December 2009

Wren heading to Indy with a shorter shopping list

Now that we know that Tiger Woods wasn’t slipping out in the middle of the night to take advantage of one of last week’s door-buster sales, it’s time to focus on the remaining shopping list that Braves general manager Frank Wren will take to next week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.
Would it have been more appropriate to refer to them as window-busting sales?

Regardless, it’s safe to say Wren certainly came out swinging during the early stages of this offseason.  While bidding adieu to a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) who could net him four picks in next year’s Draft, Wren grabbed a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito) while losing just one draft pick.   

Saito would have been labeled a Type A free agent had the Red Sox not dropped them from their 40-man roster in October.  This was simply a procedural move that provided them the opportunity to pursue the Japanese right-hander at a cost cheaper than the option (worth at least $6 million) that was in his contract.

Wren certainly took a small risk by offering arbitration to both Gonzalez and Soriano when he had a good sense that in the next 48 hours he would sign both Saito and Wagner.  But it was a calculated one primarily based on the fact that Gonzalez and Soriano now arguably stand as the two best relief options on a free-agent market that grew thinner this week when the Braves reconstructed the back-end of their bullpen. 

There’s very little reason to believe Gonzalez would align himself with Scott Boras and then opt to take the one-year contract that would come via accepting the arbitration offer.  He’s going to get some of the same attractive multi-year deals that will be offered to Soriano, whose health history provides even more reason for him to find the security provided by a multi-year offer.  

Soriano and Gonzalez have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday to accept these arbitration offers.  It’s hard to imagine them doing this and ignoring the opportunity to field the offers that will be made by those teams that may have seen their wish lists shortened this week by the signings of Wagner and Saito. 

With his bullpen needs filled, Wren will head to Indianapolis with the opportunity to focus his attention on finding at least one bat and a suitor that is willing to deal for either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. 

The Braves still seem hopeful that they’ll be able to move Lowe instead of Vazquez.  My feeling has been that John Lackey, the top starter available on this year’s free-agent market, will sign before the Braves are able to move one of these two hurlers. 

But Wren doesn’t believe this is necessarily true.   

“I think teams have to have some sense of what the market is,” Wren said. “It’s the unknown that makes it difficult for clubs.  The top guy doesn’t necessarily have to sign.  But the top guy has to have a market established.  That will obviously create some players and some non-players.” 

In other words, during next week’s meetings, when we start hearing what clubs are offering Lackey, we may gain a better sense about which teams will prove to be the most likely suitors for Lowe and Vazquez.

Whether the Braves deal Vazquez, who is set to make $11.5 million in the final year of his contract, or Lowe, who is owed $15 million during each of the next three seasons, they will still seemingly have a similar amount of fund to fill their offensive needs. 

If they are able to trade Lowe, it still seems like they will have to eat somewhere between $1-2 million per year.   Thus their potential cost savings made by dealing either of these two hurlers may be only differ by this same range.  

As he evaluates who will play first base and fill his final outfield void, Wren has his sights set on finding a right-handed bat.  Marlon Byrd’s agent, Seth Levinson, said earlier this week that the Braves have “strong interest” in his client. 

But it seems like Byrd, who hit 14 of his career-high 20 homers inside Texas’ offensively-friendly ballpark this year, stands as just one of many candidates that Braves are evaluating.   
Some of the Braves players are lobbying for the club to bring Mark DeRosa back.  DeRosa would certainly prove valuable in the fact that he could play a number of different positions and add some power potential to the roster. 

It’s believed that DeRosa would be willing to take a “hometown discount” from the Braves.  But it might take some time before his view of a discount corresponds with what the Braves are willing to offer.  

As the next week progresses, we’ll likely learn more about the interest being shown to these players and other free-agents like Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady and Mike Cameron.  In addition, Wren has made it known that he could opt to fill his offensive needs via trade.

“Right now, there are a lot of different possibilities,” Wren said.
Odds and ends:  Don’t forget that you can help Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren  and Ernie Johnson, Sr. move one step closer to the Hall of Fame by voting for this year’s Ford C. Frick Award.  Click here for the ballot.
You may have noticed that Wagner will wear the No. 13 jersey that was adorned by Nate McLouth last year.  Wagner said that he knows he may have to provide McLouth a portion of his new $7 million contract to show appreciation for the opportunity to continue wearing this number that he has sported dating back to his childhood days in Virginia. 
Wagner said the number has gained more sentimental value since his now-deceased grandfather provided him a medal that was engraved with the No. 13.   The medal was one of the ID pieces that his grandfather wore while working in the coal mines.
Tim Hudson invited Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen to join him for last week’s Iron Bowl in Auburn, Ala.  As a sign of appreciation the two comical hurlers arrived on Hudson’s former campus and asked where they might be able to buy some Alabama gear.  

