5 questions about the Braves, a couple involving Soriano

Maybe it's just me, but I think they're going to miss this guy. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

Maybe it's just me, but I think they're going to miss this guy. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

1. Why pay the same money to an older reliever who hasn’t had a save since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008? Billy Wagner is 38 and will make $7 million next season. Rafael Soriano will turn 30 this week and, after agreeing to re-up for a a year after being dealt to Tampa Bay, will earn $7 million in 2009. Soriano had 27 saves last season; Wagner had none. I don’t get this one at all.

2. Why offer arbitration to Soriano, whom they had no intention of keeping, and not offer it to Adam LaRoche, whom they need? I know there are issues of draft-pick compensation and, as ever, money — the Braves don’t want to pay LaRoche what his market value stands to be — but I don’t get this, either. The Braves want LaRoche to stick around for less money and bridge the gap to Freddie Freeman, whom they hope will be ready in 2011. But what if Ol’ Rochy gets a better (read: longer)  deal someplace else? Who’s the first baseman then — Martin Prado? And who plays second base if Prado scoots over? (Not Kelly Johnson. He just got non-tendered.)

3. Why the utter desperation to trade Derek Lowe? No, he didn’t have the greatest of seasons, but he did win 15 games. Does one lesser season invalidate everything the Braves believed about Lowe 11 months ago? I understand the Braves need a big bat in the worst way, but is Lowe the only trade lever the Braves have? And doesn’t the appearance of being keen to unload a big-salaried guy serve to diminish the big-salaried guy’s value even more?

4. Doesn’t dumping Ryan Church prove Frank Wren messed up the Jeff Francoeur trade? That transaction wasn’t so much a swap as a divestiture. The Braves needed to cut the cord with Francoeur, who’d become an outsize presence — he didn’t produce much but was the most-discussed man on the roster. Imagine if Matt Diaz had replaced Francoeur as the starter in right field: That would have been the hot-button topic for weeks. When Diaz supplanted Church in right field, nobody said two words. The Braves didn’t really need a player in return; they just needed Francoeur to go somewhere else.

5. Does Wren have the worst instincts in the history of humankind? You know how it’s said that, when in doubt on a multiple-choice test, your first guess is apt to be correct? The Braves’ general manager gives lie to that. Last offseason he tried like crazy to land Jake Peavy, who won only nine games and worked 101 2/3 innings in 2009; tried to sign Rafael Furcal, who hit .269, and tried to sign Ken Griffey Jr., who hit .214. Well, the Braves were better off with Javier Vazquez, Yunel Escobar and Garret Anderson than any of the above. A year from now, we might well be saying, “You know, they should’ve just kept the closer they had.”

238 comments Add your comment

Keith

December 14th, 2009
5:12 am

I don’t care if I’m first or not.

Don’t know if Wagner is the answer, but I was definitely ready for both Soriano and Gonzalez to go.
Adam LaRoche showed that he had improved greatly from his 1st stint with the Braves and should be top priority in resigning.
Frank Wren does make me wonder about his decision making ability.

Ostrich Racer

December 14th, 2009
5:16 am

I agree on Wagner — no reason to believe he’s going to be worth the commitment. And we need LaRoche back. I’m betting we keep Lowe, and he’s the closer by the All-Star Break.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 14th, 2009
5:16 am

Mark, come on, Worst instints? He basically rebuilt the rotation in one year, refused to kiss Tommy / John’s can and got something for frenchy.

Lowe tailed off significantly for what ever reason, combined with a weak free agent market-need specific makes a trade of some sort the Braves route to take.

Soriano? A real nut case.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 14th, 2009
5:20 am

If these moves concern you Mark, wait till he replaces the Legend next off season.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 14th, 2009
5:25 am

BTW, welcome back.

fieldofdreams

December 14th, 2009
5:34 am

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord . And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord Isaiah 11:13 Merry Christmas!

HomeofdaBrave

December 14th, 2009
5:41 am

“A year from now, we might well be saying, “You know, they should’ve just kept the closer they had.”

With the so-called “hitters” the Braves have been linked to, we could very much be saying, “you know, we should’ve kept that Francouer kid” come next year too.

