Rangers, Soria finalize two-year deal
Right-hander had 160 saves for Royals before missing 2012 season
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Rangers have signed reliever Joakim Soria to a two-year, $8 million contract, with an option for 2015, but they don't expect him to be ready to pitch until May as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
"An aggressive projection is [that] he'll be back in May, but we have encouraged him to take it slow and get it right," general manager Jon Daniels said after the deal was announced on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. "When he's right, he can be an impactful person in the bullpen. When he comes back, we want him to come back once, get it right, and be a big part of our bullpen."
Soria, who spent his entire career with the Royals, underwent surgery on April 3, 2012. He is throwing off flat ground; the Rangers aren't sure when he'll be able to go off a mound.
Soria completed his physical with Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas on Tuesday.
"We got a great review on his physical," Daniels said. "Obviously, eight months off surgery, he's still got a ways to go, but it was as good of a review as we could possibly get."
When does Soria feel he can be ready to pitch?
"I believe that we're going to be ready by the end of the May, maybe," Soria said. "We'll see how it goes first. I'm feeling good so far, and we'll see how it goes the next two months."
Soria will serve as a setup man in front of closer Joe Nathan once he is ready to pitch."He had opportunities to close, but the fact he's willing to come and set up for Joe speaks volumes," Daniels said. "He's putting himself second. He wants to win. That's big with him." Why did Soria opt for a setup role with Texas?
"I've got my house in Arizona, Spring Training is in Arizona. I'm a family guy, and my parents live close to Texas," he said. "Obviously, we've got a great team over there, and I think we can win the World Series. That's one of the main reasons I chose Texas instead of other teams."
Soria feels he won't have any problems adjusting from being a closer to a setup man.
"This is baseball, and I know it's a different role, but I love to be a Major League pitcher and I'll try to do my best anywhere," he said. "Right now I'm a setup man, and that's fine for me, and I'll try to do my best to help this team."
A two-time All-Star with the Royals, Soria, 28, saved 160 games over five seasons (2007 to 2011). In his first four seasons, he had a 2.01 ERA and held opponents to a .197 batting average. In 2011 he slipped to a 4.03 ERA, and opponents hit .259 off him.
"We had interest in bringing Joakim back, it just didn't work out," Royals GM Dayton Moore said. "We had a period of time early on when we had exclusivity with negotiations, and it just didn't happen. He wanted to explore the market, and once you get out there in the market, it's obviously open season, and he was just able to get a better deal right now than we could offer."
In fact, Soria said that the Royals did not approach the Rangers' offer.
"They talked to me, and their offer was not even close to what I was looking for, and we decided to go to free agency," he said.
Nathan missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled in his first year back, with the Twins in 2011, going 2-1 with a 4.84 ERA. But the Rangers signed him to a two-year deal last winter, and he ended up with 37 saves in 2012 while being selected to the All-Star Game for the fifth time in his career. He had a 2.80 ERA in 2012, and opponents hit .231 off him.Soria, if he is healthy, will give the Rangers a veteran setup reliever to go along with left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman, and right-hander Tanner Scheppers. The Rangers are not done shopping for relievers, and are also looking for catching help. Soria could end up as Texas' closer in 2014. Nathan is signed through 2013, after which the Rangers hold a $9 million option, with a $750,000 buyout.
"He's one of our favorites -- one of the classiest, highly professional players and people that I've ever been around," Moore said. "I wish him and [his wife] Karla and his family the very, very best. Our partnership and relationship will always be strong.
"He's a young man, and he'll be in this game a long time. He's overcome a lot with his second Tommy John [surgery], and I'm confident that he'll come back and do very, very well."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.