Results tagged ‘ Billy Wagner ’

Let the free-agent frenzy begin

While the Giants and their fans are still basking in the glory of winning the World Series, the rest of the baseball world has moved forward and accelerated their roster reconstruction plans for the 2011 season.

As soon as Giants closer Brian Wilson ended this year’s Fall Classic with a strikeout of Nelson Cruz last night, the free-agent market officially opened.  All players eligible to enter this market officially became free agents last night and over the course of the next five days their current clubs will have exclusive negotiating rights. 

In other words over the course of this week, the Braves will have exclusive negotiating rights with Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske and Derrek Lee.  Hinske stands as the only member of this trio who could return to Atlanta next year. 

But it will likely be at least a few more weeks before Hinske learns where he’ll be playing in 2011.  He will take advantage of the chance to evaluate his demand from other clubs. 

The Braves are looking for a right-handed backup for their left-handed first baseman Freddie Freeman. But if Hinske’s cost remains around $1.5 million, there’s certainly a chance they could attempt to bring him back to their bench. 

Closer Billy Wagner is among the Braves who had a team option for the 2011 season.  But when asked again this morning if he ‘d altered his plan to retire, Wagner didn’t even hesitate before emphatically saying, “No.”

Later today, the Braves will likely announce that they have exercised the $2.5 million options to bring both Alex Gonzalez and Omar Infante back next year.  They could also soon announce that they have reached an agreement with Scott Proctor, who would be entering his final arbitration-eligible season.

Proctor, who struggled while attempting to return from Tommy John surgery this past year, will likely get a base salary of approximately $750,000.  The veteran reliever’s contract will include some performance-based incentives that could allow him to earn close to $1 million.

The Braves aren’t expected to exercise the options to retain Kyle Farnsworth or Rick Ankiel.  Farnsworth’s $5.25 million option includes a $250,000 buyout.  Ankiel’s $6 million option includes a $500,000 buyout.

In other Braves-related news, general manager Frank Wren has hired highly-regarded Bob Johnson to serve as one of his advance scouts.  Johnson gained great respect from his peers during his long tenure in this role with the Mets. 

“He’s as good as it gets,” one Major League scout, not affiliated with the Braves, said earlier this week.

Johnson will be replacing Chuck McMichael, who was recently relieved of his duties with the organization.  McMichael had been with the Braves since the end of the 2000 season.  

 

Wagner declines All-Star invitation

Billy Wagner was appreciative Saturday night when he was extended an invitation to pitch in this year’s All-Star Game.  But the Braves closer has decided it would be better for him to spend the next few days resting his sore right ankle.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel invited Wagner when it was determined Jason Heyward wouldn’t be ale to play in Tuesday night’s game.  Heyward’s roster spot will now be filled by Dodgers left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

“It’s just good that I take some time off,” Wagner said.  “I can pitch on it.  But I’d hate to try to push it, when I know that I had some time. I’d feel better if I knew that I was around for the whole duration of this year, rather than trying to fight through this ankle all year.  When we get closer to the end, I’m going to have to be ready to go everyday and there’s no days off.”

Along with converting 20 of his 23 save opportunities, Wagner has posted a 1.24 ERA, compiled a 0.86 WHIP, and limited opponents to a .162 batting average and .492 OPS.   Each of these marks stand as the best compiled by any National League closer this year.
 
Since turning his ankle during June 17 appearance against the Rays, Wagner has been unavailable to pitch just one game.  While bothersome, the ailment hasn’t prevented him from continuing his dominant run toward retirement.
   
In the 11 innings Wagner has completed since turning his ankle, he has allowed one earned run, surrendered five hits and recorded 17 strikeouts.  

Wagner, who has shown no signs that he will alter his plan to retire at the end of this season, will still be recognized as gaining this seventh career All-Star selection.  He will not accompany the five other Braves All-Stars to Anaheim this week. 

 

Where is Mark Cuban when you need him?

This would have been a good weekend to have Mark Cuban calling the shots here in Braves land.  I think it’s safe to say that he would have attempted to create some fireworks or simply have some fun by using today to announce Fredi Gonzalez as the newest member of the Braves organization.

In fact, Cuban would have likely done something like stage a press conference to be shown on the big screen in center field while the Marlins are taking batting practice tonight.

But with Cuban worrying about Dirk Nowitzki’s future in Dallas, the Braves will likely wait at least another week or two before revealing that Gonzalez will serve as some kind of advisor for the remainder of this year. 

