Results tagged ‘ Hot Stove ’

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

Let the Hot Stove season begin…

With the New York Yankees crowned as baseball’s champion for the 27th
time, it marks the end of the 2009 campaign. Some clubs saw their
postseason aspirations dashed long ago and their attention turned to
the building process by midsummer, but now all 30 clubs will be on the
market to add to the mix for next year and beyond.

The activity
will have its usual highs and lows, but as always there will be plenty
to talk about. Special focus here will be given to the National League
of course, where the Atlanta Braves will look to build on a solid ’09
season by finding the missing pieces to the puzzle.

There is
little doubt in my mind that this past winter and regular season will
be one that represents a turning point for the franchise. John Smoltz,Tom Glavine and Jeff Francoeur were among the departed, while Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson helped bolster the club’s playoff chances in their first season in Atlanta.

General Manager Frank Wren
has a working list of Atlanta’s needs, one that he will compare when
working the phones and meeting with other team executives as well as
when scouring the free agent market.

First moves of the winter…

As
free agents officially file and the offseason begins, the Braves have
already taken a couple of steps toward the upcoming season. And it all
starts where else, but in the pitching department.

tim_hudson.jpgThe Braves are expected to announce a three-year contract extension with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson at some point in the near future.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that Hudson has passed his physical in his most recent blog entry (which you can read here),
paving the way for deal to be made official. Contract terms are
expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-years and $27
million.

Hudson, 34, bounced back from Tommy John surgery to make seven starts
for the Braves in September and October, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in
42 1/3 innings of work. Following the return of Hudson, righty Kenshin Kawakami was bumped from the rotation to the bullpen.

Extending
Hudson adds to the team’s core strength, which is once again starting
pitching. It also adds the flexibility of dangling a top-end starter on
the trade market, where the Braves could find a possible match that
would bring the team a much needed corner outfield power bat.

Atlanta also signed recently released righty reliever Scott Proctor,
formerly of the Florida Marlins, to a minor league deal with an
invitation to spring training that will allow him to compete for a
bullpen job. Proctor, 32, was placed on the disabled list in spring
training and was sidelined with Tommy John surgery in May.

Originally
a 5th round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1998 amatuer
draft, Proctor was dealt to the New York Yankees along with Bubba Crosby in exchange for Robin Ventura
on July 31, 2003. He found his way back to the Dodgers exactly four
years to the day later, heading to L.A. as former Brave Wilson Betemit was shipped to the Bronx in 2007.

The
righty proved to be very durable in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, hurling
83 games in each campaign with ERA’s of 3.52 and 3.65 respectively. Arm
troubles began while with the Dodgers in 2008 and culminated with arm
surgery last season.

Hot Stove Coverage
 
Developing
stories and analysis will continue all winter, with the Braves
offseason shopping list coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to check
out MLBTradeRumors.com for all the latest news and rumors from all over baseball.

Till next time,

G-Mc
 

What to look for…

Back from my sabbatical in the world of Minor League Baseball, it’s time to put a nice tidy bow on what was a 2009 season that was a step in the right direction for the Atlanta Braves. In contention into the season’s final week, the Braves put a 72 win 2008 campaign behind them and gave their fans reason to be hopeful in 2010.

Hanson.jpgHere are a a couple topics I’ll be kicking around over the next few weeks:

2009 Year in Review: Atlanta Braves

2009 World Series analysis

Of course, those will precede a big helping of Hot Stove goodness that will begin promptly after the Fall Classic. Frank Wren and the Braves will begin their search for the missing pieces and you can catch the blow-by-blow right here!

Till next time,

G-Mc

NL East Arms Race: New York Mets

K-Rod_Mets.jpgThe moving and the shaking has not missed the National League East this hot stove season, with more than a few new faces joining East squads that are setting their sights on a trip to October. Atlanta brings a new look rotation into 2009, but their divisional rivals have made some big improvements as well. This installment of the “NL East Arms Race” delves into the pitching staff of the New York Mets.

Over the past three years, the Mets have been built to win, holding onto first place for large chunks of time before falling at the hands of the Phillies in the end. A near World Series trip in 2006 still fresh on their minds, the Mets have taken strides each off-season to bolster their squad. That trend continued this winter with a bullpen makeover.

