Billy Wagner to Atlanta

We saw the first big move of free agency late last night, as the Atlanta Braves signed closer Billy Wagner. With the potential losses of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez looming large, Frank Wren felt the need to fill the gap in the bullpen. Per Rosenthal, the terms of the deal include 7 million dollars for 2010 and a vesting option for 2011.

How does this deal look for the Braves? From a pure production standpoint, we saw some very promising things from Wagner last year with the Red Sox. He struck out 26 of the 63 batters he faced, and looked completely back from the injury that ended his 2008. At his best, Wagner is capable of putting up sub-2.00 ERAs and FIP/tERAs in the low 2s. Over 60-70 innings of closing, that can be worth about two wins above replacement. A season like that would put Wagner’s deal at slightly below his market value.

Of course, there’s another element to this signing. The Red Sox offered arbitration to Wagner, who was one of the type A relievers on the market this year. That means that the Braves will have to give their first round draft pick, 19th overall, to the Red Sox. Given Wagner’s injury risk, as a reliever just coming off of injury and about to enter his age 39 season, there was enough risk involved to question a 7 million dollar deal before considering his type A status.

Victor Wang’s research on the draft has found that the average “tier 1” compensation pick – that is, a pick between number 16-30 overall – is worth roughly 5.5 million dollars in surplus value. The Braves had to sacrifice the #19 overall pick in order to sign Wagner. This means that the Braves had to sacrifice 12.5 million dollars in value in order to make this move happen.

At least, that’s 12.5 million dollars in a vacuum. The Braves are a team poised to make a run, with one of the best starting rotations in the league, two superstars in Chipper Jones and Brian McCann to build around, and few major holes to fill. Wagner’s production in 2009 may be of greater importance to the Braves than whatever wins this draft pick would be worth in 2012 or 2013 or whenever he would make the majors, if at all. It’s also possible that they receive a first round draft pick in return for Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano, the type A relievers to whom the Braves offered arbitration.

Still, I don’t think this is a great move for the Braves. Re-signing Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano would’ve eliminated the need to sacrifice a draft pick. Relievers are tremendously fungibile. One or both of Gonzalez and Soriano could accept arbitration, leaving the Braves in a tough budget situation. Left field is a much larger need for the Braves, who saw almost no production out of Garret Anderson at the position in 2009.

The deal could work out quite well for the Braves, if Wagner can stay healthy for the entire year. If Wagner doesn’t feel the effects of aging. If Wagner doesn’t have an unlucky year in the small sample of innings a reliever sees. If the Braves can fill their hole at LF. If their system can handle the lack of a first round draft pick. If they actually get a first round pick back for Gonzalez and/or Soriano if they leave. Too many “if”s for me.

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26 Responses to “Billy Wagner to Atlanta”

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  1. Werthless says:

    The status of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano as type-A fee agents makes the signing of Wagner relatively draft-pick neutral. It’s “relatively” neutral, depending on the team that signs the 2 ex-Braves (whether it’s a team in the top 15, or outside of the protected 15).

    Also, considering that the 2 aforementioned pitchers will likely sign longer-term deals (3 years?), this short-term contract seems to make a lot of sense for the Braves. There are not many impact RPs available on 1 or 2 year deals, but Wagner is one.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      Guess who’s #1 all time for K/9 among pitchers with 800+ Innings pitched?

      Billy Wagner. At 11.79.

      I know relievers are expected to post higher K/9, but, holy shit, 11.79 strikeouts per 9? And he hasn’t had a bad year since 2000.

      I think Jack’s being too critical of the signing, because if there’s any type of reliever that performs well year after year, it’s one who strikes guys out without walking a bunch. Wagner is one of those guys (he’s also 5th all time in that same 800+ IP group in K/BB, literally deadlocked with Mariano Rivera. In fact, Wagner and Rivera are unbelievably similar).

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  2. dan says:

    “The status of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano as type-A fee agents makes the signing of Wagner relatively draft-pick neutral. It’s “relatively” neutral, depending on the team that signs the 2 ex-Braves (whether it’s a team in the top 15, or outside of the protected 15).”

    While it’s likely that both are gone it’s not 100% definite yet. Also, FA compensation also depends on if the other team signs a higher ranked FA.

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  3. Brett R says:

    A minor quibble but I believe the Braves have/had the 20th pick in the draft, not the 19th.

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  4. Dallas says:

    The Braves have Craig Kimbrel preparing for the closers role in the minors. Like 1B, I don’t think their looking to commit to a long-term contract with a closer. Which is what Gonzo and Soriano will be looking for. It’s sounding like a certainty that Gonzales is gone and after Soriano’s year I can’t imagine a team not picking him up. They replace the draft pick they lost and gain another. Moylan is a highly capable set-up man, but I’d be worried about his health after last year’s work load. Wagner’s a gamble, but after Soriano’s 2008 injury filled season and Gonzales entering his second year post surgery, it’s proof that no one is a sure thing.

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  5. JoeR43 says:

    Red Sox could very easily end up with 5 draft picks in the first round, if Bay leaves.
    At least 3-4.