Admittedly, I rolled my eyes when some of you said adding Gonzalez to the organization would hurt the feelings of guys like Eddie Perez or Terry Pendleton, who at one time may have been in line to serve as Atlanta’s next manager.   I mean this is the big leagues and they are big boys, who entered this season knowing that Gonzalez would become a favorite for the managerial job if he became available.  

But I do get the sense that there are members of Braves management who share this concern.  Thus if they do eventually give Gonzalez a role where he can spend the next few months evaluating the organization’s talent and personalities at both the Major and Minor League levels, they’ll do so much more quietly than Cuban would have. 

While resting yesterday, the Braves gained a half-game on both the Mets (2 games back) and Phillies (4 games back)    Before going to Philadelphia on Monday to compete against what’s left of the injury-ravaged defending National League champs, the Braves will receive a stiff challenge this weekend from three of Gonzalez’s former pitchers.

During tonight’s series opener, Kris Medlen will be opposed by Josh Johnson, who has recently been the game’s top pitcher and quite honestly it wouldn’t be hard to argue that he has been every bit as impressive as Ubaldo Jimenez throughout this entire season. 

In his past nine starts, Johnson has gone 5-2 with an 0.83 ERA and limited opponents to a .183 batting average and  .226 on-base percentage.  Within the 65 innings that have encompassed this span, he has recorded 60 strikeouts and issued 11 walks.  

Jimenez is still considered widely considered the midseason choice to win the NL Cy Young Award.  But his league-leading marks in ERA (1.83)  and quality starts (14) have been matched by Johnson, who leads the NL in WHIP (0.96) and opponents OPS  (.544).  The .199 batting average he has surrendered has been bettered only by Mat Latos (.197). 

In attempt to regain an optimistic tone, I’ll let you know that Medlen ranks fifth in the NL with a 4.15 strikeouts-to-walk-ratio, one spot ahead of Johnson’s 3.96 mark. 

Anibal Sanchez, who has gone 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA in his past nine starts, will take the mound for the Fish on Saturday afternoon to oppose what should be a rather determined Tommy Hanson.  Based on his mood, there hasn’t been any indication that Hanson has been mentally scarred by his past two outings. 

When Ricky Nolasco opposes Tim Hudson in Sunday’s series finale, it will be the first time he has stood on the Turner Field mound since Sept. 30, the night that he recorded 16 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. 

By the time Hudson toes the rubber Sunday night, he will have likely learned that he has gained his third career All-Star selection and first since 2004.  Considering there are a number of deserving candidates, that previous sentence might have been a bit presumptuous. 

But it’s hard to imagine Hudson won’t find a place on this year’s NL pitching staff.  He ranks fifth in ERA  (2.37) and his 13 quality starts are just one off the league-leading mark posted by Jimenez, Johnson and Adam Wainwright.  In addition, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts. 

While converting 16 of 18 save opportunities and posting a 1.15 ERA, Billy Wagner has also made himself a solid candidate for this year’s All-Star roster.  His ERA is better than the marks posted by any other NL closer. 

But when attempting to fill a 13-man pitching staff will there be room for Wagner, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton and Brian Wilson?  Heck I didn’t even mention Francisco Cordero or Matt Capps, who have posted the NL’s top two save totals while compiling higher ERA than any of the aforementioned deserving candidates.

There are also a number of deserving starting pitchers that could bump Hudson out of the equation.  If Michael Bourn isn’t selected to serve as an outfielder, Roy Oswalt might end up being Houston’s representative.  The only other clear possibility would be Astros closer Matt Lindstrom, who could further diminish the odds of Wager gaining a selection. 

Martin Prado, who will likely start at second base in Chase Utley’s absence, and Jason Heyward seem to be the only Braves who should expect to hear their names announced during Sunday afternoon’s selection show (noon on TBS).  I will be surprised if Hudson and Wagner don’t gain selections and there’s still a good chance the players will once again give Brian McCann a selection. 

But some time Sunday afternoon, I think we’ll be looking at Troy Glaus as one of the deserving players who were not selected.  Albert Pujols will start at first base and Reds first baseman Joey Votto will most definitely gain a reserve spot. 

I heard Peter Gammons jokingly say Phillies manager Charlie Manuel won’t go to Anaheim to manage the NL team if it doesn’t include Roy Halladay.  Well the same can be said about Ryan Howard, who along with Adrian Gonzalez will almost definitely gain a selection before Glaus. 

Trade front:  As you know the Braves are looking to add a bat before the July 31 trade deadline.  But right now, I don’t gain the sense that they are actually targeting specific players or even have a preference whether they gain a right-handed or left-handed bat. 