When the Mets lost ninth inning man Billy Wagner to elbow surgery last season, they suffered through numerous late inning collapses and finished the year with 29 blown saves as a team. New closer Francisco Rodriguez comes off a record setting 62 saves last season for the Angels. Signing Rodriguez to a three-year deal was just step one of general manager Omar Minaya‘s plan to solidify the achilles heel of the 2008 Mets.

K-Rod will have help from another American League late inning star, J.J. Putz, who was acquired in a December trade with the Seattle Mariners. Putz will serve as the primary set-up man for manager Jerry Manuel. Lefty Pedro Feliciano and righty Duaner Sanchez will return to their roles in the pen this season and will be joined by right-hander Sean Green, who was also acquired in the Putz deal.

The Mets rotation will be the next place Minaya looks to fortify as Spring Training approaches. Johan Santana was spectacular in the second half of last season, but even his stellar work was not enough to lift the Mets above and beyond the September slide. The bullpen cost Santana a chance to win 20 games and likely take home his first Cy Young Award in the National League.

Minaya has already signed veteran right-hander Tim Redding to bolster the back of the rotation. Redding, who will be 31 when the seasons starts, revived his career while pitching for the Washington Nationals over the past two seasons. He tied a previous career-best with 10 wins and notched a career-high 182 innings in 33 starts in 2008. Still, Redding projects to be no more than a fourth or fifth starter in the Mets plans.

The Mets have turned their focus to bringing back lefty Oliver Perez, having lost out in the  Derek Lowe sweepstakes. Perez, 27, was brought over in a 2006 trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and promptly re-established himself with a 15-win season in 2007. His electric stuff is often overshadowed by his lack of command and penchant for bases on balls.

Perez, 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 34 starts a year ago, lead the National League with 105 walks last season and set career-highs with 11 hit batsmen and nine wild pitches. New York extended a three-year $30 million offer to Perez and agent Scott Boras, but those terms are far short of the reported five-year $80 million deal that Boras is believed to be seeking for Perez’s services.

That figure is mind boggling for a pitcher who won less games in 2008 than Ubaldo Jimenez, Kyle Kendrick, Brian Moehler and Jason Marquis. Pitchers who matched Perez’s win total from a year ago include Redding, Jorge De la Rosa, Manny Parra, Jeff Suppan and Barry Zito. None of those names can exactly be looked upon as impact players, but Scott Boras has a way with words and dollar signs. Just ask Zito.

Mike Pelfrey is a young talent on the rise, but more on the level of a Jair Jurrjens of Atlanta. Neither pitcher has the experience that makes them a bona fide number two starter in their teams’ rotation. Going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA and logging 200.2 innings in his first full season with New York, Pelfrey proved to be a key component when injuries sapped the rotation of Pedro Martinez and John Maine.

Speaking of Maine, his health will be absolutely vital the Mets hopes this season. In just 25 starts a year ago, Maine was 10-8 with 122 strikeouts in 140 innings before a strained rotator cuff put him on the shelf late in the year. Surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing shoulder should have him back at 100 percent and ready to go this spring.

Prospect Jon Niese, 22, could also figure into New York’s rotation with a strong spring, perhaps grabbing the fifth starter’s spot. Niese has won 11 games in back-to-back seasons and is coming off a very solid campaign that earned him a September call-up. Last season, Niese was 11-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 29 starts, striking out 144 batters in 164 innings between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A New Orleans.

If the Mets are unable to come to terms with Perez in a time frame that suits them, they could benefit from the standstill between the Yankees and Andy Pettitte and lure him away from the Bronx. The 36-year old Pettitte went 14-14 for the Yankees last season while logging 204 innings. A shorter term pact with Pettitte would not only save the Mets money, but also bring in a pitcher who carries 14 victories in 35 career post-season starts.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Smoltz opts for Plan “B”, as in Boston…

smoltz-3000.jpgAs he did so many times as an All-Star stopper, John Smoltz closed the door on Thursday. This time, however, it was on his career with the Atlanta Braves. In many ways, it signals the end of an era and has become a lightning rod for the frustrations experienced by the Braves this winter.

