Results tagged ‘ Mike Gonzalez ’

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

NL East Arms Race: Atlanta Braves

Derek_Lowe.jpgThere was a time when the Atlanta Braves were perennial Division
Champs. For 14-consecutive seasons, Atlanta marched in to October largely on
the strength of their outstanding starting rotation.

Now, some three seasons removed from their last postseason
appearances, the Braves are going back to their roots in order to gain
entry to October. The “Arms Race” series rolls on with an in depth look
at the Atlanta pitching staff.

Looking back at the 2008 season, the Braves can readily identify
that injuries in the pitching department cost them any chance of
returning to the postseason. The losses to key personnel were not
exclusive to the rotation either, as Atlanta’s bullpen suffered the
same kind of misfortune to key arms.

General Manager Frank Wren was a man on a mission this
winter, charged with rebuilding a beaten and battered rotation for 2009
and beyond. Wren stated his goal was to add at least two
front-of-the-rotation starters at season’s end.

The initial targets to anchor the rotation included San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy and free-agent A.J. Burnett.
However, after weeks of negotiations, any trade agreement with the
Padres reached an impasse. Opting to stay in the American League,
Burnett signed a five-year pact with the New York Yankees.

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While the early travails of the GM were met with disappointment,
Wren made the first move when he hooked up for a trade with the Chicago
White Sox that netted veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez just prior to the winter meetings.

Vazquez, 32, had long been coveted by Braves manager Bobby Cox.
While his stuff has not always translated into the results many have
thought were to come after his breakthrough season of 2001, Vazquez has
averaged 13 wins and 216 innings over the past nine seasons.

The new year got off on a bad note when Braves icon John Smoltz left the only Major League club he had known for 21-season to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

Smoltz had hoped to return to Atlanta, but was unimpressed with
Atlanta’s largely incentive-based offer. The Braves cited health
concerns that tempered their willingness to make a large guarantee for
Smoltz, who was recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Ultimately, Boston came up with an offer with a larger base salary,
more attainable incentives and that targets a June 1 return date for
Smoltz. Just like that, Smoltz and the Braves turned a page that many
thought would happen only in his retirement.

While fans and scribes alike scrambled to make sense of Smoltz’s
decision, Wren proved unabated by the inability to lure Burnett to
Atlanta and went back to the free-agent well with two bold moves in a
span of 72-hours.

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The first move was signing Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami
to a three year $23 million deal. Kawakami, 33, spent an 11-year career
with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League and compiled 112-72
record with a 3.22 ERA in 1642.1 innings.

Just two days later, the Braves landed one of the top starting
pitchers available when they signed Derek Lowe to a four-year $60
million contract. Lowe, 35, will anchor the new-look Braves rotation
after going 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 34
starts last season.

Lowe spent the first eight seasons of his career in the AL,
primarily with the Boston Red Sox. Since 2002, the sinker-balling
righty has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings per season. In a 12-year
career, Lowe is 126-107 with a 3.75 ERA and 85 saves.

The acqusition of Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami fortifies the rotation in front of stand-out young hurler, Jair Jurrjens.
In his first full season, Jurrjens, 23, turned in 13 wins and a 3.68
ERA in 31 starts to come in third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

One of the more interesting position battles for Atlanta this spring
will be for the fifth starter’s spot. Some of the pieces left over from
2008’s “all-hands-on-deck experiment” will be vying for the opportunity
to fill out that final spot.

Among these pitchers will be right-handers Jorge Campillo and Charlie Morton, as well as lefty Jo-Jo Reyes.
Campillo, 30, enjoyed modest success after joining the Atlanta
rotation, going 8-7 with a 4.34 ERA in his 25 starts. His relief work,
1.25 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 15 appearances, bodes well if Atlanta
chooses to utilize Campillo out of the pen.

Morton, 25, and Reyes did not fair as well on the whole, though both
showed flashes of what put them among the top organizational pitching
prospects. Morton, was just 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 14 starts after a
June call-up.

