Posts Tagged ‘Rafael Soriano

05
Apr
10

Atlanta Braves: 2010 Season Preview

It’s that time of year again… Major League Baseball Opening Day.

Today, hope springs eternal for all baseball enthusiasts as every team starts with a fresh slate as the 162-game marathon officially gets underway.

For Braves fans, this is the first year since the team’s past four October-less seasons, where there is a true sense of optimism surrounding Atlanta’s chances of returning to the postseason.

Last year, the Braves made an improbable late run at the National League Wild Card and stayed in contention for the spot until the final few games.

The remarkable turn of events had fans and the media buzzing about the “return” of the Atlanta Braves.

After an offseason in which the club decided to re-sign Tim Hudson and trade Javier Vazquez, add Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to the back end of the bullpen, sign Troy Glaus to serve as the team’s new first baseman while penciling in No. 1 prospect Jason Heyward in right field, the pre-season hype about the Braves seems legitimate.

Many preseason national pundits have predicted the Braves to indeed make the playoffs in 2010, offering a sense of excitement around the team’s loyalists.

It is no secret that this team has something to play for.

Iconic manager Bobby Cox is in his final year at the helm, and his players desperately want to send their skipper out on a high note.

However, the “win one for Bobby” mantra will only get this group so far.

And, they know it.

While, the players have added incentive and extra motivation to win which may serve them well in the dog days of summer, the talent also appears to be in place for Atlanta to once again taste October glory.

Chipper Jones believes this Braves club could win 90 games, if they stay healthy.

And, it is easy to see why.

Despite the loss of Javier Vazquez, Atlanta’s returning starting rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami still figures to be one of baseball’s best.

Lowe looks to rebound from one of his most disappointing seasons in 2009.

Yet, despite an uncharacteristically high 4.67 ERA, D-Lowe still won 15 games for the Braves last year, which tied him with Vazquez for the team lead in wins.

Jurrjens has established himself as one of baseball’s best young hurlers, finishing last season with a 2.60 ERA, third-best among National League starters.

Hanson made his highly anticipated rookie debut in June and went on to win 11 games last year, which was good enough for a third-place finish in the 2009 Rookie of the Year balloting.

Atlanta’s top pitching prospect is more seasoned and mature heading into Opening Day, and the Braves rotation stands to benefit greatly from getting a full year out of Hanson in 2010.

Japanese standout Kawakami won 7 games in his rookie season in the U.S. for Atlanta last year, but proved he could go up against any elite starter, besting some of baseball’s top aces last season, including countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Kawakami figures to improve upon those numbers this season, as he has now grown increasingly comfortable with the pitching style in the states and has made the necessary adjustments this spring.

The Braves also boast an improved bullpen this season.

Atlanta added one of the game’s best closers in Billy Wagner to replace last season’s dual closers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Takashi Saito was also brought in as a set-up man to Wagner, but his wealth of prior closing experience gives the Braves great depth late in games this season.

Atlanta’s offense, which undoubtedly derailed the team’s postseason aspirations last year, seems to have at least been marginally improved.

The Braves’ additions of Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hinske this off-season along with the emergence of Jason Heyward gives Atlanta a more well-rounded and deep batting corps than last year’s group.

The team still lacks a prototypical “big bopper” on paper, but with Glaus serving as the team’s clean-up hitter, protecting both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, the pieces are in place for a solid middle of the order unit.

That is, of course, if all prove to stay healthy.

The key to Atlanta’s success will be if Glaus, Jones and McCann, who are all overcoming past health concerns, can stay on the field and out of the trainer’s room.

Jones, a future Hall of Famer, is expected to rebound from his career-worst season at the plate in 2009.

McCann, who was slowed early last season by vision problems, should benefit from his second Lasik eye procedure this winter.

The wild card for the success of the Braves offense is whether Jason Heyward can make an immediate and profound impact at the Major League level.

There is no doubt J-Hey is the real deal.

The question is: Can he can serve as a consistent force in the Braves lineup and help power what last season was an often punchless offense?

