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November 6, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Tuesday, November 6

by Daniel Rathman

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You know it was a quiet day on the hot stove when the most-ballyhooed move involved the Yankees claiming another team’s backup catcher. As Eli Whiteside gets fitted for pinstripes, here are some stories to follow on Election Day:

Joakim Soria might settle for set-up job in the Bronx
A year ago, the Royals took a one-year, $4 million gamble on Jonathan Broxton, got a half-season of work worth 0.5 WARP, and then flipped him to the Reds for two pitching prospects, J.C. Sulbaran and Donnie Joseph. Now, Soria—who underwent Tommy John surgery in April, creating the late-inning void that Broxton filled—might be in line for a similar deal as he tries to put his career back on track.

The 28-year-old Soria saw his strikeout rate decline steadily over the three seasons preceding his elbow injury, from 31.1 percent in 2009, to 26.3 percent in 2010, and finally down to 23.4 percent in 2011.

The two tables above show Soria’s pitch types and outcomes from 2009 and 2011, respectively, and offer a possible explanation for the decline in K:PA. Specifically, Soria induced fewer swings-and-misses with his fastball and changeup in 2011 than he did in 2009, seeing a 3.32 percentage point decrease with the former pitch and a 4.03 percentage point decrease with the latter. If you play around with the years on his Brooks Baseball pitcher card, you’ll notice that this decrease corresponds with a downward trend in his fastball velocity, which fell about one mph, from 92.43 to 91.68, during the same span. The decrease was small enough to have resulted from imprecise measurements, and correlation does not imply causation, but given the potential magnitude of its effect, Soria’s radar-gun readings will be worth watching wherever he lands.

In the meantime, with Brandon League having reeled in $21.5 million over three years from the Dodgers, Soria’s agent should field a plethora of calls from bargain-hunting general managers. As mentioned by Andrew Marchand in the afore-linked post from ESPN New York, the Yankees are one possible destination, if Soria is willing to serve as a set-up man for Mariano Rivera. But other teams could take a gamble on Soria—or his fellow Tommy John survivor, Ryan Madson—as a closer, with the Angels, Red Sox, and Tigers among a host of teams potentially in search of ninth-inning help.

Soria’s best bet may be a one-year deal that would enable him to rebuild his value, ideally in a pitcher-friendly setting, before hitting the market again in 2013. Interested teams, though—inspired by the Rays striking gold with Fernando Rodney last winter—are likely to ask Soria to reward their commitment with a club option for a second year. And though Rivera will return in 2013, his plans for 2014 are unclear, which could bolster Brian Cashman’s interest in bringing Soria to the Bronx on a Rodney-esque deal.

Reds still mulling Aroldis Chapman’s 2013 role
Speaking of Broxton and Madson, their landing spots could shape the Reds’ decision regarding Chapman’s immediate future. The Cuban lefty blossomed into one of the league’s most dominant relievers in his third stateside season, amassing 2.4 WARP to go with 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, most of them as manager Dusty Baker’s closer.

The M.O. for most teams would be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but the Reds might find Chapman’s top-of-the-rotation ceiling too difficult to overlook. On the other hand, the Red Sox’ fiasco with Daniel Bard this year ought to serve as a cautionary tale, and the smart money right now is on Chapman staying in the bullpen.

Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey—who came on during the second half of the 2012 season—are under contract and locked into rotation spots for 2013, with Mike Leake currently projecting to round out the staff. Meanwhile, Sean Marshall—who signed a three-year, $16.5 million extension in Feburary—will continue to see high-leverage relief work, but the rest of the bullpen, with Broxton and Madson testing the free-agent waters, is up in the air. If general manager Walt Jocketty opts to use Chapman as a starter, filling those late-inning voids would become his top off-season priority, possibly diverting attention and resources away from third base or the outfield.

Clubhouse leader Hunter Pence will stay with Giants
Pence, who came over from the Phillies in late July, made few tangible contributions to the Giants’ world championship march, but he rallied the troops before every elimination game, made hilarious faces in the outfield, and hit a baseball three times in one swing. And, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, that was enough to convince general manager Brian Sabean to tender the right fielder an arbitration offer worth about $14 million for 2013.

The 29-year-old Pence hit just .219/.287/.384 in 248 regular-season plate appearances for the Giants, a mediocre output that—combined with iffy defense—made him a replacement-level player. But Pence is a decent bet to bounce back to his past, two-win form in 2013, and with San Francisco facing a gutted outfield and plenty of competition on the market this winter, Sabean has reportedly chosen to play it safe by retaining his midseason acquisition for at least one more year.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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