Atlanta Braves Free Agent Decisions: Mike Gonzalez

Jim CheneyCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Pitcher Mike Gonzalez #51 of the Atlanta Braves poses for a photo during Spring Training Photo Day on February 19, 2009 at Champions Stadium at Walt Disney World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This article is the fourth in a six part series discussing the players on the Atlanta Braves' 25-man roster that will be free agents at the end of the 2009 season.

Previously we have discussed Rafael Soriano, Greg Norton, and Adam LaRoche in the first three parts of the series.

In this week's edition, we are analyzing Braves relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who was acquired from Pittsburgh before the 2007 season for Adam LaRoche, has been one of the Braves most reliable and frequently used relievers this season.

Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2007 season, Gonzalez seems to have returned to form after a shaky 2008 and start to the 2009 season.

Over the course of the 2009 season, Gonzalez has compiled nine saves, an ERA of 2.45, and struck out 81 batters in 66 innings. Since the All Star break Gonzalez has an ERA of only 0.75.

On the surface, re-signing Gonzalez seems like an obvious decision. It is clouded however by the impending free agency of Braves closer Rafael Soriano. While not impossible, it will be difficult for the Braves to re-sign both players this offseason and still be able to meet the team’s needs in other areas.         

While both pitchers have remarkably similar stats over the course of their careers, Gonzalez has the benefit of being a left-handed pitcher. On the other hand (pun intended) Soriano, a right-hander, has proven to be able to better handle the closing situation in Atlanta this season and seems to be preferred by Bobby Cox.

While I believe that the Braves first priority this offseason should be to re-sign Soriano, the Braves should make a strong attempt to keep Gonzalez. If Soriano ends up commanding too large of a raise, the Braves should definitely increase their urgency to pick up Gonzalez.

It would be great to see both Soriano and Gonzalez in a Braves uniform next season. That however is not likely. While I realize that many would disagree with me, I believe that the Braves should prioritize Soriano over Gonzalez, even if that means that Gonzalez leaves Atlanta at the end of 2009.

Up Next Week: Garret Anderson