By John Perrotto
The Kansas City Royals rode a simple formula to within one win of a World Series title last October — get five or six good innings out of the starting pitcher then turn it over to a lockdown bullpen.
The Pirates feel they that kind of relief corps now, or at least something reasonably close, after trading for Detroit Tigers closer Joakim Soria on Thursday night.
Highly regarded shortstop prospect JaCoby Jones, who was recently rated as the organization’s 10th-best prospect by Baseball America, was sent to the Tigers in the straight-up deal.
Soria will become the Pirates’ primary right-handed set-up man, pushing Jared Hughes into a middle-relief role, and teaming with left-handed set-up man Tony Watson and closer Mark Melancon to provide what should be one of the best bullpen foursomes in baseball.
“We believe these moves help further solidify and deepen our bullpen,” said Huntington, who also acquired right-hander Joe Blanton from the Kansas City Royals early Thursday morning in a cash transaction to help strength middle and long relief.
“These moves gives us a better chance to reach the postseason and advance deep into the postseason should we get there.”
Right-hander Vance Worley was designated for assignment prior to Thursday night’s game at Cincinnati to clear a roster spot for Blanton.
Soria is tentatively expected to report in time for Friday night’s game against the Reds and it is most likely that one of two rookie right-handed relievers, Arquimedes Caminero or Deolis Guerra, will be dropped to make room on the roster.
The acquisitions of Soria and Blanton all but assure that the Pirates will not deal for a starting pitcher by the 4 p.m. Friday deadline for making trades without needing to secure waivers on players.
“We don’t see the ability to add someone who we would drop in front of anyone in our rotation right now,” Huntington said. “Obviously things can change but given the acquisition cost of the starters out there and the quality of starters we have internally, we went with what we felt made us a better club.”
Huntington is also open to acquiring a right-handed hitting first baseman or outfielder to platoon with either Pedro Alvarez at first or Gregory Polanco in right after trading for Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramriez last Thursday. Yet Huntington also feels good about the current composition of the roster.
“We feel we’ve added three significant veterans, who make us stronger,” Huntington said. “We have (shortstop Jordy) Mercer and (third baseman Josh) Harrison on the mend and they will make us stronger, too, when they come off the disabled list.
“We’ll still keep our eyes and ears open but we don’t feel compelled to make a trade just for
the sake of making a trade.”
The 31-year-old Soria was having a fine year with the Tigers, stepping in as the closer when Joe Nathan injured his elbow during the first week of the season. He converted 23 saves in 26 opportunities while posting a 2.85 ERA in 43 games and allowing 32 hits in 36 innings with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Soria has been scored on only once in his last 14 appearances, though it was an ugly appearance as he gave up four runs without retiring a batter July 10 at Minnesota while taking the loss and a blown save.
He hasn’t been dominant in that span, though, giving up 11 hits, walking seven and hitting two batters in 13 1/3 innings, though he had 16 strikeouts.