The Braves thought free agent reliever Rafael Soriano’s agent Peter Greenberg was bluffing over the weekend when he claimed his client was seriously considering accepting Atlanta’s arbitration offer by Monday’s midnight deadline.
Turns out he wasn’t.
Soriano chose to take arbitration and return to the Braves on a one-year deal that could net him between $7 and $8 million in 2010.
The decision to accept a one-year, non-guaranteed arbitration offer over exploring free agent offers that could have landed Soriano a multi-year deal came as quite the surprise to Atlanta.
The Braves were almost certain that Soriano, along with Mike Gonzalez, two of the highest ranked free agent relievers, would decline the team’s arbitration offers, and as a result the Braves would receive two compensatory draft picks for each when they departed.
Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, declined as expected but Soriano’s decision to take the Braves’ offer shows he wasn’t garnering the type of attention on the free agent market that he had hoped for.
His agent spoke with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros before announcing Soriano’s decision late Monday night, but didn’t receive indication that his client would be better off declining arbitration and continuing talks with these clubs about a suitable multi-year offer.
The Braves, who with the off-season additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, had already replaced Soriano at the back end of their bullpen and seemingly do not have the money in their budget to afford to keep him as a high priced middle reliever next season.
Even though retaining Soriano would give the Braves arguably one of the deepest bullpen’s in all of baseball, the club will now look to deal the right-hander, once they receive permission from him to do so.
Atlanta believes Soriano will give them the go-ahead to trade him by the June 15 deadline once he receives word of his diminished role with the club if he were to remain with the Braves in 2010.
GM Frank Wren hadn’t anticipated having to deal with this headache, but has said that Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration will not deter the Braves from following through with the rest of their offseason plans.
Wren will continue to be aggressive in his pursuit of a right-handed bat and believes having a new bargaining chip in Soriano only enhances the team’s options and ability to make trades this winter.
While Soriano’s surprising decision to return to the Braves was the biggest news for the club from the first day of the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Indianapolis, other developments have the team actively shopping 2B Kelly Johnson and RHP Derek Lowe.
The Braves have reported heavy interest in Kelly Johnson from multiple other clubs and also now have reason to believe they will be able to move Lowe and the majority of his high-priced contract this winter.
Atlanta has let it be known they may be willing to eat a portion of Lowe’s salary, which has made him more attractive to potential suitors, but have been led to believe that once John Lackey signs, interest in Lowe will only heat up.
The club looks to continue talks about both of those players, as well as continuing its search for a power bat, as the meetings continue this week.