TampaGator

December 14th, 2009
6:18 am

The Braves did not want to pay Sariano long-term money due to his injury issues. I am sure they thought some team would and that he would not accept arbitration. If they knew what they knew now, I am sure they would have not signed Wagner. But they didn’t, and Wagner is just as good as Soriano for one or two years. And the Braves got a decent middle reliever in the deal. So it worked out OK. Soriano was good, but Wagner is a better closer. Period. Francour was horrible as a Brave. Glad he is gone. The one I do not understand is LaRouche. Who plays first? Diaz? The Braves will finish 3rd, 4th, or 5th this year without a first baseman like LaRouche.

RomeDawg

December 14th, 2009
6:24 am

Good to have you back MB!

Mama Cox

December 14th, 2009
6:25 am

A year from now they will be saying “Mama’s gone”.

Dap01

December 14th, 2009
6:47 am

I agree MB. We need LaRoche (or atleast someone comparable) and yet we do not offer him arbitration, which would at worst give up a very good first baseman for 1 year.

Instead, our expectations are being lowered in order to get a couple of guys that are below average and somehow, we are suppose to be happy.

falcon 71

December 14th, 2009
6:49 am

they did the right thing with RS as he is flirting with TJ surgery have you noticed his mechanics. that said usually nowdays players return from TJ stronger than ever so id rather have BW for the next few years.

sansho1

December 14th, 2009
6:51 am

Given Cox’s propensity to wear out relievers, the moves made sense to me. I no longer think of relief pitchers as multi-year propositions.

JSS

December 14th, 2009
6:53 am

I thought you had decided to start exploring more reasonable life experiences, life being a Grateful Cathead… Following the Cats all around the Nation…

FOr some strange reason, Braves fan have started to treat Lowe like he is a reincarnation of Russ Ortiz… LaRoche, well you it is too obvious for the Braves to see that he plays his best here… Congratulations on missing bizarre world 1009.

Michael Scharff

December 14th, 2009
7:02 am

Dude, where have you been? I hope all is well at Casa Bradley – good to have you back!

Mike Lum

December 14th, 2009
7:04 am

Good responses (especially you, Chef), bad column. Mark, you left out several key facts…
1. How many saves did Soriano blow last year? He was far from a sure thing. Wagner is an upgrade, at a cheaper price.
2. Wren knows LaRoche wants a high price AND more years. By not offering arbritration, Wren hopes to get him (or someone else) cheaper. This isn’t New York…he’s not operating with an unlimited budget.
3. Mark, Lowe is on the market because the Braves have 6 starters. They’re not trading JJ or Hanson. Hudson was just signed, at a relatively low price. Vasquez had a great year. Who would take Kawakami’s big contract? Trading Lowe would free up money to sign your buddy LaRoche.
4. Church had to be dropped only when Soriano re-upped. That basically makes it a Frenchy for Soriano trade…not bad. Or Frenchy for whoever that sign with Soriano’s salary slot…the new setup guy. TampaGator is right: Frenchy was horrible as a Brave, the worst hitting position player in the bigs. The Braves improved just by getting rid of him.
5. We were all happy last year that Wren was being open with who he was chasing. A year ago we didn’t know Junior and Furcal would stink in 2009, that Peavy would get hurt. There are reasons the Braves are letting Gonzo and Soriano walk. Hindsight is always 20/20.

hop

December 14th, 2009
7:09 am

mark, you make some very good points and laRoche is a no brainer.
i am afraid the penny-penchin will place the braves in another third place finish behind the phillies and mets.

Kenneth

December 14th, 2009
7:10 am

1. Hindsight is 20/20 Mark. The Braves and everybody else thought Soriano would not agree to arbitration.

2. You are right about keeping Laroche

3. Which pitcher are they supposed to trade? Lowe makes the most sense because of his high salary.

4. You didn’t offer any alternative to what Wren did in trading for Church. What was he supposed to do? Francouer needed to go and it wasn’t like there was much of a market or they wouldn’t have traded him to someone in their division.

5. That’s a little harsh isn’t it. Could anyone predict that Peavy was going to have that kind of year? ‘

It wasn’t who made some bad trades that have come back to haunt this team. Those 5 players for eixera and the one with St. Louis: Wainwright for J.D. Drew…………………

Kudzu

December 14th, 2009
7:16 am

Nice article- NOT. I can’t take you seriously, you’re so d*&^ negative!

