Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Handling of Soria points to bigger problem

Sorry about the delay between posts, folks. I've gotten a little lazy lately.

Joakim Soria blew his fifth save of the season on Monday afternoon and dropped the Royals to 23-30 on the season. After this weekend and road trip, it's hard to see the Royals ever getting back to .500 this year. A sad thing to say after such a surprising start to the season.

I've been saying that something is wrong with Joakim Soria since about the second week of the season. After watching most of the Royals' media contingent and some fellow bloggers live in denial about Soria's status, they all finally admitted something was off after Monday's latest catastrophe. Welcome to the conversation.

Ned Yost shows incredible confidence in his players and I greatly admire that. But you have to wonder if that can be a weakness as much as it is a strength (or as Frank White would say, "strinth"). Soria struggled with control more than we've ever seen in his career and barely threw first-pitch strikes, something that makes him who he is and why he is so difficult to hit.

When Yost was hired, the biggest knock on him was his handling of the bullpen in Milwaukee that allegedly led to the Brewers almost blowing a seven-game lead in the NL Central race in 2008. Now here it is, rearing its ugly head in KC.

Soria has earned the right to be given every chance to hold his role as a closer on this team. But when is enough enough? Soria has been off all year, something pointed out by myself, famed Royals' tweeter Brandon Harris (@BHIndepMO) and more recently, 610 radio's Nick Wright. If I saw this as early as April 15, what were the Royals seeing since then and why did it take so long? Why did Joakim Soria ASK to be removed from the closer's role while the Royals idly stood by and did nothing about a guy that is about to enter a three-year option period where he is due over $20 million dollars?

Soria currently holds the most valuable contract on the 25-man roster and arguably is the Royals' biggest trade chip. The Royals stood by and watched as Soria's trade stock plummet after he was being considered one of the hottest trade commodities in Major League Baseball this past offseason.

The Royals' handling of high-priced pitchers has been frustrating. Gil Meche is the latest and most prevalent example of this negligence. Are we about to go down the same path with Soria?

Soria has denied that anything is wrong with his health and I guess I can believe that. Soria has been the weakest link in a bullpen that has become one of the most exciting, young collection of arms in baseball. But Yost continually went to Soria and it has ultimately led to this torrid stretch of baseball that has dropped the Royals all the way to fourth in the division after being a staple in second place for a majority of the season.

More alarmingly, Soria does not have a clean slate of health in his past. He's undergone Tommy John surgery and saw an extended DL stint in 2009 due to a shoulder issue. The Royals simply can't afford to take any chances with Soria, right now.

27-year-old stud closers with impeccable control don't suddenly "lose it". He's been the second best reliever in baseball for the past three years. When he's ready to enter the prime of his career, he can't find the strike zone or miss bats. He's getting bombed and hit hard. That has NEVER HAPPENED IN HIS CAREER. He's not throwing his curveball as much, and when he does, it doesn't have any bite to it. When that happens to a pitcher, it usually means he's hurt.

Something is wrong with Joakim Soria and the Royals would be wise to look deeper into this. The sad part is, they probably won't.