After reportedly spurning the contract demands of free agent reliever Joakim Soria, the Detroit Tigers might not be completely over their late-July breakup. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reported that the Tigers are still thinking about Soria from time to time, though its unclear whether they have sent any more "I want u back" texts to the 31-year-old righthander.
If Soria and the Tigers are to salvage their relationship, it's going to take plenty of money to do so. Free agent relievers are flying off the board as the MLB Winter Meetings start, and no expense is being spared. On Sunday, Darren O'Day agreed to a four-year, $31 million extension with the Baltimore Orioles, while Ryan Madson and the Oakland Athletics came to a three-year agreement worth $22 million. Soria has already asked for a reported $27 million over three years.
Madson's deal is particularly surprising given his injury history, and one would expect Soria's final number to settle well above that. His résumé is more extensive than Madson's, and includes things like "pitched in 2013 and 2014," along with a lower ERA, WHIP, FIP, and a higher strikeout-to-walk ratio. Soria does have a second Tommy John surgery on his ledger, but he has held opponents to a 2.99 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 135 2/3 innings since returning to action in 2013. He struggled at times with the Tigers, but rebounded in Pittsburgh to post a 2.03 ERA and 1.93 FIP in 26 2/3 innings.
Many have projected Soria to earn $7 million or more per season in free agency, but with Madson earning that much in his new deal with Oakland, Soria's price tag may be even higher. O'Day will earn just under $8 million per season, but the Orioles probably lowered their annual costs by gifting him a fourth year. It's hard to see the Tigers (or anyone else) guaranteeing that fourth year to Soria, so it may take a three-year deal approaching $30 million to get him to sign.
The Tigers already have a closer in place, but there is little depth behind Francisco Rodriguez at this point. Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, and Bruce Rondon are the only relievers on the 40-man roster who logged significant bullpen innings last year, and others -- Drew VerHagen, Angel Nesbitt, and the like -- are still very inexperienced. Acquiring at least one more reliever is imperative for a Tigers club that many projection systems are not fond of. Fans will clamor for two (or more) arms, but even just grabbing Soria is a major coup for a bullpen that finished among the worst in the American League last season.
The question is whether the Tigers have the financial muscle (and desire) to sign Soria. Owner Mike Ilitch fired up the fanbase with his rousing "I want the best players" comments at Jordan Zimmermann's introductory press conference, but the Mike Pelfrey signing rubbed many the wrong way. If other relievers in the Madson tier are also going to be overpaid, it may be worth ponying up for the best one available in Soria. With payroll yet again bumping up to the luxury tax threshold, it remains to be seen just how far Ilitch will reach to bring the team back into contention.