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.”
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,
As 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.”
His 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,
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.
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.
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.”
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.
The really big contracts have already gone out this winter, but all the major players in the free agent pitching market are not yet off the table. Secondary pursuits should start to fill the empty seats for the clubs that missed out on the likes of CC Sabathia, and in the Braves case, A.J. Burnett.
Look, I’m just excited to see a pitcher who doesn’t go by two initials attracted some attention on the market. It was starting to get a little weird. Although, I bet Derek Christopher Lowe would be more than happy to go by “D.C.” if he knew it would land him the rumored $16 million per year over four seasons that he desires. Were it not for the fact that he will turn 36-years old in June, his track record and post-season experience would easily net him a bigger deal than Seattle handed Carlos Silva last winter (4-years and $48 million).
If the Braves were willing to go the distance in the Burnett bidding, only to fall short, then it would seem the money would still be available to put toward bringing Lowe to Atlanta. Injury was the question with Burnett, but age is the major point of contention for handing a multi-year deal to Lowe. His durability is not in question, however. Over the past seven seasons, Lowe has won 106 games and averaged 208 innings. Adding his veteran presence to that of Javier Vazquez and perhaps John Smoltz would give the Braves the experience factor. Throw in talented young right-handers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, and you could have the makings of a strong rotation. Tim Hudson will likely miss the entire 2009 season as he recovers from his Tommy John surgery.
Atlanta’s interest in Lowe has been tepid at best thus far. It does not rule out their involvement altogether. However, to get into the bidding for Lowe, Frank Wren would have to approach the Mets initial offer of 3-year and $36 million that Lowe has already rejected. Also working against bringing Lowe to Atlanta is his agent, Scott Boras. The Braves history of signing and even retaining Boras clients is not exactly inspiring. It is doubtful that Boras and his team view Atlanta as anything more than leverage at this point, useful for driving up the price the New York Mets or Boston Red Sox would be willing to pay. Those two clubs also fit a certain criteria that every free agent is looking for, the ability to win now.
As most GM’s do, Wren has other irons in the fire, including Japanese hurler Kenshin Kawakami. There are reports that he has narrowed his choices to the Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins. The AJC’s David O’Brien reports to the contrary after speaking with Kawakami’s agent this week. Perhaps Atlanta will remain in the mix. Kawakami will be 34-years old midway through next season, making him a few months younger than Hiroki Kuroda, who was signed to a 3-year $35 million deal by the Dodgers last winter. That price tag brings us back full circle to Lowe.
Though he may not be a clear ace, Lowe would fill Atlanta’s off-season goal of adding two quality veteran starters. Lowe is not Jake Peavy, but that ship sailed long ago.
Till next time,
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?
Keep 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.
The 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,