With the additions of the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera and super utility man Eric Hinske, the Braves are afforded a great deal of versatility this season.

Cabrera will likely serve as the team’s leadoff hitter when he plays and can man left or center field, depending on the pitching matchup and Cox’s preference of playing Matt Diaz or Nate McLouth at the other spot.

I believe Chipper said it best, in terms of assessing the team’s lineup in 2010.

This offense is not “sexy,” but it is balanced top to bottom.

There are no easy outs, and if a player does go down, there are veterans with experience and depth who can step right in and contribute immediately and effectively.

Moreover, the Braves are a more confident and a much more cohesive unit then they’ve been in years.

The club has always enjoyed a great deal of chemistry over the years, especially during their run of 14 consecutive division titles, but never before have the personalities meshed quite like this year’s troops.

Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson credit the closeness and camaraderie among this bunch as a significant intangible that can’t be overlooked.

They’re right.

How often do you see a team stacked with superstars top to bottom but the egos couldn’t play together and the success on paper never quite translated to the field?

To build a winning roster, you need a group that is talented, versatile and that can compliment each other well.

That’s the makings of a true “team.”

The Braves are far from the most talented group assembled on paper in the Majors, and they aren’t even the cream of the crop in their own division.

However, funny things happen over the course of a marathon season.

Legends are made, heroes emerges and storylines develop.

I can’t help but think that Jason Heyward could be that legend and that any number of heroes could stand up to help cement the greatest storyline of the year sending Bobby Cox out as a winner.

Oh, the beauty of Opening Day…where no dream is too big.

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10
Dec
09

Braves deal Soriano to Tampa Bay for Chavez

New Braves reliever Jesse Chavez

While it wasn’t the return the Braves had hoped for in exchange for parting ways with their hard-throwing set-up man/closer Rafael Soriano, GM Frank Wren struck a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays late Wednesday night.

Atlanta will receive right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez in return for Soriano.

Chavez was 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA in a team-high 73 appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Pittsburgh traded Chavez to Tampa Bay this November.

By offering Soriano arbitration, the Braves had hoped to receive a first-round draft pick as compensation for the right-hander.

However, Soriano’s decision to accept a non-guaranteed, one-year deal over testing the free agent waters in search of a more stable, long-term contract showed clubs were obviously reluctant to part with a high draft pick for Soriano’s services.

The Braves had already filled their set-up man and closer roles earlier this offseason with the signings of Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner.

Keeping Soriano was never an option for Atlanta as his projected $7 million salary next season would not have fit into the Braves’ budget plans.

A team with a sub-$100 million payroll can not afford to tie up approximately $20 million to its bullpen.

As a result, the Braves had little to no leverage in trade talks involving Soriano, and had made it known that they would be willing to accept a lesser return for monetary relief.

In the end, Atlanta accomplished its goal as reports have them not responsible for any of Soriano’s contract. This deal was strictly a player for player acquisition.

The completion of the Braves and Rays trade can now end initial speculation that the club would have had to pay a portion of Soriano’s salary to move him.

The trade will become official after both players pass physicals and the Rays are able to work out a contract with Soriano. That announcement could come as early as this afternoon.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Rays and Soriano are nearing the completion of a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $7 million.

Atlanta would have received nothing for Soriano if they hadn’t offered him arbitration so they have no regrets that they did.

Braves beat writer Mark Bowman reports that Chavez, 26, provides a decent return for the club and says some scouts are high on his abilities, believing the hard-throwing righty could be a serviceable addition to Atlanta’s bullpen.

His fastball has been clocked as high as 98 MPH and he also throws a slider and a change-up.

In contrast last season, lefties hit .227 against him with righties tagging him for a .320 average.

Chavez’s change is his go-to pitch against left-handers and it could be assumed that manager Bobby Cox will use him as a specialist–in those situations–next season.

09
Dec
09

More Winter Meetings chatter… The Braves try to wheel and deal

Free agent OF Xavier Nady

It didn’t take long for the Braves to receive permission from Rafael Soriano’s agent that his client would approve a trade.