The most popular names linked to them have been David DeJesus, Corey Hart and Jose Bautista. Right now, the sense is that the Royals want too much in return for DeJesus.  But who could blame them.  Last time I checked, I think he was rumored to be on the wish list of 29 Major League clubs and part of the entourage that will be playing with LeBron James next year.

Bautista was simply ridiculous while compiling 12 of his 20 homers in May.  But how much are you going to give up for a career .237 hitter, who has batted .229 this year and just .204 in the 42 games he has played outside of Toronto.  

Just a few months ago, Hart was drawing negative comparisons to Jeff Francoeur.  Like Francoeur, Hart has turned things around this year and in a much more impressive manner.  In the 44 games he has played dating back to May 15, the Brewers outfielder has hit .299 with 15 homers and a .999 OPS. 

In other words, Hart spent the past six weeks living up to the lofty expectations that have surrounded him since he established himself as a 20-20 player in 2007 and ’08.  If he’s available and the price is right, he’s the guy the Braves should target.

It was interesting to see Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley throw B.J. Upton’s name into the mix the other day. During the 2008 postseason, there wasn’t a player that I enjoyed watching more than Upton. 

Though he has struggled in the two years that have followed, the potential is certainly still there for Upton.  My guess is that he won’t be available at this time of the year. But if the Rays grow impatient with his development and attemp
t to cut costs by moving him in the offseason, he should be at the top of Frank Wren’s wish list.     

Another Saturday, another shutout

Two weeks into the Grapefruit League season, the Braves have incurred their only shutout losses during the two Saturday games that they’ve played.  Suddenly, I know how some of those University of Virginia beat writers felt during those many Saturdays that Al Groh spent on their campus.

But seriously how did the Braves expect to score today while Jason Heyward was enjoying a chance to rest under this sunshine that finally arrived in Florida today.  As mentioned earlier, Heyward will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon with the split-squad that is going to Dunedin to play the Blue Jays. 

There really wasn’t a lot to report from today’s 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays.  Tim Hudson allowed three runs (two earned) and seven hits in four innings.  But he came away feeling even more confident that his splitter and changeup are better than they were before he underwent Tommy John surgery and was unable to consistently find the high arm slot that he is currently displaying. 

Billy Wagner worked a perfect fifth inning and Peter Moylan found greater comfort with his changeup in a scoreless sixth that a pair of strikeouts, a walk and one hit.  Eric O’Flaherty verbally allowed the whole stadium know he was upset after issuing one of his two walks in a scoreless seventh inning and Jesse Chavez surrendered two hits before completing a second consecutive scoreless outing. 

It was a rather productive day for the Braves pitchers and quite a quiet one for the offense, which was limited to five singles, two of which came off Melky Cabrera’s bat.

This morning Nate McLouth explained his vision isn’t to blame for his early struggles.  Then while going 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts against the Blue Jays, he prolonged them.  He now has eight strikeouts through his first 19 at-bats this year. 

McLouth began Friday’s game with a bunt single that was erased from the statistics because the game was called after three innings because of rain.  He nearly beat out another bunt single in the first inning of Saturday’s game and then found nothing but more frustration in his next two at-bats.

“I thought he saw the ball much better today,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said on Saturday.  “He aired out the swing much better, instead of trying to read every pitch.”  <p>

I still think it’s far too early to put too much stock in the statistics that have been compiled so far during the Grapefruit League.  But given that he’s the projected leadoff hitter, McLouth’s strikeout totals become more concerning when you view them as a continuation of the trend that started last year.

McLouth struck out 93 times in 597 at-bats with the Pirates in 2008.  His strikeout total rose to 99 while compiling  90 fewer at-bats with the Braves and Pirates last year.

On the bright side:
  After completing his bullpen session without having any trouble with the blister on his right big toe, Derek Lowe said something like, “Everything went great.  I got everybody out. I felt sexy. My hair was parted and I can’t wait until my Michigan Wolverines get another football coach.”

OK, Lowe said all of that minus my inclusion of the Rich Rodriguez reference.  In summation, he appears ready to make his scheduled start on Monday night against the Nationals in Viera.  In case you forgot, he exited Wednesday’s outing against the Mets after one inning because this blister had formed around his right big toe. 

Cox visited the back fields this morning to watch Takashi Saito throw live batting practice and came back happy to report that the Japanese right-hander had shown better command than he had while allowing five earned runs in his first two games of the season. 

“He was in the strike zone down the whole session,” Cox said. “He really looked good.” 

Fantasy Advice:
  Those of you who are preparing for your fantasy draft may want to take a look at Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero, who proved effectively wild while pitching around four walks and limiting the Braves to two hits in four scoreless innings today. 