Possessing a four-seam fastball that tops out around 95 mph that is
complemented by a two-seamer, solid curve and change-up, Morton has all
the tools to develop into a valued starter. Command problems hampered
Morton’s development earlier in his minor league career and seemed to
relapse during his stint with Atlanta.

Reyes, 24, seemed to be hitting his stride after eight brilliant
innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 13. However,
from that point on Reyes dropped his final seven decisions to finish
just 3-11 with a 5.81 ERA in 23 appearances. Both Reyes and Morton
could be used as trade bait to net the Braves an outfielder as well.

The list does not stop there. Top prospect Tommy Hanson, a
22-year old hard throwing who lit up the Airzona Fall League will
likely be given the opportunity to audition as well. Hanson was 11-5
with a 2.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 25 starts between two stops.
Atlanta could also choose to let Hanson begin the season in Triple-A
Gwinnett.

Righty James Parr got a brief look last season and will also
be in camp to compete for a spot on the big league squad. Parr, who
turns 27 later this month, posted two good starts before being shelled
in his final three. He figures to be a long shot to grab the vacant
rotation spot.

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Tom Glavine could emerge as a candidate to fill the fifth
starter’s slot as well. That is, if the Braves and the 42-year old
Glavine can agree on terms. Glavine’s homecoming was marred by injury
and ended when the 300-game winner had surgery on both his elbow and
shoulder after going just 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts.

With a clean bill of health issued by his doctors, the Braves have
made Glavine an offer that is believed to be worth $1-2 million and
contain little or no incentives. The search for a left fielder will not
allow the Braves to stray from their initial offer, so the ball is
essentially in Glavine’s court.

The Braves also have Tim Hudson, who could make a comeback
from ligament replacement surgery in August or September. Hudson, 33,
was having a stellar 2008 season, 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 23
appearances, before the elbow injury.

The dominoes in the bullpen started falling in the spring, when projected closer Rafael Soriano
reported to camp with discomfort in his pitching elbow. Soriano had
just three saves in 14 appearances and spent much of the year on the DL
before elbow surgery ended his season in August.

Set-up man Peter Moylan came into his own in 2007, sporting a
1.80 ERA in 80 appearances and holding righties to a .184 average. His
encore campaign was over by mid-April, when he was forced to undergo
Tommy John surgery. The loss of Moylan was a void Atlanta struggled to
fill for the rest of  the season.

Mike Gonzalez returned in June to assume the closer’s duties,
picking up 14 saves in 16 opportunities. Now fully healed from his
Tommy John surgery in 2007, Gonzalez has pronounced himself ready to
show the Braves the same pitcher they sought when they acquired him
from Pittsburgh in December of 2006.

The rest of the cast includes right-handers Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett and Manny Acosta. Each saw more than their fair share action due to the rash of injuries.

Boyer spent his winter working out with Smoltz, in hopes of building
both the mental and physical stamina to become a more complete pitcher.

Last season, Boyer seemed to tire from his frequent appearances.
After posting a 3.93 ERA in 51 first half appearances, Boyer was
shelled for an 11.17 ERA in 25 outings after the All-Star Break and was
all but shut down in September.

Acosta, 27, had a brief opportunity as Atlanta’s closer before a
wild streak in June and a freak hamstring injury suffered running the
bases took put him out of action.

Atlanta will likely utilize Bennett as a long reliever, along with
one of the starters who fails to earn a rotation spot. Bennett, 28,
made a career-high 72 appearances and seemed to find a groove over the
season’s final month. Buddy Carlyle could also get a look in the long relief role.

Wren added lefty Boone Logan in the Vazquez deal, and claiming lefty Eric O’Flaherty from the Seattle Mariners. The duo will compete with Jeff Ridgway,
among others, to earn a spot as lefty specialist or in middle relief.
Logan has seen the most time in the majors of the three, totalling 144
appearances over the past three seasons while with the White Sox.

