Braves facing pen’ed up money?

Sports - December 09, 2007Last week it appeared that both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez were sure bets to reject the Braves offers of arbitration, so of course the team went ahead and made future arrangements.

The team announced it had signed Billy Wagner to a $7 million contract for next season with an option at $6.5 million for 2011. A day later a deal for Takashi Saito was finalized with a guaranteed $3.2 million, Saito could also make an additional $2.3 million in performance bonus’ but most of them are based on games finished.

Then a news story that Rafael Soriano was considering accepting the Braves offer of arbitration came out. The story has only gained traction in the last 24-36 hours and with the free agent market what it is it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Soriano actually accept arbitration with a projected salary of a $8 million. Last season he made $6 million and racked up 27 saves at the back end of the Braves bullpen.

Now the Braves are faced with the possibility of paying three pitchers at the end of the ballgame a total of $18.2 million, all while still trying to find a trade partner for Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.

Of course had the Braves known Soriano was serious about returning, the team may have taken him up on that offer and would have avoided Wagner.

While it was believed the Braves were willing to wait and continue trade efforts on Lowe, one would think that should Soriano actually accept arbitration that the team may turn it’s focus to to trading Vazquez in order to gain financial relief and perhaps pick up low cost outfield and first base options.

Originally the belief was that the money the Braves could save from trading Lowe or Vazquez would be able to pay for an upgrade at first base or outfield but if an additional $8 million is added to payroll, the money available for that drops to numbers that may only allow the team to take a gamble on a low cost veteran who has something to prove.

To top it off the pen is still a bit of confusion. After all Soriano was the closer last season, if he was to return as the eighth inning setup man there would be a whole lot of questioning Billy Wagner should he blow a save or two in early April. Then theres the odd situation where your eighth inning setup man makes more then your closer.

Jose Valverde who is viewed as the top closer on the market is leaning towards accepting the Houston Astros offer of arbitration. The Astros much like the Braves were looking for some financi

al freedom this winter but should either pitcher accept arbitration then it creates an immediate situation in the payroll department.