gave us Fernando Rodney. In 2018, it was Brad Boxberger. Greg Holland got the position in 2019. And in 2020, it was Hector Rondon. It has to be said, the results of these one-season signings have been pretty ropey. Rodney was the only one to make it through a full year as closer. Boxberger got one save after the end of August, Holland was replaced by Archie Bradley, and Rondon blew chunks so hard out of the gate, he never even got a save opportunity.

The pitcher certainly doesn’t lack for experience. His 223 career saves ranks him fourth on the active list, behind Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Janssen and Aroldis Chapman. But the bulk of those were a long time ago: from 2008-11, he averaged 36 saves a year and was a two-time All-Star. Over the past five seasons, Soria has a total of 21 saves, and hasn’t been a full-time closer since the first half of 2018, with the White Sox The 36-year-old did have a decent year with Oakland in 2020, putting up a 2.82 ERA - and with a FIP below three, that wasn’t particularly lucky.

However, some of the peripherals were concerning, though obviously, small sample size applies. A walk rate of 4.0 per nine innings was his highest since 2013, and he dipped below 10 K’s per nine for the only time in the past four seasons. His low ERA was mostly due to success keeping the ball in the park, allowing only one home-run over 22.1 innings of work. With last year’s closer Archie Bradley have been traded away, and signed as a free agent with the Phillies, there was no obvious candidate, and right now, Soria seems most likely to get first crack at the job.