As the 2009 season winds down and the Braves' chances of making the playoffs look slim, it is logical to start thinking about next year.
After all, the Braves will have a minimum of five strong starting pitchers returning next season, and the youngsters of the staff, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, only figure to get better.
Because of that, next summer could be a good one in Atlanta.
Before we can get there, though, the Braves have some difficult decisions to make regarding the potential free agents on the 25-man major league roster.
This article is the first in a six-part series detailing each free agent and whether the Braves should bring them back. In the following weeks, we will discuss Adam LaRoche, Greg Norton, Tim Hudson, Garret Anderson, and Mike Gonzalez.
Under the microscope first? Rafael Soriano.
Since the Braves stole him from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Horacio Ramirez in 2006, Soriano has been the Braves' best reliever. He has a career ERA of 2.85 and has a better than 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career.
During the 2009 campaign, Soriano has compiled a record of 1-4 and posted an ERA of 2.55. In the 55 innings that he has pitched, he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 72:18 and a batting average against of .176.
In my opinion, resigning Soriano should be the Braves' top priority this offseason. He is making $6.35 million this season and stands to get a nice raise next year.
During last offseason, Francisco Rodriguez was given $9.1 million by the Mets and Brian Fuentes was given $8.5 million by the Angels. I think that is is fair to assume that Soriano could command north of $8 million a year in his next contract.
Compounding the Braves' problems in signing Soriano and increasing their need to bring him back is the seemingly light relief pitcher market this offseason.
Other than Soriano, only Billy Wagner, J.J. Putz, and maybe Kevin Gregg figure to be viable free agent closing options. Given a choice of those four, I would much rather have Soriano.
The Braves also do not have a clear successor to Soriano should he leave Atlanta. While Mike Gonzalez has been a great setup man, he didn't perform well in his stint as closer at the beginning of the season and is also going to be a free agent at year's end.
The bottom line is that the Braves need to find the money to sign Soriano to a deal. When you combine his effectiveness and the Braves' internal and external closing options, the choice is clear.
Up next week: Greg Norton.
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