Shortly after accepting the club’s offer of salary arbitration, Peter Greenberg informed the Braves that Soriano preferred to remain a late-innings reliever in 2010.

When told that those roles had already been filled by Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, Greenberg gave Wren a list of teams that Soriano had discussed signing with before deciding to accept the Braves’ arbitration offer.

The Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles were believed to have shown interest in Soriano with the Angels emerging as a new suitor for the right-hander this morning, according to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal’s twitter.

Atlanta has received a plethora of calls regarding Soriano and were believed to have met with at least five clubs on Tuesday about him.

Wren expects the Braves to move him soon — possibly before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday, or within the next week to ten days.

Besides fielding calls regarding Soriano, Wren also spent a great deal of Tuesday discussing possible destinations for RHP Derek Lowe.

While the team still feels confident they can move Lowe over Javier Vazquez, as they desire, they now have reason to believe that the outfielder and/or first baseman they are seeking will not come through the trade market.

More than likely, the trades of Soriano and/or Lowe will net the Braves a group of prospects.

Atlanta has been reportedly searching for more depth at shortstop as they believe their farm system lacks insurance possibilities at that position, in the event that Yunel Escobar goes down with an injury.

The level of prospects or return the Braves receive for Lowe will depend heavily on how much of his salary the club is willing to eat.

As for Wren’s continued search for offensive help, the Braves GM feels that his outfielder/first baseman is likely to come from the current pool of free agents.

The Braves and Xavier Nady have expressed mutual interest in bringing the free agent outfielder to Atlanta.

Wren had interest in acquiring the 31-year-old Nady in 2009 before he was traded to the Yankees. Nady’s health is also an issue as he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The club will further evaluate his offseason progress to alleviate any lingering injury concerns they may have before signing him to a contract.

During the ’07 and ’08 seasons combined, Nady hit .293 with 45 home runs and posted an .840 OPS.

The Braves also announced Tuesday their decision to designate OF Ryan Church for assignment to make room for Soriano on their 40-man roster.

The club had received minimal trade interest in Church over the past week, but if not traded, Atlanta had planned to non-tender him by Saturday’s deadline.

Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration forced the Braves to make this move sooner than anticipated.

Church, who was acquired by the Braves in a July 10 trade involving beleaguered RF Jeff Francoeur, hit .260 with two HR and 18 RBIs in 44 games during his tenure with the club in 2009.

By designating him for assignment, the team now has 10 days to trade or release the oft injured Church.

The Braves also discussed adding utility player Ross Gload to their bench yesterday before Gload and the Phillies agreed to a two-year contract.

Scouting reports on Gload praised his strong defensive skills, which propelled the Braves’ interest, but his lack of power was worrisome to a team who is looking to add more pop to its lineup.

As the Braves look towards today, the last full day of meetings, they will continue to search for potential destinations for Soriano and/or Lowe.

The club’s beat writer Mark Bowman reported on his blog that Wren mentioned at least one team had interest in dealing for both pitchers.

Bowman believes the division rival Phillies or Mets could be the mystery team, but the chances of Wren dealing his impact players to his chief competition are slim to none.

The team’s thinking on Nady, if signed, is that he will serve mainly as Atlanta’s first baseman with the versatility to spot start in the outfield, if needed.

Martin Prado, the club’s projected opening day second baseman, could see time at first base when Nady is manning the outfield.

While super utility player Omar Infante could play almost any infield position, the team may look to add another middle infielder later in the offseason to increase depth in that area.

Bowman also speculates that with the Yankees closing in on a deal for OF Curtis Granderson, that they could make Nick Swisher available.

The Braves had interest in Swisher last season and the hard nosed outfielder would surely bring a great level of intensity and much needed spark to Atlanta’s offense.

Swisher, who could also play the outfield or first base, would provide the Braves with the same level of flexibility as Nady.

Former Brave Mark DeRosa could be a potential fall back option for Atlanta, but only if his price tag drops considerably.

Wren will continue to explore these options and more as he further assesses his club’s needs going forward.