MiltonDawg

December 14th, 2009
7:19 am

trust in Wren. we all gave him hell for the Smoltz/Glavine deal but look how pitching ended up last year. still waiting for the “big bat” deal that’s supposed to boost our outfield. maybe freeman is ready to go at 1B.

willie martinez

December 14th, 2009
7:32 am

Mark, i thought you had pulled a judge crater on us.

Bill James

December 14th, 2009
7:34 am

Talent is all about prediction…the “basebal know it alls” base it on past performance only. Schuerholz knew when to “retire.’ When Tommy, John and Greg were gone. Frank Wren guesses about talent like everyone else does 50/50 . People here predict that Jeff Francouer would always suck – but the Mets have guessed differently. I’m with the Mets and I hope he tears it up this year because I love the Braves but I despise many of these Brave fans.

raleighbravefan

December 14th, 2009
7:41 am

Wren is far from through, but I believe he has made the right moves in almost every instance. Time will tell, but I would bet that Wagner has a better/healthier year than Soriano. Those jumping on him should wait and see what team we put on the field on opening day.
Mark, I’m sure you wrote this to stir things up. You cannot possibly believe that Wren has terrible instincts. All of us were clamering for a revamped pitching staff. He persued the best available. We all thought he needed to sign Lowe, even if the price was high. Just b e glad he didn’t give in to the demands of the Padres for Peavy, when they kept escallating the asking price.
BTW, TED TURNER IS STILL GONE.

JeanE

December 14th, 2009
7:44 am

I hate to say it but you are so right, M.B., these moves make no sense to me. Now we have 2 old guys in the bullpen instead of a young Soriano and Gonzo. I am one of the few who isn’t desperate for a “big bat” for this team. We were hitting well down the stretch once they let Matty D play every day and I love the chemistry of this team. Fix Mac’s eyes and we are good to go. I would love to have DeRo back but only if he doesn’t take away playing time from Matty D. DeRo is at the end of his career and can still hit while being invaluable playing many different positions. If Heyward is ready to start season in right, great, plug Matty D in at left. Nate in center and Jordon backing up them. I just don’t think they’re going to pay out for Roachy which is a shame. Great player, excellent 1st baseman. Frank Wren is a big idiot in my opinion and nothing he’s done has changed my mind on that. Good luck unloading D. Lowe, unfortunately, it will probably be Javy that goes. Big Mistake.

MitchC

December 14th, 2009
7:45 am

Mark, I dont agree with numbers three and four on your list.

This team needs to clear up payroll to try and take a run at getting a good hitter. Lowe makes 15 mil a year, and is much older than Vazquez. When you ask if Lowe is the only trade lever the Braves have. The obvious answer is no, but.. I still think that trading Lowe would be better than trading Vazquez, due to the contract Lowe has, and Lowe’s age.

As for the question if dumping Church messed up the Jeff trade, my answer to that is no too. I was on the fence about Jeff being traded, but, does it mean we have to keep an unproductive Ryan Church, just to say we ended up getting something out of the trade? If Church wasnt going to help us, let him go.

One final point: Economically, we cant keep both Lowe and Vazquez and expect to get a hitter. One of them is going to go. While I realize that Vazquez might get us more in return, I still think Lowe should be the one to be traded, because he’s older, and maybe on the downside. I realize Javy is a free agent after 2010, but, if we could re sign him, he could help us for more years than Lowe.

I will say that I do agree that we could have kept Soriano, and offered arbitration to Laroche. I wasnt thrilled with either of those moves.

falcon 71

December 14th, 2009
7:46 am

here is the data on Diaz vs JF for 09

JF 157 games = 15 hr 76 rbi 280 ba 309 obp

MD 125 games = 13 hr 58 rbi 313 ba 390 obp

GoVols

December 14th, 2009
7:47 am

Agree with all your points, Mark. This franchise has always favored pitching over hitting with the possible exception of the time they brought in Sheffield. I think they need at least two big bats. We are hoping for an improved Chipper but at his age you can’t rely on it and I personally don’t like being overly reliant on a catcher – no matter how good – because of the aches and pains he must endure at his position. We should be bargaining from a position of strength given our pitching depth.

Heath

December 14th, 2009
7:54 am

I think the Braves organization knows that starting pitching is not a concern this year anyway. Until Cox is gone, our starters could have a no hitter going through 5 innings and he will start warming up Mahoney, I mean Soriano.