Unable to reach a trade for Jake Peavy, shunned by A.J. Burnett and forced to endure an embarrassing turn of events with Rafael Furcal, this off-season has been truly forgettable. The ire of Braves fans has been hard to miss, boiling over with the loss of Smoltz, a once unimaginable scenario. On Monday, fans from Red Sox Nation will see their newest acquisition introduced in a press conference. And Braves fans will see Smoltz don a new hat with a “B” rather than the classic script “A” he has worn since 1988.

Smoltz was limited to just six appearances in 2008 and could be 42 before he throws his first pitch for the Red Sox. Boston is spending $5.5 million to bring the winningest pitcher in post-season history into the fray for what will likely be another October run in Beantown. What’s more is that they do not expect him to take the mound until around June 1, giving him incentives that are essentially pro-rated so that he could easily earn up to another $5 million. This is a luxury spending for a man who could make a big impact.

Atlanta’s best offer of roughly $2-2.5 million with incentives could have reached $10 million according to CEO Terry McGuirk, who was “shocked” by Smoltz’s departure. Atlanta’s incentives included one rather large caveat of $5 million if Smoltz were to surpass 200 innings, but nothing for any other innings marker. In other words, the Braves were looking for Smoltz, remember at 42, to be the same pitcher he was at age 40 when he threw 205.2 innings in 2007. Even for Smoltz, that seems like a tall order coming off the shoulder surgery. Without the 200 innings logged, Atlanta’s offer would only match the guaranteed portion of his Boston contract at best.

That offer may have been too little too late, since Smoltz was hoping his early December throwing session would be all the proof Atlanta would need that his health was on track to expedite negotiations. That was a month ago. Atlanta made the offer they felt was appropriate for a player of Smoltz’s age and recent injury history. Despite nearly two months to get Smoltz under contract, the two sides never approached a middle ground on the terms.

Smoltz, who was not planning to comment on the deal until it was complete, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon through agents at Career Sports & Entertainment to eliminate the possibility that anything resembling the disastrous wake of the Furcal negotiations could happen again:

“There were large discrepancies between the offer from the Braves and offers from other teams,” said Smoltz in the statement. “I have always loved the city of Atlanta, and it will always be my
home. I will cherish my 21 years with
Bobby Cox and all my Braves teammates. I continue to wish the Atlanta
Braves nothing but success in the future.”

Smoltz_closer_sm.jpgHis loss leaves a void that will be felt from the clubhouse, to the stands of Turner Field, to living rooms of Braves fans across the country and in the community he leaves behind. Smoltz has soldiered on for years in Atlanta. taking less money at times, moving to the bullpen, moving back to the rotation and doing everything and seemingly anything else that was asked of him over a 21-year career.

In the end, General Manager Frank Wren said it came down to the Braves not wanting to rest their hopes on an aging star pitcher with a surgically repaired right shoulder. Even a phone call from Cox could not change Smoltz’s mind. Boston showed an earnest interest and got their man with a better deal than Atlanta could offer. 

This is a public relations nightmare for a club that is struggling to re-assert itself in the race for the National League East next season. Atlanta has built much of its marketing over the past decade and a half in part or almost completely around Smoltz, the final player who remained from the Worst-to-First ’91 squad.

They have also given Smoltz all the fodder he will need to use as motivation to prove he can still perform at a very high level. Pitching in the American League East in a heightened rivalry with the new look New York Yankees will provide opportunities for Smoltz to pitch in the big game environment, where he has thrived over his career. Boston fans should be licking their chops to have a pitcher with Smoltz resume on board in a pennant race.

While there may be no doubt about Smoltz being enshrined in Cooperstown wearing a Braves hat, it will certainly be odd to see him pitching for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Braves certainly have their work cut out for them in 2009.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Reports have Smoltz heading to Boston

Veteran right-hander John Smoltz appears close to a deal with the Boston Red Sox according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. An announcement could come as early as Thursday.