08
Dec
09

Soriano stuns Braves, accepts arbitration offer

Rafael Soriano

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.

03
Dec
09

Busy Braves add veteran Saito to rebuilt bullpen

Takashi Saito during his Dodger days

Frank Wren sure moves quick.

Just one day after signing Billy Wagner to be the team’s closer, the Braves announced they’ve come to terms with free agent reliever Takashi Saito to further strength their bullpen.

Saito agreed to a one-year, $3.2 million contract to serve as Atlanta’s primary set-up man and back-up closer.

Last season with the Boston Red Sox, the 39-year-old veteran posted a 2.43 ERA in 56 games.

Prior to his stint with Boston, Saito had a 1.95 ERA with 81 saves and 245 strikeouts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Saito, who will turn 40 in February, did have a career-low 52 strikeouts last season but should still prove to be a valuable addition to the back end of the Braves’ new-look bullpen.

Wren confirmed that Saito will mainly pitch the 8th inning for Atlanta next season but with his experience as a closer will provide insurance and relief for Billy Wagner.

The combination of Saito and Wagner brings the same depth to the new Braves bullpen that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano afforded the team last year.

The rebuilt bullpen stands to be equally as good as last season’s if not stronger with Saito and Wagner’s proven ability to shorten the game while also providing veteran experience and leadership to the staff’s younger members.

It is believed Saito chose Atlanta over seven other potential suitors.

He joins starter Kenshin Kawakami as the team’s second Japanese acquisition in consecutive offseasons.

02
Dec
09

Closing in on Billy Wagner…..

Billy Wagner pitching with Boston last season

The Atlanta Braves sure didn’t waste any time in their hot pursuit of a new closer.

Just hours after Atlanta offered arbitration to free agents Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez reports surfaced that the Braves have reached a preliminary agreement with Billy Wagner on a one-year, $7 million dollar contract with a $6.5 million vesting option for the 2011 season.

Wagner, who ranks sixth in major league history with 385 saves, missed most of the 2009 season recovering from ligament-transplant replacement surgery.

The Braves interest in the 38-year-old reliever stems from his successful comeback late last season with the Mets and Red Sox.

In his 17 appearances in the season’s final two months, Wagner posted an impressive 1.72 ERA, held opponents to a .174 batting average and notched 26 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings.

The deal is expected to be finalized and announced after the flame throwing lefty passes a physical that is scheduled for today in Atlanta.

Sources believe that Wagner, a Virginia native, could have commanded more money on the free agent market but chose to take less to come to Atlanta for its close location to his home, its position to compete for a playoff spot next season, and for the opportunity to play for a manager he’s always admired in Bobby Cox.

The two sides were believed to have ironed out most of the details on the contract this weekend and were just waiting for confirmation of Boston’s offer of arbitration before moving forward in the process.

Wagner, along with the Braves’ Soriano and Gonzalez, were considered to be the elite relievers on the free agent market.

The duo of Soriano and Gonzalez split closing duties for Atlanta last season and combined for 37 saves and 192 strikeouts in 150 innings.

The Braves’ decision to offer arbitration was a precautionary measure as both Soriano and Gonzalez, who are classified as Type A free agents, had seemingly priced themselves out of Atlanta.

They are expected to command multi-year, high priced contracts from others teams with all indications pointing to both hurlers declining arbitration with the Braves receiving first-round draft picks as compensation.

With the signing of Wagner, another Type A free agent, Atlanta will have to give up a first-round pick to the Red Sox but should get that pick back and some after Soriano and Gonzalez exit as expected.

If Soriano and/or Gonzalez surprise and accept arbitration from the club, the team’s relief corps would stand to be one of baseball’s best, albeit most expensive bullpens.

Soriano could net up to $8 million if he returns on a one-year contract with Gonzo expected to make at least $5 million next season under arbitration.

A more likely scenario has Atlanta searching for a replacement setup man on the free agent market.

Former Brave and another Type A free agent Octavio Dotel along with Type B free agent Fernando Rodney are potential candidates for the club to pursue after finalizing the deal with their new closer.

