Concerned that Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez would be too expensive for the cost-conscious Braves to retain, Wren wasted no time in signing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to fill their roles.
The tally: $10.2 million, 78+ years of age, two saves, and one Tommy John surgery.
Soriano subsequently accepted the Braves' offer of arbitration, and will make $7 million for Tampa Bay next season—the same as Wagner will be earning for the Braves. Yesterday, Mike Gonzalez came to terms with the Orioles for two years at $6 million per season. That's $13 million for a pair of relievers with 18 fewer years of wear and 35 more saves to their credit last season that Wren's new backend of the bullpen.
Wren is now desperately shopping Derek Lowe, last year's prize free agent pickup, in hopes of clearing payroll to acquire another bat, (though the Braves already needed at least one bat prior to letting Adam LaRoche walk), and is even offering to pay a portion of Lowe's salary to the willing buyer.
Of course, he could have saved $9 million by not resigning Tim Hudson, another pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, who put up average numbers in his late-season return. Hudson might return to pre-injury form, in which case the signing will be a reasonable one. Wren's decisions, however, make one wonder if he has already forgotten 2008.
The Braves came into that season thinking they had plenty of pitching depth, and by the end of the season were down to Jair Jurrjens, minor leaguers, and journeymen.
Lowe's performance took a dive at the end of the 2009 season, but a guy who wins 15 games, never misses a start, and can be counted on to give you six-plus innings a game is a good guy to have on your team, especially when your closer and setup man are each nearing or past his 40th birthday.
Braves fans can hope that the aging bullpen holds up, and that Wren finds enough bats to make Atlanta a competitive bunch. So far, though, this offseason has been for the birds.
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