Braves sign Saito

Remember when I recently wrote that Frank Wren and procrastinator should never be used in the same sentence?  Well, I certainly wasn’t lying.

Now we’ll just have to see if the Braves continue their press conference series with a Friday afternoon press conference. 

During today’s press conference that announced Takashi Saito as the newest member of Wren’s reconstructed bullpen, Braves manager Bobby Cox praised the Japanese right-hander who will now primarily serve as the setup man for closer Billy Wagner, who you may remember was the featured guest during Wednesday’s installment of “Afternoon press conferences at Turner Field.”

“We’re very fortunate to get two outstanding relief pitchers in the last two days and we haven’t even been to the Winter Meetings yet,” Cox said. “We’re way ahead of the game.”

So how does Cox plan to utilize these two former closers, who like their predecessors (Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) provide a left-handed, right-handed mix.

“I think Takashi could have gone to any team that he wanted to,” Cox said. “Here when Wagner isn’t closing, he’ll be closing and setting up and vice-versa at times depending on who we’re facing.” 

In other words, if there comes a time when Wagner needs a rest, Cox at least for now, has a plan to occasionally utilize Saito as his closer.

“I can remember when Takashi was with the Dodgers and he was lights out,” Cox said. “It became an eight-inning game.  He was throwing that good over there when Grady Little was the manager.  I know what Grady thought of him  —  a lot, very highly.  I can’t wait for him to get to Spring Training and get the season going.  I feel extremely good about the tail end of our nine-inning game.” 

Saito, who developed a friendship with Wagner while they spent the final six weeks of this past season together in Boston’s bullpen, said that he had an opportunity to talk to Kenshin Kawakami about the Braves and the city of Atlanta. The two hurlers crossed paths during a television appearance in Japan last week.

Last year, Kawakami became the first Japanese native to play for the Braves at the Major League level.

“I asked (Kawakami) a lot of question and he explained a lot about the Atlanta area and the team and the manager and everything,” Saito said. “Everything seemed so positive.  He was always calling me as well, telling me about the Braves.  All of the information I’ve heard is very positive.”

Now that Wren has secured a pair of quality late-inning relievers at a cost that will likely remain below $12 million (depending on Saito’s incentives), he can place his focus on his needs to determine who will play first base and fill his final open outfield spot. 

In the process, he will continue to attempt to find suitors for Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. For now, the club still would have a preference to deal Lowe.

I need to write the main story for the site.  Just wanted to throw this up to talk about what Wren has done in the past two days.       


Wagner scheduled to arrive in Atlanta today

With last year’s forgettable episodes with Rafael Furcal and Jake Peavy in the rear view mirror, Braves general manager Frank Wren has found the start of this year’s offseason to be much smoother and satisfying. 

Realizing the strong possibility that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano will be pitching elsewhere next year, Wren set his sights on Billy Wagner and the accomplished closer now finds himself looking forward to the opportunity to play for Bobby Cox in Atlanta. 

Multiple Major League sources have confirmed that Wagner has agreed to the terms of the one-year, $7 million offer made by the Braves.  The offer includes a $6.5 million option for the 2011 season that would vest if Wagner finishes 50 games next year.

Wagner was expected to arrive in Atlanta on Wednesday morning to undergo a physical.  If his travel isn’t affected by the heavy rain that is currently soaking  the Atlanta area, the deal could officialy be announced on Wednesday afternoon.

Interest in Wagner grew when he made a successful return from Tommy
John elbow reconstruction surgery during the final two months of this
past season.  In  17 combined appearances with the Mets and Red Sox, he
posted a 1.72 ERA, limited opponents to a 1.72 ERA and recorded 26
strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.  
Wagner comes to Atlanta with the intent to enhance his already-impressive credentials.  The 38-year-old reliever’s 385 career saves rank sixth on Major League Baseball’s all-time list.  He stands 39 saves shy of matching the record that John Franco set for left-handed closers.   

Now that Wren has started his offseason with Tim Hudson’s contract extension and the acquisition of Wagner, the next big move could invole the trade of either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.  But it still seems like this deal may have to wait until John Lackey decides where he’ll pitch next year.


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