The
deal calls for a $5.5 million base salary with incentives that could
push the deal to $10 million based on performance, a Major League
source close to the negotiations told Bowman. Boston would like to use
Smoltz as a starter.

Smoltz, who will be 42 in May, has spent
his entire 21-year career with Atlanta after being acquired in a
mid-season trade with the Detroit Tigers in 1987. He was the last
player remaining from the Braves original worst-to-first season of 1991.

Boston would add Smoltz to an already strong rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and the recently signed Brad Penny.

Last
season, Smoltz went 3-2 in just six appearances before being shut down
with reconstructive shoulder surgery. Braves manager Bobby Cox spoke highly of Smolz’s progress in rehab while at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

“I’ve never seen John so fired up about something in my life,” said Cox. “He loves
challenges, and he’s got a big one ahead of him. But what I saw for the
very first time out off the mound was incredibly good.”

Smoltz
had just completed his first throwing session off the mound in early
December in which he utilized all of his pitches, including his
assortment of breaking balls. Atlanta was hoping to gauge his rehab
further before making a formal contract offer.

During his time
in Atlanta, Smoltz became the first pitcher in history to win more than
200 games while also saving more than 150. He became just the 16th
pitcher in history to surpass the 3,000 career strike out plateau
against the Washington Nationals last April. An eight time NL All-Star,
Smoltz captured the Cy Young Award in 1996.

Losing Smoltz is the
latest in a series of disappointments for the Braves this winter,
having already lost out on the bidding for free-agent starter A.J. Burnett and infielder Rafael Furcal. Atlanta general manager Frank Wren also publicly pulled out of trade negotiations with the San Diego Padres involving 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.

Wren has stated on multiple occasions this off-season that he was monitoring the progress of both Smoltz and 300 game winner Tom Glavine, in hopes of bringing them back in 2009.

That’s just Manny being… a Yankee?

It is not hard to imagine that the New York Yankees still have money to spend and needs to fill. The question is, how much money and on who will with they spend it? How about Bronx native Manny Ramirez?

manny_being_manny.jpgKeep in mind, this is the same Manny Ramirez who was reportedly mulling retirement if he did not receive an offer which matched the criteria he is seeking this off-season. Perhaps that is just Manny being ridiculous (thanks Ben K. from RiverAveBlues.com). This is the same Manny Ramirez who was suspected of feigning injury in his final days in Boston. This is the same Ramirez who was reportedly involved in some kind of altercation with a clubhouse attendant over ticket requests. Keep all that in mind.

And keep this in mind. Ramirez is a game changing, clutch-hitting, power machine that can strike fear into the heart of any opposing pitcher. This is the Ramirez who carries a career .314 average, 527 homers and 1,725 RBI in 2,103 contests (that’s an average of 41 homers and 133 RBI per 162 games). This is the Ramirez who hit .396 and drove in 53 runs down the stretch to lift the Dodgers into the play-offs. This is the same Ramirez who may be the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation.

So which one of these scenarios is truly, Manny being Manny?

Agent to the stars, Scott Boras, has at least one interested suitor in the L.A. Dodgers. Negotiations there have been somewhat of a mini-soap opera, with Dodgers GM Ned Colletti  spending some time pondering over why the team did not hear from Ramirez and Boras regarding the offer they extended in mid-November when clubs had exclusive rights to their free-agents to be. That deal was reported to reach up to $60 million, if a third year option was exercised.

Manny_Arod.jpgThe Yankees may just choose to let the Angels, Red Sox and Nationals have a spending frenzy over switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. We know Teixeira will get his money from some club, but is anyone really pondering giving Ramirez a 5-year pact north of $100 million? He would certainly provide significant power to a Yankees line-up that is in state of flux. Not many teams would look forward to going through an A-Rod and Manny 1-2 punch.

In many ways, Ramirez’s fate is inextricably linked to that of former Brave and fellow Boras client, Teixeira, who is looking to land the kind of contract Ramirez did back in the winter of 2000 (8-years $160 million). In fact, it is believed that most teams who are seriously looking into Teixeira’s services are probably only viewing Ramirez as a fall-back option – with one notable exception, the Boston Red Sox. For them, it is Teixeira or bust.

