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The trade asset that the Royals dumped

These moves aren’t going to make a rebuild easier.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

If you follow me on Twitter or have read pieces of mine like this, you might have noticed how big a Joakim Soria truther I am. But even though he was one of my favorite all-time Royals, I had realized that in the current state that Royals franchise was, trading him was the right move. The Royals did just that back in January, but the way they did was in probably the worst way possible, using his salary to weaken the return on another asset.

Before we go into all the things wrong with this trade, let us picture what an ideal scenario would have looked like for a Joakim Soria.

  1. The obvious: shop Soria to multiple suitors. Shouldn’t be hard, bullpen pieces are highly valued in this age of the game.
  2. Find said suitor, offer to eat all of the money left on Soria’s contract, therefore strengthening your return. Do not salary dump.
  3. If for some reason an ideal trade option doesn’t surface, I guess trying again at the trade deadline wouldn’t be terrible.

So the basis is pretty simple. Do not salary dump a somewhat valuable asset of yours.

The need to even trade Soria as a salary dump was questionable. After all, the three-year, $25 million contract will probably actually end up viable. Using FanGraphs WAR to dollars converter, the contract doesn’t look bad at all (for 2018 I used his current WAR + projected rest of season WAR).

Joakim Soria Worth vs Actual Salary

Year fWAR Worth Actual Salary
Year fWAR Worth Actual Salary
2016 0.0 $0 $7,000,000
2017 1.7 $13,300,000 $8,000,000
2018 1.4 $11,000,000 $9,000,000
Total 3.1 $24,300,000 $24,000,000

Adding in the million-dollar buyout on Soria’s contract, his worth versus his actual salary ends up pretty close ($24,300,00 vs $25,00,000), even with a disappointing first year on the contract that attributed his worth to zero dollars for that season. Break it into more recent terms, and his worth is $24,300,000 against an actual salary of $17,000,000. Looking at the season he was coming off at the time of the trade, the worth was $13,300,000 while the actual salary was $8,000,000. So from a numerical standpoint, the contract was about right on point with value expectations and arbitrarily factoring out the first season, the last two seasons of the contract were closer to bargains than disappointments. This is why the salary dump idea misses me.

There’s plenty of other little nuggets to further prove that Soria was worth his actual salary too. Such as simply where he’s ranked among all 159 qualified relievers since he signed that contract.

  • K/BB ratio: 60th
  • HR/9: 52nd
  • FIP-: 37th
  • xFIP-: 38th
  • SIERA: 51st
  • GB%: 49th
  • Soft-contact%: 32nd
  • fWAR: 35th

Certainly not elite, but still very serviceable. Everything looks better once you factor out that outlier of a 2016 season too, in which he posted a BABIP and HR/FB way above his career norms. Here’s where ranks among 161 qualified relievers in those metrics shown above since the beginning of the 2017 season.

  • K/BB ratio: 37th
  • HR/9: 3rd
  • FIP-: 13th
  • xFIP-: 23rd
  • SIERA: 34th
  • GB%: 51st
  • Soft-contact%: 26th
  • fWAR: 17th

The last two seasons he’s been more than a serviceable reliever with a contract that sits pretty close to his worth. I mean... that’s the recipe for a return that isn’t non-significant, right? Especially considering the value of relievers on the market at this day in age.

The worst part is the Royals didn’t even do a straight two-team salary dump trade. They added in one of their more valuable available controllable trade assets in Scott Alexander and basically attached a salary dump to his return in a three-team deal, almost surely significantly hurting the return they got. I don’t why they did this (as this goes against a general rebuilding team’s goal in acquiring the most talent possible). Maybe David Glass being cheap is to blame. Maybe the Royals questionable pursuit of Eric Hosmer played a role in this, trying to shed as much money off the books as quickly as possible in order to up their chances at landing him.

The best way to have done this would have been to trade Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria in separate trades, eat as much money as you can, take your returns, and move on. But by doing the exact opposite of this, the Royals lessened the return on both trade chips. This isn’t going to make a rebuild any easier. Shaun pointed this out in a piece he had a couple of months ago.

The Royals should also be looking to pay down any contracts they can to move a player. That’s Ian Kennedy, Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss, Joakim Soria, and Jason Hammel. If you are going to spend the money anyways and roster those guys on a seemingly bad team, then get something of value for them than being a below average player on a seemingly bad team. The Royals should be willing to pay as much as they can to bring back the best that they can. Alex Gordon hasn’t been good in two years, and without any salary kicked in he is entirely untradeable, but someone would give something decent up for him if they are getting him for free.

The big winner of this all will probably end up being the White Sox. Soria has been closing games for them, still pitching at a very above-average level, posting a 9.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and 2.46 FIP. And with his BABIP stabilizing a bit and moving closer to his career-average, his ERA is even at a more pleasing 2.70. With that, they will be able to trade a cheap and effective reliever to a bullpen-hungry contender. They should be getting plenty of calls on of their better trade assets.

Joakim Soria, White Sox: After suffering through a difficult May, Soria regained the closer’s job for the White Sox, and he has been nearly perfect in June, going 6-for-6 in save opportunities while not allowing a run in nine appearances. He won’t be a ninth-inning option for many contenders, but the 34-year-old would add late-inning depth to most bullpens.

Even with eating the money on Soria, you aren’t going to get a groundbreaking return. I fully understand that. It all returns to the idea of acquiring the most talent possible though. Sometimes these deals turn into a big splash for the future too. The Blue Jays acquired Teoscar Hernandez for Francisco Liriano last year. The Red Sox garnered three relief prospects for Addison Reed in that same deadline. The Phillies landed Nick Pivetta for Jonathan Papelbon two years ago.

The principle of this idea is what concerns me the most. The Royals even continued to weaken returns by not eating salary recently, this time on their most valuable available asset in Kelvin Herrera.

These trades aren’t going to make catastrophic waves in this rebuild for this organization. But the way they’ve started off this presumably long project is concerning.