The Braves are still optimistic that they will be able to bring back lefty Will Ohman,
who enjoyed a career season in his first year with Atlanta. Ohman, 31,
made 83 appearances in 2008 and held opposing lefties to just a .200
average. Wren extended an offer to Ohman more than two months ago, but
the two sides do not appear any closer to a deal in the first week of
February.

Till next time,

G-Mc

 

Winter Meetings: Day 2

Here are the most interesting tidbits of Braves news today. There was no major move, but plenty of speculation that Atlanta would be among the major movers at the meetings. With Day 3 still ahead and the race for free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett heating up, the Braves have plenty of work still ahead of them in Sin City.

Zack Greinke for Jeff Francoeur? Not so fast…

Francoeur_take_a_seat.jpgIf you thought there might be renewed life to the previous rumor that a Greinke-Francoeur trade may have been discussed between Frank Wren and Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, you can essentially disregard that line of thinking. ESPN’s Steve Phillips plays the role of rumor killer. A reprised story surfaced this morning, courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti, but never showed up on the radar of any Braves scribe. The post also said that this deal was contingent on what the Braves are able to accomplish in regards to signing Burnett. So please note that this rumor was apparently just that and/or the product of idle hands – which as we know are the devil’s workshop.

Francoeur, 24, saw his career came off the tracks somewhat last season. Batting average (.239), homers (11) and RBI’s (71) were all down significantly from his previous two seasons. Even a trip back to the minors did little to bring things back around.

Greinke, 24, went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 202.1 innings of work last season, striking out 183 hitters in his 32 starts. It makes sense from the standpoint of young players, but the Royals have put a significant amount of time and devotion into Greinke’s career, which was plagued by inconsistency and breifly saw him sidelined with an anxiety disorder. His potential is unquestioned though, and it appears Greinke is staking his claim as one of the best young hurlers in the game. He looks so good in fact, that Dayton Moore personally debunked the rumor later in the afternoon.

Outfielder from the Cardinals

Ken Rosenthal certainly stays busy over at Fox Sports, chipping in a new spin on an old topic. The Braves and Cardinals had previously been rumored to be working a deal, with the post popular version involving Kelly Johnson (or perhaps Yunel Escobar) heading to St. Louis for Ryan Ludwick. While that one never came to pass, the Cardinals made moves to solidify their infield for next season, trading for Khalil Greene and retaining the services of second baseman Adam Kennedy.

The lastest buzz according to Rosenthal involved a potential swap of Rick Ankiel for Mike Gonzalez and, secondarily, Joe Mather for Blaine Boyer. The Cardinals are seeking bullpen help and opted not to bring closer Jason Isringhausen back (at least not yet), so Gonzalez makes sense for them. However, these deals don’t seem to merit a great amount of discussion (again, at least not yet).

Top rumors and done deals for Tuesday

  • Francisco Rodriguez signs 3-year worth at least $37 MM deal to close games for the New York Mets.
  • Kerry Wood is close to a 2-year to join the Cleveland Indians bullpen. The deal likely contains an option for a third year.
  • Baltimore Orioles trade catcher Ramon Hernandez and cash for super utility man Ryan Freel and two prospects.
  • Third baseman Casey Blake resigned with the L.A. Dodgers for 3-years and $17.1 MM.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies extended the contract of manager Charlie Manuel through 2011.
  • Infielder Mike Lamb re-signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, agreeing to a 1-year deal.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings Shopping list…

Starting pitching, plain and simple

ajburnett.jpgThe ideal trade for Jake Peavy has become a harder than originally expected task. Padres GM Kevin Towers practically wrote the book on how not to trade what should be one of the most valuable commodities by keeping virtually every step of these negotiations front and center in the press. The talks may rekindle, but the Braves and GM Frank Wren will have the option of pursuing A.J. Burnett and other free agent hurlers. Wren will certainly look to provide at least two hurlers who can provide some innings, perhaps the White Sox Javier Vasquez could fit that bill.