“That Romero kid is real good,” Cox said. “When he’s right, that slider is a (Steve Carlton) slider.”

Braves team of the decade: If you guys haven’t seen it, check out this story that was written after I sat down with Pete Van Wieren, Mark Lemke and Braves media relations director Brad Hainje to select the first Braves all-decade team of this century.   

   

Wrapping up a busy day from Disney

Today was further proof that things can get a little busy when Hank Aaron arrives in camp. The Hammer expressed his appreciation for Bobby Cox, threw some love in the direction of Tommy Hanson and said that he’s reserving judgment on Jason Heyward until he sees how the 20-year-old outfielder performs at the Major League level. 

Oh yeah, he also said that he was happy with Mark McGwire’s steroid confession, but wished the admission had been made sooner. 

Before going over some of the highlights of Hank’s address, I’ll let you know that the Braves still haven’t provided confirmation that they have signed highly-regarded Dominican shortstop Edward Salcedo.

But it still appears that this deal could be confirmed in the very near future with the completion of a physical. 
 
Braves international director of scouting Johnny Almarez was in camp today and there is reason to believe that his arrival had something to do with Salcedo, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound shortstop who is regarded among the best international prospects. 

Early indications are that the Braves will be providing Salcedo with a signing bonus that is worth slightly north of $1.5 million, but less than $2 million. 

OK now to recap some of the things Aaron had to say about the Braves:

(Thoughts about Cox’s retirement at the end of this season)

“It’s going to be sad when he leaves. He’s not only been great for Atlanta, but also the game of baseball.  The game of baseball is going to miss him.”

(Thoughts about Tommy Hanson)

“This kid has the world in front of him, really. If everything stays on par and he pitches the way I think he can pitch, I think the Braves have a superstar.”

(on Heyward, who he will see for the first time during Tuesday’s first full-squad workout)

“I think he’s going to do well, but I don’t get excited until after I see them perform in the Major Leagues. Then I will try to put an opinion on what I think they can do.” 

(when asked if he could take Billy Wagner deep)

“I think my deep days are over with.   The only thing I can hit is a golf ball –  all over the place.”

Tuesday’s workout: Balls will be flying tomorrow when the position players start taking their first rounds of batting practice on the field. It will be nice to see the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Heyward take his swings. 

But if you’re looking for raw power and you’re coming to camp tomorrow make sure you watch Cody Johnson take his BP cuts. 

It’s too early to determine whether Johnson’s mighty swing will ever provide the consistency needed to make it to the Majors.  But based on what I saw during Brian McCann’s charity softball tournament in November, it’s fun to watch the powerful kid launch balls into orbit.

Also check back in tomorrow morning to get an update on Jair Jurrjens, who is planning to begin his throwing program at some point this week. 

Odds and ends from Day 2 in Braves camp

Before the Braves begin their workouts on this sunny Sunday morning in ESPN land, I figured I’d provide you a couple of light-hearted notes that have been gathered during the early days of this camp that is still awaiting the arrivals of Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Jason Heyward and a handful of other position players, who aren’t required to report until Monday.

When Derek Lowe called the Braves this winter to express interest in changing his number to 24, he was told the number had already been claimed by Nate McLouth, who was forced to change his to appease Billy Wagner’s request to wear number 13. 

“The only reason that I took 24 is because it’s my favorite TV show and Lost isn’t a number,” said McLouth, who wasn’t willing to divulge what kind of compensation was provided by Wagner.

Lowe said he last wore 24 in high school and has since been unable to claim it in the Majors. When he played for the Mariners, some guy named Ken Griffey Jr. was wearing it and he’s unsure of why it was unavailable during his days in Boston.  Then when he signed with the Dodgers, he learned the number had been retired for Walter Alston.

Wagner’s redneck football:  Wagner is big believer in the benefits a pitcher can gain by throwing a football and he’s spent some time the past couple of days gripping the pigskin while sitting at his locker. 

“It strengthens the arm, but also helps your grip,” Wagner said.  “You’ve got to have strong fingers to throw a football correctly.” 

While sitting at his locker this morning, Wagner tossed the football across the room to Takashi Saito and quickly learned that the Japanese hurler certainly hasn’t had much previous experience throwing one. 

After Saito’s ugly unorthodox throwing motion produced a few wobblers acrosss the room, Wagner said, “He’s going to teach me Japanese and I’m going to teach him redneck football.”

Bye-bye Yankees paraphernalia: When hard-throwing left-handed reliever Mike Dunn learned that he had been traded to the Braves that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees, he gained the sense that he’d been provided a better opportunity to reach the Majors.

