Are the Braves close to dealing Soriano?

So what might Atlanta get for trading away last year's closer?

The Braves could be close to trading reliever Rafael Soriano, who surprised all of baseball Monday by accepting Atlanta's arbitration offer.

Rumors persisted Wednesday that the Braves were in talks with the Tampa Bay Rays about Soriano heading back to the American League.

There are several things to consider about a potential deal between these two teams. First, the Braves do not seem like they want to simply give Soriano away. When he agreed to the arbitration, that killed the Braves' chances at getting two very high picks in next June's draft.

So the Braves will probably ask for two players in return for Soriano. However, if the Braves are willing to include some cash to help offset Soriano's expected $7-$8 million dollar salary, the return could be much more lucrative.

Tampa Bay is a team with a lower team payroll, so it might be hard for them to pay Soriano's potential salary. The Braves would have spent $2 million or so on the draft picks they would have gotten next June, so instead, now that money could go to the Rays to ensure a more highly rated prospect is headed back to Atlanta.

We know the Braves have a crowded pitching staff now, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. But the Braves have built their organization around pitching. The Rays have an abundance of pitching talent on their top prospect list.

One scout said Wednesday night that if the Braves are able to get one of those highly regarded pitchers from the Rays for Soriano, it would be, "a huge coup. They have a lot of quality arms over there."

The Rays' best prospect is probably Tim Beckham, the shortstop taken with the first pick of the 2008 draft out of Griffin High School, just south of Atlanta. But neither he nor Desmond Jennings, a top outfield prospect, are likely to be involved in any deal.

Therefore, when you couple that with the fact the Rays have a large number of outstanding pitching prospects, it seems the Braves may get an arm back in any deal for Soriano.

Here are a few of the possibilities:

- Wade Davis – He finished last season in the Tampa Bay rotation, so it's unlikely he'd be needed in Atlanta.

- Matt Moore – A lefty who just turned 20 last June, Moore led the minor leagues with 176 strikeouts in the South Atlantic League – in 123 innings pitched! Moore allowed only 86 hits and walked 70. He is a power lefty who projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

- Nick Barnese – A soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander, Barnese had a 2.53 ERA in 15 starts in the Sally League last season.

- Jeremy Hellickson – He'll be 23 in April, and after a season split between AA and AAA he might be ready for the big leagues. Hellickson has pitched in 461 minor league innings, and has 507 strikeouts and a 2.71 ERA.

- Jake McGee – Came back from Tommy John last year. Two years ago he was their best pitching prospect. Some believed he could be a power reliever one day. Not sure if he regained his good velocity. He is an interesting left-hander.

Atlanta could ask for shortstop Reid Brignac, a 24-year-old left-handed hitter who is considered one of the best middle infield prospects in the game. He also played second base a bit last year, so maybe he could be a utility infielder. There is no indication Brignac could play third base.

The Rays' system is considered one of the best in the game, so if the Braves are able to snatch away a top ten prospect, chances are it's going to be a good player. Any draft pick the Braves would have to spend money on would take some time before getting to the big leagues. But this prospect is probably going to be closer, making it even more advantageous to chip in a little money to make sure the Rays give Atlanta a solid talent.

We'll find out Thursday if this trade is going to be done. Then the Braves can turn their attention to finding a home for another pitcher that no longer fits, Derek Lowe.


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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