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

December 14th, 2009
7:57 am

I like taking the chance on Wagner replacing Gonzo and keeping Soriano. What I don’t understand is how you can trade a closer and get nothing for him.

Agent7g

December 14th, 2009
8:02 am

Soriano was awful in crucial situations last year. Do you remember the game ending homer to the prolific Ross Gload? Wagner has proven he saves big games season after season.
Why not trade Vasquez now? Lowe was fairly solid and as a number 3 starter he might be better than a number 1. Vasquez was great but has never had great back to back seasons, trade him while his value is high.

Jam

December 14th, 2009
8:04 am

I haven’t paid to see the Braves or any other MLB team play in more than twenty years. You have so many marginally talented players making millions of dollars a year that it’s a freaking joke.

Major league sports just plain suck. It’s all about money now, and there’s no love of the game or loyalty to a team any more.

So count me out!

BobJ

December 14th, 2009
8:05 am

It is easy to say LaRoche should stay when we only saw his second half. Lest we forget, he’s pretty much a second half hitter so we saw a much more productive hitter than we’d see for a full season. Perhaps we can find someone who produces the full season because that’s what we need with our limited offense.

Closers are a gamble at best so you pick your hand and don’t wait for hand to pick you. Starting pitchers are a premium, but we don’t have the budget to keep 6. I don’t really see a better alternative than Lowe so you can argue why to keep him, but you can’t really give a good option to replace that which gives us more for a hitter and less impacts our pitching.

Dumping Church says he didn’t deliver and doesn’t have anything to do with Frenchy directly. As has been said, you don’t hold him just to say you had value from the Frenchy deal. You’re better off to take that money and use it wisely. We need money for good players not warm bodies.

mountain_jim

December 14th, 2009
8:05 am

welcome back Mark – the ajc spreads you guys so thin these days it’s real noticeable when you or Jeff takes a vacation. I agree your closer questions are curious.

Atticus

December 14th, 2009
8:06 am

I read where Cox said we are going after a big bat with the article on Heyward. Huh?

If the Braves organization thinks they can beat the Phils just adding Heyward and possibly some middle level jorneyman OF like Nady, they are fooling themselves and it will be time for me to go elsewhere for entertainment.

El Bravo

December 14th, 2009
8:08 am

Mark, you are way off on the Lowe issue. Is not about his ability (he is still a very good pitcher) but instead about using his salary to address other areas of need. With Hudson back healty our starting rotation stands to be better than last year. Not only that, but trading Lowe gives us the flexibility to resign Vasquez who appears to be very comfortable here in Atlanta. That gives us a younger rotation that projects well over the next 3 to 4 years…

That's Mr. Chavez to you

December 14th, 2009
8:14 am

Hey, I ain’t Swiss cheese here, pal. I’m younger and better looking than Soriano, in addition to my killer curveball.

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2009
8:16 am

I’d agree that Soriano wasn’t the ideal closer. (Mariano Rivera is the ideal.) But I don’t know that Wagner is any upgrade at age 38.

And thanks for noticing I was gone last week. It’s nice to be missed

Frank Wren

December 14th, 2009
8:17 am

Atticus, I base all my decisions on making you happy. Call me.

Bubba

December 14th, 2009
8:19 am

The only real “complaint” I have with your issues is that Wren lacks the tact of his predecessor. As far as Lowe goes, the signing, to me, had a “we settled for the best of what was available” feel to it. Management’s feelings on the signing seemed tepid at best. They spent too much for Lowe then, and they’re gonna pay now. I think Wren should plunk down some money and hire a good PR person.

DangerousDan87

December 14th, 2009
8:22 am

Earlier,someone said the Braves only concentrate on pitching and not hitting except when we got Gary Sheffield? Ya, that worked out well. Sheff had 3 hits in two postseasons .063 and .143. that worked out well. I’m worried about Wagner also. I hope he isn’t our next Bruce Sutter who blew out his arm after he signed a BIG $10 Mill contract. I worked radio then and tried to interview him. He said,” I don’t talk on days I don’t pitch.” I guess he talks alot now.lol Go Braves.

GoBama!

December 14th, 2009
8:28 am

I like Rochey – but he has always stunk in the 1st half of the season and we need a fast start next year for a change. The Wagner/Soriano trade off blows my mind. Sure, Soriano has some downside but there’s no reason in the world to believe Wagner is going to return to form. This is a roll of the dice at best and one we didn’t have to take. Guys, we are going to have to trade at least one starter and unfortunately DLowe makes the most sense. As far as the outfield is concerned, we should have tried to keep Garret Anderson. His numbers were down a little last year but I think he still has another year left in the tank.