“I’m excited to come here and play,” Dunn said. “It’s a good chance for me.  I’m not saying anything bad about the Yankees. They took care of me and I love them, but I think I have a better opportunity outside of the Yankees organization.”

As for Dunn’s family members, who pull for a range of teams located in the western portion of the country, they welcomed the opportunity to end their days of pulling for the Yankees. 

“I tell you the family was pretty happy to get rid of the Yankees stuff,” Dunn said. “No matter what team I’m on, they’re going to cheer for them and that’s going to be their new team.   But they were pretty happy to get rid of their Yankees stuff and drop the YES Network immediately.”

Wagner, who grew up within a family and rural Virginia community that includes plenty of Braves fans, also seemed to draw a positive reaction from friends and family members when he opted to sign with Atlanta in December.

“It’s funny because now everybody back home says, ‘now I can truly root for you,’”  Wagner said.

  

 

       

    

Odds and ends as Braves pitchers and catchers report

Had Nate McLouth known how miserable his beloved Michigan Wolverines
were going to make him feel, he might have chosen to wait until the end
of the football season before correcting his vision with contact lenses.

But
now that he’s had about four months to get used to his contacts,
McLouth has arrived in Braves camp happy about the fact that he’s going
to be able to see better than he did towards the end of the 2009
season, when he started having trouble with his vision, particularly
during night games.   

“During the day, it was OK,” McLouth
said.  “But at night, when there’s  a lot of lights, things kind of
blurred together.  Now with the contacts, it has been great.” 

As
Braves pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Friday morning,
McLouth and Matt Diaz highlighted the group of position players who had
reported to camp early. 

Japanese hurlers Kenshin Kawakami and
Takashi Saito arrived at the newly named ESPN Wide World of Sports
comlex early Friday morning and immediately exchanged pleasantries with
the likes of Tim Hudson and Peter Moylan, a pair of fun-loving hurlers
who know how to create some laughs around the clubhouse. 

Early
indications are that they’ll be having some fun with their new closer
Billy Wagner, who came to camp this morning wearing a flannel shirt,
jeans, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

Craig Kimbrel, the
hard-throwingreliever who has been called the right-handed Billy
Wagner, shied away from his first opportunity to meet the veteran
closer. He’ll likely have the same kind of timid reaction when he first
sees Chipper Jones, whose number he wore while growing up as a third
baseman in Alabama.  

“Right now I’m just trying to get past
seeing guys that I’ve watched when I was younger,” Kimbrel said.  “I’m
trying not to let that get to me.  I’m trying to focus on getting the
job done and remembering that it’s just a game.”

While Kimbrel
adjusts to this new Major League lifestyle, Wagner has already taken
advantage of the opportunity to get used to his new catcher Brian
McCann. 

After they completed a short throwing session
together, Wagner took McCann to the plate and started talking to him
about how he likes to throw to certain hitters, based on where they are
standing in the batter’s box. 

The always-jovial Wagner also
took time to provide some laughs when talking to reporters.  When asked
if he bought into thoughts of doing whatever it took to make sure Bobby
Cox’s final season is a special one, the veteran reliever provided the
reminder that he’s the one who has never had the opportunity to play in
the Fall Classic.

“Heck I haven’t been to the World Series
ever,” Wagner said with his southern drawl. “How about going out there
and putting out a little effort for me.  (Peter Moylan) can go out
there and go like an inning and two-thirds and give me a
third-of-an-inning save every once in a while.   I mean Chipper and all
these guys, Bobby, they’ve gone to the World Series a couple of times. 
I’ve never been.  How about one for Wags?” 

Wagner, who
remains confident that his arm is strong, is looking forward to the
opportunity to spend some more time with Saito, who was with him in
Boston’s bullpen for the final weeks of the 2009 season. 

When
asked how they had developed such a bond, Wagner once again stirred
some laughs while pointing out that Saito had a firm grasp of the
English language. 

“He speaks English,” Wagner said.  “Like I
told him, it’s like everybody else. When you’ve got a second language,
you only can’t speak English when you’ve had a tough game…It’s
something where sometimes wish I had a second language.”     

Another
former Red Sox pitcher, Derek Lowe chose not to come to the stadium on
Friday. But pitchers and catchers were only required to report at some
point during the day that they have arrived. 

The Braves expect Lowe in camp on Saturday, when pitchers and catchers stage their first workout. 

Check
MLB.com and braves.com later today for stories that include more
information about Wagner, McLouth and some of the other figures who
have reported to camp.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 

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.  

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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