December 2009

Soriano accepts, Gonzalez declines arbitration

Soriano.jpgThe opening day of Winter Meetings activity is winding down, with only one tangible Braves headline.

After weighing his options on the free agent market, reliever Rafael Soriano has chosen to accept the club’s offer of salary arbitration. Meanwhile, Mike Gonzalez decided to decline the Braves offer and test the open market.

I wouldn’t categorize Soriano’s return as “shocking,” but it does set up some interesting story lines to follow. His career year in 2009 will no doubt make the righty desirable to clubs who are searching for a closer. Keep in mind that Soriano will now have to approve any trade that occurs before June 15.

It’s not to say that will keep possible suitors from pursuing Soriano, who registered a career-best 27 saves and averaged over 12 K/9 in a career-high 77 appearances. Rumors linked the Houston Astros as having interest. That would be one possible destination, based on the fact that Houston’s incumbent closer, Jose Valverde, declined their arbitration offer to become a free agent.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com spoke with Braves GM Frank Wren earlier in the day, outlining that any decision to return by either Soriano or Gonzalez would not affect the plans that are in place for Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to anchor the bullpen and serve in the late innings.

Looking at the dollars involved with Soriano, most project him to command a raise that would be somewhere in the $6.5 million to $8 million range through his arbitration hearing. Gonzalez will fetch the Braves compensatory picks when and if he signs elsewhere. Bowman also points out that Wren is committed to meeting the club’s needs regardless of either Soriano’s or Gonzalez’s decision to accept arbitration.

Wren is confident he can move Soriano. Here’s a quote from Bowman’s entry:

“We wouldn’t worry about that holding us back,” Wren said. “We’re going
to go ahead and put our club together. The one thing about good
players is that when you have good players, you can trade them.”

Those needs, as we well know, involve bringing in a first baseman and at least one outfielder, both of whom will be looked upon to provide power and stable run production. Whether it be via the trade or a free agent signing, Wren will continue to seek out the right pieces.

Rumors, rumors and still more rumors…

Most of the trade chatter has the Braves looking to deal Derek Lowe rather than Javier Vazquez. Nothing probative has surfaced on that front as of yet. Lowe provides the most payroll flexibility in a deal, assuming the Braves don’t have have to eat a large chunk of the $45 million remaining over the next three seasons.

It was not a hotbed of talks linked to the Braves and their search for bats. Passing pieces from various sources linked Atlanta’s interest in free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd and perhaps Georgia native Mike Cameron. Included in the linkage, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien took a look at the possible targets at which the Braves could be taking aim.

Good work as always from our friends over at MLBTradeRumors.com. If you want to follow the blow-by-blow of all the daily craziness of the Winter Meetings, there is no better place.

Perhaps tomorrow will offer a big bang on the Braves front. Follow me on Twitter @grantmcauley for sporadic updates on nothing in particular.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Braves stay busy, ink reliever Saito

Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren has wasted little time building a formidable bullpen for 2010. Just one day after signing closer Billy Wagner to a one-year deal, the Braves reached terms for a one-year pact with righty reliever Takashi Saito on Thursday.

The deal carries a guaranteed $3.2 million base salary, while Saito could earn and additional $2.3 million in performance based incentives. The Braves introduced Saito to the media on Thursday afternoon at a press conference at Turner Field.

Saito.jpg“I think we’re very fortunate to get two outstanding relief pitchers in two days, and we haven’t even been to the winter meetings yet,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox.

Pitching for Boston last season, Saito went 3-3 with a pair of saves in 56 outings, striking out 52 and turning in a 2.43 ERA in 55 2/3 innings of work. Opponents hit just .244 against him.

Saito, 39, enjoyed success in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the first three years of his Major League career beginning in 2006. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 2007, when he went 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 39 saves for the Dodgers.

Over his four-year career, Saito is 15-10 with 83 saves and a a 2.05 ERA in 236 career appearances. The hard-thrower has struck out 297 men over 245 1/3 innings and limited his opponents to a .196 batting average against.

A sprained elbow ligament forced Saito to spend two months on the disabled list in 2008, paving the way for Jonathan Broxton to assume closer’s duties for the Dodgers. The Braves will use Saito to spell Wagner on some nights, giving the club the kind of options that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano offered last year.

Saito and Wagner will join holdovers Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty and Kris Medlen in the Atlanta bullpen next season. While more relievers will be in camp, it would appear that the major moves in the pen have been made.

Perhaps the most interesting point of Thursday’s press conference came when Cox hinted that a major move that would bolster the Braves offense could be coming sooner than later. Wren declined to comment, saying only, “You never know.”

More to come,

G-Mc

Sources: Braves sign Billy Wagner

With the Winter Meetings still days away, the Atlanta Braves appear poised to mark one big item off their holiday shopping list. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Braves will sign lefty closer Billy Wagner, “according to major league sources.”

billy_wagner.jpgWagner must now pass a physical before the deal becomes official. This will mark the first marquee closer the Braves have boasted since John Smoltz‘s days at the end of the pen.

According to Rosenthal’s report, the one-year deal is believed to be worth $7 million and includes a $6.5 million vesting option for a second season that would kick in if Wagner closes 50 games in 2010.

Wagner, 38, is coming off Tommy John Surgery in 2008 that limited him to just 17 appearances between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox last season. The lefty showed his power arm to be intact, racking up 26 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings of work to go along with a 1.72 ERA in 17 outings. Opponents hit just .154 against the six-time All-Star last season.

During his 15-year career, spent with Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, Wagner has accumulated 385 saves and stands to become just the fifth hurler in MLB history to surpass the 400 save plateau with a healthy 2010 campaign. Only John Franco (424) has more saves all-time by a southpaw pitcher.

Atlanta will give Boston a supplemental first round draft pick for signing Wagner, who as a Type-A free-agent was offered arbitration by the Red Sox prior to Tuesday’s deadline.

The Braves have a very good chance of recouping that draft pick loss, however, as both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez (who were also offered arbitration Tuesday) qualify as Type-A FA’s and would fetch first rounders back for Atlanta if they sign elsewhere.

This is a potential signing that I believed the Braves could pursue and had highlighted it prominently in my upcoming Winter Meetings Primer entry. Of course, that piece had yet to hit the Blogosphere before news of this signing broke, but rest assured it will still make an appearance. I just won’t be able to claim any psychic connection this time around.

More to come as always,

G-Mc