If the Braves allow Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to leave via free agency, they will be in search of a new closer for the 2010 season. And there are several candidates to consider.
The Braves could turn to an internal candidate, with setup man Peter Moylan the leading candidate. Moylan had 25 holds last season, but he blew all five of his save opportunities. Atlanta will likely keep Moylan in his more normal position, but if they are unable to find the right fit, the sidearmer from Australia could get the first shot.
Chances are, however, the Braves do look elsewhere for the new closer. The name at the top of the list is veteran left-hander Billy Wagner. He's 38 years old, and he's coming off Tommy John surgery. But there are several reasons to believe Wagner could be a prominent candidate.
First, Wagner has wanted to be a Brave for years. When he left Philadelphia after 2005, Atlanta was Wagner's first choice. But the Braves were unable to compete with the long-term deal the Mets offered, so Wagner signed with New York.
And Wagner has confided to friends that Atlanta will be high on his list after he files for free agency this time around. The negative is he's a Type A free agent, meaning if the Boston Red Sox offer him arbitration, the Braves would have to give up their first round pick in next June's draft.
That is the main negative in pursuing Wagner, who was pretty successful when he returned in August after missing a year with elbow surgery. Wagner hit the mid-90s against the Braves when he was with the Mets, and then after he was traded to Boston Wagner had 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.
Wagner has 385 career saves, and he was dominant with the Mets. So if Tommy John has given him more life in his elbow, chances are he can have a few more productive seasons.
The Braves could offer Wagner a two-year contract worth around $15 million dollars. Don't expect them to go much higher than that.
But again, is signing Wagner worth giving up a first round pick to Boston?
There are three more free agents to consider as candidates. Fernando Rodney had 37 saves for Detroit. He made only $2.7 million in 2009, so he could possibly be had for around $6 million per season.
Two pitchers who have been closers, but are coming off arm injuries are also available. J.J. Putz missed most of the 2009 season with the Mets, while Danys Baez is coming off Tommy John Surgery.
Chicago might non-tender right-hander Kevin Gregg, who had 23 saves for the Cubs before losing his job. He could be a cheaper option out on the free agent market later this winter.
There are several candidates who could be available through a trade. Would the Red Sox consider trading Jonathan Papelbon? It's been rumored they've considered it, and Papelbon has been a dominant reliever for the last four seasons.
Papelbon was quoted on the Dan Patrick radio show a few seasons ago as saying he grew up a Braves fan in Jacksonville, Florida, where he still resides today. He's got two years until he's eligible for free agency, and after making $6.25 million last season, Papelbon will be expensive in arbitration this winter. But there is no doubt he is a dominant relief pitcher.
It has already been rumored that Atlanta might have interest in Matt Capps, the Pirates' reliever who was born in Douglasville, an Atlanta suburb. Capps graduated from Alexander High School in Georgia in 2002, and he played with Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur on Team Georgia that same year.
Capps did not have a very good season for Pittsburgh, and he's getting ready to make even more money in arbitration. If the Braves were to sign Wagner, they may be interested in trading for Capps to help Moylan set up the veteran lefty. But it's doubtful the Braves would count on Capps to be their main closer.
Capps saved 27 games last season, but his ERA was 5.80. The right-hander also allowed 73 hits in 54.1 innings, and he struck out only 46. He could be acquired for a decent price from the Pirates, but he may be more of a complimentary reliever instead of the main one.
Rumors have swirled that the White Sox may listen to offers for closer Bobby Jenks, or that they may even non-tender Jenks this winter. Jenks saved 29 games last season for Chicago, and he's got 146 saves over the past four-plus seasons.
But Jenks has possibly run out his time with Ozzie Guillen's team, and that may allow them to at least listen to offers for him this winter.
The Padres could be in a selling mode again this winter, and that could make Heath Bell available. Bell took over for Trevor Hoffman as San Diego's closer and led the National League with 42 saves. The Padres would probably want a significant return for Bell.
So if Soriano and Gonzalez leave via free agency, the Braves will have several candidates to take over as the closer. And with possibly the best starting rotation in the game next season, it's imperative the Braves re-build the bullpen with strong arms and pitchers with excellent track records.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
12. Who will be the closer next season?
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