Ramirez has shown to be both a lightning rod and a clutch-performer, a defensive liability and an offensive power-house. These night and day qualities are all part of the package that a team is getting when they sign Manny Ramirez. It’s up to the club to decide if the headaches (and there willbe headaches) will be worth the pay-off

Until Boras can line up a potential match, it looks like Manny will have to spend more time working out, playing video games and watching cartoons. Or maybe selling another grill on Ebay?

Now that is just Manny being Manny.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Yankees strike again, sign A.J. Burnett…

Well, I will say this for the free-spending kingpins of sports in the
free world: When they want somebody, they go out and get them. The New
York Yankees made another bold move to rebuild their rotation, agreeing to a 5-year $82 million contract with righty starter A.J. Burnett on Friday.

This means the Yankees have spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on starting pitching in less that 72-hours. That’s right, billion.
And you thought we were in a recession? Given, they cleared some
salaries (Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano, Bobby
Abreu
and Kyle Farnsworth), but that is still more spending that any
other club in baseball could possibly imagine. And it comes roughly
one-year after giving Alex Rodriguez a contract that will be worth over
another quarter of a billion (that’s $250,000,000 for those needing
another illustration of the dynamic we’re talking) by the time it’s
said and done.

Now Atlanta and general manager Frank Wren will
have to find a plan B. Whatever that may be is anyone’s guess, but I
would say it starts with the second tier free agent starters – lead by
left-hander Randy Wolf et al. Perhaps the Braves seek a shorter term
agreement for much less overall money with Ben Sheets, who is the only
real power pitcher left in the free-agent market. Let me go ahead and
say, I don’t think this is going to do anything to revive the very dead
Jake Peavy to Atlanta talks.

But now soon-to-be 32-year old A.J.
Burnett
,
the same pitcher who has won more than 12 games only once
(last season) and the same pitcher who has pitched 200+ innings on just
three occassions, is going to be raking an average yearly salary of
$16.5
million for the next five seasons in the Bronx. His history of injury
doesn’t swallow like a bitter pill in New York, since they are the only
team in baseball that could afford to
lose him for a significant amount of time and feel little-to-no effects
on their October aspirations. They can simply buy a new one if he
breaks down, again.

This signing allows the Braves to save what
I believe will be a tremendous amount of money on an arm that already
comes with more than a few red flags attached. The trade market is
still an option, even if Peavy is not the answer. Atlanta lost the
ability to deal Yunel Escobar when Brent Lillibridge was dealt to the
White Sox in the Javier Vazquez deal. There are still other possibilities though, many of which have proven to be off the radar when it comes to the Braves.

So
the Braves went to
Las Vegas and essentially left the table with nothing to show for it,
having been unable to get their ace in Burnett and the power hitting
outfielder they were seeking. But there could be some bargains out
there if the markets
don’t develope for some of the free agents still lurking. The Braves
came into the off-season with more
money to spend than perhaps any other time in the club’s history and
they may be running out of priority players to spend it on.

In other news:

Atlanta non-tendered left-hander Chuck James
on Friday, making him a free-agent. James, 27, went 11-4 as a rookie in
2006 and 11-10 in 2007 before injuries and ineffectiveness put his
career with the Braves in question. Shoulder surgery performed in
September is expected keep James out for most of 2009. Last season,
James went just 2-5 with a 9.10 ERA in seven starts and allowed 10
homers in just 29.2 innings of work. James was sidelined for much of
spring training and spent the majority of last season in Triple-A
Richmond, where he went 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 starts.

Till next time

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 4

I’d like an official count on the number of articles and blog entries posted about the “inevitable” trade of Jake Peavy to the Chicago Cubs. Now that deals is reported dead. Congratulations, Kevin Towers, you have completely ruined what should have been a textbook exercise in trading a much sought after star pitcher for some promising young talent as you rebuild an organization. More words were spilt over that debacle than almost any of the deals that actually came to pass at these meetings. And it may not be over yet.

As all the execs and agents boarded a plane and headed back to their respective cities, some departed with big needs filled while others went home empty handed.

Day 4: Recap  —  Coming Soon.

Till then,

G-Mc