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Detroit Tigers player preview: Is Joakim Soria a bullpen rock made of cotton?

Joakim Soria has the talent to pitch important innings for any contender. His track record of being able to answer the bell over the last three seasons is a major concern for the Detroit Tigers bullpen however.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you could have been a fly on the wall during Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski's discussions prior to last summer's deal to acquire veteran reliever Joakim Soria, it's a safe bet there was plenty of optimism around the room. Soria was a known quantity having a fine season in Texas. He appeared to be past his injury issues for the time being. From a command perspective, he was walking practically no one. He was in high demand around baseball as the non-waiver trade deadline approached.

The Detroit media, fans, and probably Brad Ausmus were all clamoring for bullpen help to ride out the 2014 campaign. Therefore, Dombrowski allowed himself to be drawn in to paying an absurd price on the trade market for a relief pitcher. Prospects Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel were both shipped to Texas to make the swap happen. Rangers president and general manager Jon Daniels likely could not say "yes" fast enough once Dombrowski put his young arms on the table. It was a premium sum to pay, but Detroit looked to have their solution for the stretch drive.

A bad thing happened on the way to Tipperary. Soria found himself relegated to the 7th inning because manager Brad Ausmus was reluctant to shift previously established bullpen roles. Joba Chamberlain had locked down the eighth inning gig with a solid first half, while Joe Nathan's grip on the ninth inning was more tenuous. Soria would be an expensive option for the third man in the pecking order.

Soria initially pitched poorly in Detroit, allowing six runs (five earned) in his first three outings. He started to find a groove at the beginning of August, but strained an oblique while pitching in Toronto. He missed a month of action, then returned to pitch in unremarkable fashion in the season's final days. In short, it was a deadline deal that failed to help secure a division title even though the Tigers won the AL Central anyway. Soria was also unable to staunch the flow of Baltimore Orioles runs in his playoff appearances for the Tigers.

But that's in the past. Soria is still a Tiger. He wasn't a deadline rental. Whether you thought the deal that brought him to Detroit was horrible or a necessary and justifiable move, what's done is done.

With one more year of club control remaining, Soria is being relied upon as one of the few solid options currently at Ausmus' disposal. That might work out okay. From 2007 through 2010, Soria pitched for the Royals and was one of the finest relievers in the American League. He slipped a bit in 2011 and then was sidelined by Tommy John Surgery in 2012. He was rolling along nicely in Texas after rehabbing his elbow. That was less than one year ago. If healthy, Soria should still be able to contribute to any contender's bullpen.

Contract Status

Soria enters his walk-year in Detroit inked to a deal that will see him paid $7 million in 2015. It's a very fair price if he's the guy the Rangers had last summer. Can he be that guy again?

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Soria is now the "closer in waiting" in the eyes of most Tigers fans. Joe Nathan is not impressing anyone this spring as he attempts to recover his past glory. Nathan's hold on the job appears even more tenuous than it was in 2014, though Ausmus has not hinted at any concern to the media. However, it's highly unlikely Nathan has a leash of any appreciable length this season. If he falters early -- assuming he heads north, which isn't necessarily a guarantee -- it will likely be Soria who grabs first dibs on save opportunities.

That's fine. He has shown he can get it done in the past. However, that's the past. What is Soria in the present? Prior to last year's trade, Soria was doing what anyone would want from their relievers. He wasn't walking anyone and he was keeping the ball in the park. A good combo. But he faltered in Detroit and, given the mercurial nature of relievers, any outcome is possible in 2015. He isn't a flamethrower. Soria is about precision. If he loses velocity due to the long string of injuries or simply isn't the strike-throwing machine he was in Texas, it could be a very mediocre solution standing second in line for the closer role.

The biggest question right now is durability. Soria hasn't pitched a full season without injury issues in the majors since 2011. Last season's 44 1/3 innings were his most since the 2011 campaign. Can Soria really be counted on for the day-to-day rigors of any role that will need up to 70 innings, be that the ninth or another inning? It seems like a very fair question.

However, as it stands, until Bruce Rondon and Angel Nesbitt (among other prospects and suspects) can establish themselves in Detroit, it will be Soria who has the best chance of being the bullpen's rock. As long as he has six months of good health left in his right arm.