By Richard W. Humphrey
Wednesday night, the news broke that the Rangers had completed the recently rumored trade of closer Joakim Soria to Detroit for a pair of minor league prospects. Both prospects are highly regarded, two of the top five in the Tigers’ minor league system. Both are pitchers, and both are native Texans. Jake Thompson, 20, is a starting pitcher drafted out of Rockwall Heath High School in 2012 in the second round. Corey Knebel is a power reliever drafted in 2013 out of the University of Texas. He graduated from Georgetown High School.
The Padres set the benchmark for closers last week when they received four of the Angels’ top 10 prospects in return for their All-Star closer Huston Street. Soria, who is under team control next season too, perhaps fetched the Rangers an even better return, even though the Rangers received fewer bodies. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus tweeted last night, “Love this trade for Texas. When it comes to upside, Rangers could be quite happy w/ this return.”
Thompson began the season at class A Lakeland, where he was 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts. The good start earned a promotion to class AA Erie. He has made two starts since the promotion, going 1-0 with a 2.96 ERA. He was assigned to AA Frisco by the Rangers.
Knebel was the 39th overall pick in the 2013 draft. The 6′-3″ right hander started this season at Erie, but was promoted to AAA Toledo. His overall ERA was 1.62 and he averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He actually made his Major League debut for the Tigers this year, appearing in eight games. He was assigned to AAA Round Rock by Texas, but there is a strong likelihood that he will be a September call-up when the rosters expand.
With Soria’s departure, Neftali Feliz becomes the Rangers’ closer. Feliz is only bullpen hand with closing experience as he was the Rangers’ closer in the World Series years of 2010 and 2011. Texas shifted him to the starting rotation in 2012 which led to Tommy John surgery that summer. He has been slow to recover since returning last season.
Just last month, I had lunch with a local sportscaster who contended that the Rangers would not trade Soria as they would need him next season as their closer. The thought was that the Rangers would bounce back into contention next season after surely having far fewer injuries. He was probably right at the time, but the Rangers’ performance on the field since has shown that this Ranger team is playing poorly not only because of injuries, but because it isn’t a well designed unit. The problems of letting so much talent depart from the World Series years without suitable replacements has caught up with them. The trade of Soria is a clear admission by the Rangers that they likely won’t be contending next year.
Jason Frasor has already been traded to a contender. The top two remaining candidates to get moved prior to next week’s non-waiver trade deadline are Neal Cotts and Alex Rios.