Mark Bradley is an idiot

December 14th, 2009
8:28 am

6th Important question:

Why does Mark Bradley continue to get paid $$$ to write stupid columns?

Greg

December 14th, 2009
8:31 am

The only MAJOR successful strategic move Wren has made was getting Jurjjens. Other than that (and maybe other than the LaRoche deal), he has been crap.

Thank the lord Peavy, Furcal, trading Esco, etc. didnt work.

Mike

December 14th, 2009
8:32 am

Uh, OK Jam, you’re out.

O'Brien

December 14th, 2009
8:40 am

Mark,

The Braves knew they were going to lose Gonzales, so the fact that Wagner was left handed was a big plus (he had had success against some of the guys in our division, (especially the left handers, eg Ryan Howard)).

And except for the TJ surgery last year, Wagner has been much better/healthier than Soriano. Lets not forget 2 seasons ago, when everytime they thought Soriano was healthy, he said he wasn’t.

And as for LaRoche, they dont want to give him a 1 yr $8-$9 mil contract. Sure, he played well in the second half. But it was a contract year, and he is a slow starter anyways. There are a lot of options (cheaper, but more risky), and LaRoche’s price might come down once the market settles.

John Tucker

December 14th, 2009
8:41 am

Bradley<

You obviously did not watch Sorianon blow saves and reduce 3 and 4 run leads to 1-run leads by giving up homers under pressure.

Thoose of us fans who did are not surpridsed Soriaano is gone and would be disappointed inthe extreme if he started 2010 as a Brave.

Aside from his scowl, Soriano had no intensity, no real determination to win. He just wnet out and threw gas, which was too often flat or wild.

As for Jeffy Francouer. No regular Braves fan who saw his abysmal lack of plate coverage and 2 and 3 strikeouts per game (and 0 walks) in 2007, 2008 and the first half of 2009 was and remains anythig but happy with Francouer's departure.

That Jeffy got his groove swing back the last half of 2009 is fine with us, but at least the Braves don't have to watch his unbearably long slumps anymore. Same for Kelly Johnson. When they were hot, oit was fun to watch, but they became hot less and less for shorter and shorter periods oof time. When Bobby Cox finally decides to bench a regular, it is at least 15-18 months late.

Church had promisem byut Yunnel Escobar's knee had done more damage than we knew and Braves doctors said he was ikay. CHurch's failure does not in any way diminish the courage and decisiveness Wren exhibited in pulling the trigger to deal Francouer.

If Francuer's hitting is transformed by thee trade, good for him. But, for the Braves to keep him and have him and Terry Pendleton squabbling in the epaper about the effectiveness of TP' hitting coach tips was certainly an untenable siutuation.

personaly, I think TP needs to be gone too, but unfortunately for the braves' future TP seems to be the Manager in waiting. which is the scariest thought I've had in years.

TP was a great player, but he lacks the patience or the teaching skills to handle and bring along youneg talent.

Herschel Talker

December 14th, 2009
8:43 am

MB:

You’re damn right about Soriano. Wren is an idiot. He was quoted on the radio last week as saying that he would not have any problem trading Soriano since the market for closers had not yet heated up. Well, if that’s the case, what was the rush in signing Wagner? Why not wait until AFTER Soriano had made his arbitration decision before looking at free agents. Completely illogical the way it went down. Wagner is getting paid what Soriano was going to be paid, and he’s 10 years older. WTF???

Mark Bradley

December 14th, 2009
8:47 am

I say it again: Nothing good was going to happen for Francoeur as a Brave. He needed a fresh start elsewhere. If the Braves had gotten Greg Norton for him, I’d still have called that a necessary deal.

Speaking of which: Why is Wren waiting so long to re-up Norton? The market for .110-hitting pinch-hitters is boiling hot.

raleighbravefan

December 14th, 2009
8:48 am

Bank Walker – You trade Soriano for “nothing” to get rid of his salary. Basically we traded Soriano for Wagner. Time will tell if it was good or bad, but I never trusted Soriano, and I like the deals.

raleighbravefan

December 14th, 2009
8:51 am

Jam – If you feel that way, why do you care enough to read the blog?