It's been a busy start to the offseason this week for the Atlanta Braves with the signings of free agents relievers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito.
The pair will replace Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who are also both free agents and not expected to return. Both of last year's Atlanta relievers have been offered arbitration, but they are expected to get multi-year offers from other teams.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren identified Wagner and Saito as his two main targets even back in the regular season. Wagner has never hid his desire to be a Brave, and his signing was almost a foregone conclusion.
Wagner had expressed interest in joining the Braves back before the 2006 season, when he signed with the New York Mets. The Braves did not have the payroll flexibility at that point, so a long-term offer for Wagner was out of the question.
But the timing is right this offseason, as the Braves were looking for a regular closer. Last year Gonzalez started the season as the closer, only to be replaced later in the year by Soriano.
Despite coming off Tommy John surgery, Wagner is one of the premiere closers in the game. He has 385 career saves, third most among active pitchers.
Last year Wagner returned and pitched his first game back against the Braves. When Wagner flashed a fastball in the mid-90s, the Braves were convinced he could still be an effective reliever.
Wagner pitched in two games with the Mets before being traded to Boston. In his 17 games overall, Wagner had 8 walks and 26 strikeouts in 15.2 innings.
Since 1998, Wagner has been one of the top closers in the National League. He's been in the top ten in saves nine times in the last 12 years.
The Braves will be careful with Wagner, and that's why Saito was such a natural fit as the main setup man. Saito will be able to occasionally fill in as the closer when Wagner needs a little rest during the season.
Saito was 36 years old when he came over from Japan in 2006 and joined the Dodgers. He saved 24 games that season, followed by 39 games in 2007. He battled an elbow strain in 2008 and his numbers dropped off a bit, as Saito saved only 18 games.
The Dodgers non-tendered Saito last year and he signed with the Red Sox. Last season Saito pitched in 56 games as a setup man to Jonathan Papelbon and posted an ERA of 2.43.
In his four year major league career, Saito has an ERA of 2.05, with 171 hits allowed in 245.1 innings pitched, 77 walks, and 297 strikeouts.
Wagner and Saito will lead a bullpen that will also include Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty as the main setup men. Kris Medlen and Boone Logan will also be in the mix.
And don't forget about Scott Proctor, who was signed last month. Proctor is coming off Tommy John surgery, and he is expected back in late May or early June.
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.
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