December 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Updated 12/02/2009. See table and bottom.
Transaction Analysis Blog: Atlanta Braves
Signed Billy Wagner to a 1-year, $7 million contract with a vesting option worth $6.5 million for 2011.
Attempting to off-set the practically imminent departure of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez has clearly been one of Frank Wren’s priorities from the onset of the off-season. However, I didn’t expect him to bring in the greatest left-handed reliever of all time before the Winter Meetings. As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports (confirmed by David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), the Braves have agreed with Billy Wagner on a 1-year, $7 million contract with a $6.5 million vesting option for 2011. Wagner is flying to Atlanta as I write to take his physical, the final step before an official announcement is made. Of course, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors notes: “The move is pending a physical, which could be more than a formality in this case.” Wagner had a rehab-themed season last year, logging only 15 and 2/3 innings, as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, so the risk of a physical ailment presenting issues at his physical is perhaps greater than said risk involving a fully healthy free agent.
First impression, $7 million is a lot of money to spend on a reliever, and it also comes with the price of the Braves #20 overall selection in the 2010 draft attached. Additionally Billy Wagner will be 38 years old next season and is a mere 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Then again, we’re not talking about a normal reliever, we’re talking about Billy Wagner, one of the greatest relievers of all time. In his career, Wagner has pitched in 782 games (0 starts) and logged 833 and 2/3 innings with a 2.39 ERA, a 1.009 WHIP, and a 1092-to-278 strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 3.93 K/BB).
Billy Wagner was one of 5 Type A classified relievers to receive an arbitration offer, along with Jose Valverde, Rafael Betancourt, and our own Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. The other 4 are most probably going to get multi-year deals worth more than $13.5 million. The Braves pitted Wagner’s draft-pick demands, age, and injury history against the upside and wound up with what could be a very good value, should he return to form and stay healthy. If Wagner weren’t a Type A compensated free agent, he’d probably be looking at getting a deal closer to the one Kerry Wood got last off-season (2 years, $20.5 million, plus a $11 million vesting/club option for 2011). The Braves, seeing as they have two of their own Type A’s departing, were willing to sacrifice the draft pick in order to sign a closer to a more team-friendly contract, paying a reduced market rate rather than full market rate.
As much as I hate to lose such a high draft pick and spend so much money on a reliever, it’s impossible to ignore the upside here. Having a shut-down left-hander at the back end of your bullpen is a very desirable proposition, and no player better fits that description better than Billy Wagner.
Wagner will likely handle the closing duties, and will join a bullpen that already includes Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, and Eric O’Flaherty. I imagine we’ll see at least 4-5 months of Scott Proctor, as well. Craig Kimbrel, Boone Logan, and Manny Acosta could also be options for the 2010 bullpen, though I have a feeling Frank Wren isn’t finished acquiring relievers. Adding another set-up man could make the bullpen one of the best in the league. As it stands right now, this is what the Braves active roster is shaping up to look like (Updated: 12/02/2009):
|SP -||Javier Vazquez||$11,500,000|
|SP -||Tim Hudson||$9,000,000|
|SP -||Jair Jurrjens||$400,000|
|SP -||Tommy Hanson||$400,000|
|SP -||Derek Lowe||$15,000,000|
|SP -||Kenshin Kawakami||$6,666,666|
|RP -||Billy Wagner||$7,000,000|
|RP -||Peter Moylan||$1,500,000|
|RP -||Eric O’Flaherty||$400,000|
|RP -||Kris Medlen||$400,000|
|RP -||Scott Proctor||$750,000|
|C -||Brian McCann||$5,666,666|
|2B -||Martin Prado||$400,000|
|SS -||Yunel Escobar||$400,000|
|3B -||Chipper Jones||$14,000,000|
|LF -||Matt Diaz||$3,000,000|
|CF -||Nate McLouth||$4,500,000|
|BC -||David Ross||$1,600,000|
|UT -||Omar Infante||$1,850,000|
Adding 2 relievers, 3 bench spots, a 1B, a pair of relievers, and deciding what to do with both the starting pitching surplus and Schafer and Heyward are what Frank Wren has left to accomplish this off-season, along with any extensions and other normal off-season business, and Frank Wren has $12 million to accomplish this, plus whatever money he saves by parting with a starter. He’s in a pretty good position.
Overall, I don’t hate this move as much as I normally hate signing FA relievers, but I do realize that, even with all the implicit discounts the Braves received, $7 million is a lot of money for a reliever. Pit the health and aging risks and draft pick lost against the upside and the financial discount (though it’s still a fairly high price. Instead of buying a new Bentley, the Braves bought a refurbished one, that comes with some risk of break-down, but doesn’t cost as much as a new Bentley. Still, it costs a great deal more than a Nissan Maxima, which probably gets the job done well enough), and I think it’s a fairly decent signing. JC Bradbury of Sabernomics has Wagner valued at $8 million/season on an average team, so there’s at least a chance the Braves get full return on their investment, which is all you can really hope for when you’re dealing with free agent relievers.
From a purely baseball standpoint, this is a great move. If Billy Wagner is healthy and experiences no aging effects, the Braves have one hell of a reliever on their squad.
I don’t think this move will prevent Frank Wren from accomplishing anything else he needs to this off-season. I’d like it a lot less if this weren’t the case. I’ve always said that bullpen comes last, but when you have an opportunity to get a guy as talented as Wagner at a financial discount, you’re probably best served to go ahead and do it.
Wagner has been linked to the Braves for awhile now and it’s always made a great deal of sense. He’s a southerner and has always wanted to play for Bobby Cox, the Braves are parting ways with two dominant relievers and need to fill the void.
Perhaps Frank Wren could’ve built a better bullpen and spent less money by signing a few buy-low types, but it sure is nice to have the closer taken care of. And even though spending $7 million on a closer isn’t exactly the smartest thing a mid-market team could do, it’s at least nice to know that the Braves won’t be doing something incredibly stupid like signing Jose Valverde to a 3 year, $30 million contract.
Update: Mark Bowman tweets that Billy Wagner passed his physical and the Braves have scheduled a press conference. All but official now.