Burnett, who turns 32 before the season, is clearly the Braves first choice as an ace. As Braves.com’s Mark Bowman pointed out last week, Burnett’s agent said a fifth year was not necessarily the make or break point. An 18-game winner a year ago, he also fills the role of ace starter which Atlanta is seeking this winter. Expect the Braves to make a big offer to acquire his services.

Atlanta is also faced with decisions on a trio of starters from last season. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz each have to determine their plans on pitching after testing their surgically repaired arms. I have my doubts that Glavine will decide to play on, while Smoltz has proven that you just can’t count him out. If it comes down to being a starter or reliever though, I don’t expect to see Smoltz putting on the uniform to serve as a set-up man next season. Then there is Mike Hampton, who showed he something left to offer after two and a half seasons of injuries. Jerry Crasnick over at ESPN noted that Hampton and his agent are seeking a one-year deal to re-establish his value in the market moving forward. Would the years spent on the sidelines lead him back to Atlanta to do so?

Power hitting left fielder

Griffey_blog.jpgDepending on how everything shakes out with some of the other pursuits this winter, the Braves seem to be looking for a righty hitting middle of the line-up bat to stick in left this season. There are a range of options that starts with free agent Pat Burrell (whom the Braves will almost certainly pass on for his defensive liability and history of foot problems) and including the rumored to be available Jermaine Dye of the White Sox.

If you open the running to include left-handed hitters then you start to get some interesting names. Raul Ibanez, who is not interested in becoming the full-time DH for Seattle, and Ken Griffey Jr. top my list of candidates. Ibanez is a consistent performer (averaging 113 RBI over the past three seasons) who hasn’t exactly been in a hitter’s paradise in Safeco Field.

Age and injury combine to temper the expectations from Griffey, who combined to hit .249 with 18 homers and 73 RBI in 143 games with the Reds and White Sox last season. Still, a short term pact with incentives could be a strong option if other free agent options or trade alternatives become too costly in one form or another.

Bullpen reinforcements

The pen was a sore spot yet again for Atlanta last year. It seems like that theme has run through each of the last three seasons. The Braves do have a set closer at least, with Mike Gonzalez anchoring the ninth innings. Things are somewhat dicey after that though. Rafael Soriano is due a huge pay raise ($6.1 million) as part of the two-year deal he signed before last season and will have to prove he can stay healthy coming off just 14 appearances in 2008. Peter Moylan will be coming back from Tommy John surgery, and much is expected of that duo to solidify the late innings in front of Gonzalez.

Atlanta is interested in bringing back lefty Will Ohman, who struggled late but was one of the most important arms last season. Another lefty will be important, as I’m not sure how waiver claim Eric O’Flaherty fits into those plans, but I’m sure that Wren will seek as many options as possible. Ohman and Blaine Boyer finished near the top of the pack in overall appearances, so the Braves will look to add some reliable depth where possible. If there’s ever a place where some trades will happen, I expect it to be in the relief department. 

Kick the tires on some available shortstops

p1_furcal_ap.jpgFor a team that has a young and multi-talented shortstop already, there have been more than a few rumors out there that the Braves will go back to one of their former shortstops this winter. What started with the potential trade of Yunel Escobar (and several others) for Jake Peavy has turned into the potential homecoming of Rafael Furcal, or perhaps Edgar Renteria. Of course, the Braves may not make it to the table for either one – so consider this simply a cursory examination of the available.

A healthy Furcal would be a boost to the top of the line-up, providing a lead-off hitter that has not been present since his departure three seasons ago. The money and years would have to be right, and with the bad back that cost Furcal much of last season, it is hard to say the Braves will be a major player in this sweepstakes. The American League hasn’t seemed to be the place for Renteria on two occasions now. It was just 2007 when he hit .332 for the Braves, so who’s to say the down season with Detroit spelled the beginning of the end?

With a week’s worth of prep time between now and the Winter Meetings in Vegas, many things could change. Wren could wrap up some of his shopping before he heads to Nevada. The Braves figure to have an interesting off-season either way.

Till next time,

G-Mc