Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Billy Wagner in Atlanta: A Perfect Fit?

With Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez's departures nearly a given in Atlanta, the Braves have to look towards the Free Agent market for their closer.

(Well, they don't have to, but who is going to trade away a legitimate closer this offseason?)

Names that jump out include Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and Jose Valverde.

But combinations of ability and contractual issues make these guys relatively poor fits.

One name that has been established through various media outlets for the Braves, though, is Billy Wagner.

The 38-year-old lefty has drawn interest from various teams and, according to MLB Trade Rumors, is prepared to begin fielding offers next week.

The Hot Stove's beginning to heat up, no?

The one hitch that comes along with Wagner is that he is coming back from Tommy John Surgery.

But with a success rate in the 90's for TJS and a solid 17-game exposition (1.72 ERA, 26:8 K:BB, in 15.2 innings) at the end of the '09 season, the qualms many should have should be quieted a bit.

That's not to say that he should be given a $15 MM annual salary, it just means that the operation shouldn't stop anyone from making him an offer.

Anyway, here's a few reasons as to why Wagner makes sense for the Braves:

1. Despite his type-A (if the Red Sox choose to offer him arbitration), the Braves need not worry.

They'll be getting four picks from whomever signs Gonzo and Soriano, so that is not an issue.

2. According to David O'Brien, Wagner is a "FOC (Friend of Chipper) and has made it known that he'd like to pitch for Bobby Cox."

Does that necessarily mean that he'll take a discount?

No, but it does mean that the Braves have a little leverage over some other clubs.

3. He's only (39) saves away from John Franco for the all-time lead for most saves as a left-handed pitcher.

I'm not naming that for the novelty of having Wagner set a record in a Braves' uni.

I'm saying that that means that he'll want the ball.

Then again, Bob Wickman also wanted the ball...just only in save situations (but Wagner didn't record a save in his late-season return with K-Rod and Papelbon ahead of him and didn't complain, so...).

Are there better options on the market?

Yeah, and two of them will be departing Atlanta (most likely) in the coming weeks.

But there is no other option out there that makes as much sense for the Braves.

The team saw Peter Moylan succeed in '09 after his surgery, and I would expect Wagner to do the same.

The dude is still nasty, as evidenced by his K:BB above, and has always been "mean" enough to take the ball in the ninth.

Other clubs (Cubs, Tigers, other clubs with closer-holes since he doesn't want to be a set-up-only guy) may come knocking with more cash, but the Braves come knocking with Chipper, Bobby Cox's last go-'round, and a Championship-caliber rotation (and an offense that's primed to be the same once a move or two is made).

If I'm Frank Wren, I say "Hey Bean [Stringfellow, Wagner's agent and holder of the "best name for an agent in baseball" award], how does Billy feel about a two-year contract at $15 million guaranteed to play here in Atlanta?

"We'll even throw in a third-year mutual option and performance-based incentives each year along the way that could bring each up to...say...about $9 MM?


(Okay, maybe the negotiations would go a little deeper than that...but you get my point)

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