The Atlanta Braves have avoided arbitration with right-handed reliever Oscar Villarreal, signing him to a one-year, $462,500 contract.
Villarreal was acquired from the Diamondbacks in December along with Lance Cormier for catcher Johnny Estrada.
The 24-year-old Villarreal has battled shoulder and elbow problems the last two seasons. He pitched in only 17 games in 2004 and then in only 11 games last season. In 2005, Villarreal was 2-0 with a 5.27 ERA, 11 hits allowed in 13.2 innings, six walks, and five strikeouts.
The injuries are probably the result of the Diamondbacks misusing Villarreal as a 21-year-old rookie in 2003, when he pitched in 86 games. He showed tremendous promise that season, going 10-7 with a 2.57 ERA, 80 hits allowed in a whopping 98 innings pitched, 46 walks, and 80 strikeouts. But he hasn't been the same since that heavy workload.
The Braves have gotten encouraging reports on Villarreal from the Mexican Winter League, where he has pitched for Hermosillo in the playoffs. They hope Villarreal will win a bullpen job this spring at Disney.
Jorge Sosa is the remaining Brave needing to avoid arbitration this winter. The Braves have offered $1.8 million, while Sosa's agent has countered with an offer of $2.6 million. Atlanta rarely goes to arbitration, so expect the two sides to reach an agreement before the deadline.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Villarreal signs contract for 2006
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