11. Will Soriano & Gonzalez be back?

What are the Braves going to do with their two pending free agent relievers?

The Braves had a pretty decent bullpen combo last season in Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. And now, both pitchers are free agents and able to sign with another team.

So Atlanta has to decide whether it wants to keep both pitchers, or bring one of the two back for the next several seasons.

Three years ago the Braves needed relief help, and in the course of one offseason acquired both Soriano and Gonzalez to stabilize the bullpen. Both pitched well at times, and both had arm injuries.

Soriano is the one most unlikely to return. The Braves were put off by his passive attitude at times on the mound, and they did not appreciate when Soriano moped around on the mound when he was brought into games he did not believe he should be pitching in.

The Braves paid Soriano $6.1 million dollars last season, and after a career-high 27 saves he will certainly want a raise from that figure. Soriano is a type A free agent, so the Braves will get a draft pick if he is signed early enough.

If the Braves have to make a decision on offering him arbitration, it might be a difficult call. They would clearly like the draft pick to help stack the farm system, but the chance Soriano might accept it and return could make it dangerous.

Gonzalez is going to be a tougher decision for the Braves. He started last season as the closer, but Soriano then got the majority of the opportunities as the season went along. Gonzalez made $3.45 million last season.

The Braves loved how effective Gonzalez was after he settled into the role as Soriano's main setup man. The lefty had a 1.11 ERA in 35 games after the All-Star Break and finished the season with a 2.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 74.1 innings pitched.

But will a team offer Gonzalez a significant raise from his 2009 salary and make him too expensive for the Braves to bring him back?

Now if the Braves believe Gonzalez is the answer for their closer, they will be more than willing to give him a raise from that amount. But that's the first decision they have to make – can Gonzalez be the team's closer?

If not, and if they prefer to bring him back as a main setup man, then they also must consider who might be the closer. If they have another lefty in mind as a potential closer, like Billy Wagner, they may not want to bring Gonzalez back and instead have a right-handed setup man for a lefty like Wagner.

But there's a greater chance of Gonzalez coming back through arbitration than anything else. It's very possible the Braves would offer Gonzalez arbitration, hoping to get a draft pick. And then if no team offers him a deal, they could probably afford to bring him back at a salary just over $4 million, much more so than paying Soriano what he would get through arbitration if he accepted an offer.

So the Braves obviously have some decisions to make, more with Gonzalez than Soriano. It's pretty much believed Soriano will move on, so the Braves will likely need a new closer in 2010.


Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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