Billy Wagner comes to Atlanta with an impressive resume.

He has a career 2.39 ERA, 1,092 strikeouts in 833 2/3 innings, and more saves than any other active closer except for Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.

The veteran hurler who is just 39 saves shy of tying John Franco for the record of most saves by a left-handed closer now has the chance to accomplish that feat while also aiding in the Braves’ effort to return to the postseason in 2010.

11
Aug
09

Watch out NL East… these Braves are for real!

Watch out NL East … the Atlanta Braves aren’t going anywhere.

What a difference a week makes.

The Braves knew they had to make a statement and perform big against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend, who came into their four-game set against Atlanta with baseball’s best record, to keep their playoff hopes alive.

And, they did.

If it wasn’t for the walk-off home run ball Rafael Soriano served up to Andre Either and the consequential blown save in Thursday night’s opener, Atlanta would have swept the mighty Dodgers.

Still, winning three out of four against the best in the business is not too shabby

The Braves series win against Los Angeles coupled with the Florida Marlins sweep of Philadelphia has lifted the Braves to within only 4 1/2 games of the division lead.

After Monday’s off day, Atlanta also finds themselves just four games behind the NL Wild Card-leading Colorado Rockies.

More impressively to note, the Braves won the last three against LA without Chipper Jones in the line-up.

Jones is nursing a strained left oblique, but is likely to return to the line-up tonight when the Braves open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals.

While the Braves are riding high — they have the league’s best record (24-14) since June 28th — surprisingly, the Nationals are the NL’s hottest team.

After dropping 15 of 18 through July 20, Washington has since gone on a tear, winning 14 of 20 games.

The Nationals have owned the Braves this season, winning five of nine head-to-head against them this season.

It is critical for the Braves to continue to build off the momentum from their successful trip to Southern California.

They cannot afford to overlook the Nats this week, as the National League East-leading Phillies are next up for Atlanta this weekend.

In contrast to their struggles against Washington, Atlanta has won seven of nine against Philadelphia this season. They have to hope that trend continues if they want to make a legitimate run for the division crown.

The Braves’ pitching has been solid all season long, keeping them in the hunt when a mediocre or lesser staff would have had them dead and buried by now.

Atlanta’s starters, who often fell victim to an inconsistent and anemic offense, are finally being rewarded for their efforts, thanks to the offensive turnaround the team has enjoyed as of late.

The prognosis for the Braves looks good, as the past few weeks have gradually shown that Atlanta’s offensive turnaround is not an aberration.

Even Kelly Johnson, who has struggled mightily all season long and was even demoted to the minor leagues, has contributed as of late.

Johnson came up with timely heroics against the Dodgers in not one but two of the crucial games in the series.

In Friday’s game, Johnson helped aid a three-run Braves deficit, smashing a two-run home run to assist in the comeback.

Then, fast forward to Saturday night’s contest, where Johnson came into a scoreless game in the 8th inning and ended up being the difference maker, hitting a two-run, 10th inning blast, leading Atlanta to a 2-1 victory.

Johnson’s always been known to be a streaky hitter, often frustrating the Braves brass and fans, who have seen glimpses of the great potential their young second baseman possesses.

When K.J. is swinging the bat well, he’s often unstoppable. Johnson went on a tear in the last 24 games of the 2008 season, hitting a whopping .404.

But, when he’s cold, he can’t buy himself a hit, as witnessed when he hit an abysmal .191 before his demotion early this season.

As evidenced, if Johnson’s back, the Braves offense is in for quite the boost.

But, as last week proved, it can take only a few games for a team to rise or fall.

And, with the dog days of summer rapidly approaching, the Braves realize that this week could indeed make or break their season.

Although, the same thing applied last weekend against the Dodgers and the Braves silenced their critics and embraced the challenge.

This next test proves to be harder, and only the strong survive.

Next week at this time, we should all have a clearer picture about the character and make-up of this Braves team and if they indeed have what it takes to play in October.

But, from the looks of it, these Braves are for real.




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