Braves want to add Billy Wagner to the pen

Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez could leave Atlanta this winter via free agency. Could Billy Wagner take over as the Braves' closer?

Now that the free agency period has begun, the Atlanta Braves are checking into a number of options to improve the roster. And one free agent may be a perfect fit.

The Braves Show has confirmed what we believed all along - the Braves would like to add Billy Wagner to the bullpen.

Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez are expected to leave via free agency. Both are expected to be offered arbitration. The Braves believe both will find new teams, and there is little worry either player will accept an arbitration offer.

So that creates a need for a new closer. Wagner wanted to sign with the Braves before the 2006 season, but the Braves did not have the financial flexibility to sign him at the time.

Wagner has never held his desire to play for the Braves as a secret. He was disappointed Atlanta was not able to bid on him four years ago, and he had little choice but to sign with the Mets after they made him a lucrative offer. But now it looks like the timing will finally be right.

Wagner, who has 385 career saves, came back late in the season after having Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2008 season. He pitched in two games for the Mets, including the first game back against the Braves, in August before being traded to the Boston Red Sox.

Wagner then pitched in 15 games with the Red Sox. The lefty allowed three runs on eight hits in 13.2 innings, with seven walks, and 22 strikeouts.

Against the Braves, Wagner showed his fastball was back, registering in the mid-90s with his heater. And Wagner also let it be known to the Braves players that he wanted to come to Atlanta.

If the Braves sign Wagner, they will have to give up their first round pick to the Red Sox, as long as Boston offers Wagner arbitration. While the Braves don't want to give up their first rounder next June, they feel the potential to add Wagner to the roster is very important. And again, it will lessen the blow if the Braves gain additional early round draft picks when some of their free agents are signed.

With rumors floating around that both Soriano and Gonzalez are going to be pursued by both the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the Braves feel they will easily get draft picks for those two free agents. Plus, Garret Anderson and Adam LaRoche are type B free agents, meaning if the Braves offer arbitration to those players and they are signed, Atlanta will receive compensation picks in the supplemental round that will not be given up by the teams that sign those players.

Anderson has no desire to return to Atlanta, so he will not accept any such offer of arbitration. The Braves would actually be ok with LaRoche accepting arbitration, since he could come back for one year and bridge the gap until Freddie Freeman is ready to take over the position in 2011.

If the Braves sign Wagner, they will add him to a group headlined by Peter Moylan, Eric O'Flaherty, and Kris Medlen. Don't be surprised if the Braves bring in another right-handed reliever to compliment Wagner, such as San Francisco's veteran reliever Bobby Howry.

Wagner will turn 39 years old next June, but the Braves were convinced Wagner could still be effective when they saw him in August. Plus, the Braves love Wagner's history as being a dominant reliever in the National League. If signed, Wagner would also help out facing the tough left-handed hitters in the National League East.

Wagner is a six-time All-Star, who is the third active leader and sixth all-time in career saves.

Along with trying to sign Wagner, the Braves will continue their pursuit of a trade for one of their starting pitchers in the next few weeks. The Braves hope to find a market for Derek Lowe once the top free agent starters have found a new home.



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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