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  6. Oscar says:

    Yes, The important point is that the Braves would have to “pay” two draft picks to resign either Gonzalez or Soriano, and this way they only had to pay one. They are taking on some risk because they know what pick they lose for Wagner but they don’t know what picks they’ll gain for Gonzalez and Soriano, but it’s a calculated risk that is helped by a) Wagner having arguably the best upside for 2010 and b) not having to give a three year deal to a reliever. I think it’s a smart move.

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  7. MBD says:

    Wagner is, indeed, a risk, but neither Gonzalez nor Soriano is nearly as effective. Gonzalez seems to be a 1-win pitcher, and Soriano provided 2 wins in 2009 after several years of contributing almost nothing. Each has an injury history of his own. Wagner’s strikeouts are still there, and the control will come back with a few more innings of work. The Braves are going for it now, before Bobby and Chipper are gone, and this signing gives them Wagner’s upside without a long-term commitment if he breaks down. After 2010, the kids can step in. And, as someone pointed out elsewhere, the acquisition of Wagner tells Gonzalez and Soriano that they had better leave if they want to close.

    Of course, the aforementioned G. Anderson signing makes one question the wisdom of this FO. Maybe they’re better at judging pitchers than position players.

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  8. JoeR43 says:

    In fact, allow me to go in length on Wagner vs. Rivera

    IP: Rivera 1090, Wagner 833 2/3
    ERA+: Rivera 202, Wagner 182
    WHIP: Rivera 1.013, Wagner 1.007
    OPS against: Rivera .556, Wagner .563
    K/BB: Rivera 3.93, Wagner 3.93
    HR/9: Rivera .495, Wagner .831
    tRA (since 2002): Rivera 2.74, Wagner 3.11
    FIP: Rivera 2.78, Wagner 2.79

    So Rivera is better, no doubt. But a lot of that stuff is pretty comparible.

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    • B says:

      The major difference is one rises in the huge moments (Moe), and one shrinks up in the huge moments (Billy).

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      • JoeR43 says:

        So we’re now using a 11 1/3 inning sample size of postseason badness to a guy?

        I’m sure his struggles in the postseason have nothing to do with a .447 career playoff BABIP against vs. a regular season career mark of .266. Nope, not at all. All choke, no luck.

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      • Jonathan says:

        Let’s also not forget that Mo is known for what is just about the single biggest choke moment in playoff history. Guy’s still got a fistful of rings. Wagner and Rivera are entirely comparable, Rivera’s better for sure, but it’s not exactly a huge difference.

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  9. KJ says:

    I really wouldn’t call Chipper Jones a “superstar” any longer. The two biggest stars for the Braves are now Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar.

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  10. Alex says:

    “Re-signing Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano would’ve eliminated the need to sacrifice a draft pick.”

    Well, no. If Gonzalez and Soriano sign elsewhere, they’ll receive 4 draft picks for them; minus the one for Wagner, that makes 3 picks.

    If the Braves had re-signed one of them (0 picks), offered arbitration to the other (2 picks), and not signed Wagner (save 1 pick), that’s 3 total as well. BUT, it is highly unlikely they could have signed either for just one year, as they did with Wagner, so this scenario would require a much higher investment overall.

    The other real downside is if either one accepts; the only way I see that happening is if there just aren’t any multiyear deals (i.e. security) out there for them, which is what two guys with histories of arm troubles are going to be looking. Even then, that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    And as noted above, the signing of Wagner let’s both Soriano and Gonzalez that if they accepted, they wouldn’t have and saves on their resume when they re-entered free agency in 2011.

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    • Mister Delaware says:

      “The other real downside is if either one accepts …”

      Agreed that this is the real risk. Wagner for 1+1 is a better investment than Gonzalez or Soriano for 3+ guaranteed but if the market for those two is similar to what Juan Cruz faced last year, they risk tying up a lot of money in the bullpen.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Either one would be trade-able if they did accept, though. It’s really not much downside.

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      • Alex says:

        Gonzalez and Soriano only have a week to accept or decline arbitration. Its not like they really see what’s out there and then decide they whether or not to accept arbitration. On top of that, with Wagner now entrenched as the closer, Gonzalez or Soriano would have to spend next year in a setup role before hitting the market again next year, which can really only hurt their value.

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      • Joser says:

        And if Wagner does come up lame in ’10, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have one of those guys hanging around in the bullpen to fill his shoes. Expensive insurance, sure, but if you’re preparing to make a pennant run in the NL East, that’s just the cost of doing business.

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  11. chuckb says:

    I would be surprised if the Braves don’t end up in the Matt Holliday derby. While some may disagree with that, if he does end up w/ the Braves, Wagner costs the Braves a 2nd rounder, which reduces the loss they face by signing him.

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    • tac7t says:

      Unless the Braves expand their payroll, in keeping with 2010 being “the year” for them, Holliday will not end up in Atlanta. The teams in NYC will just be offering too much.

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    • mattymatty says:

      I think the $100 Million plus contract Holliday will be due will have a greater impact on keeping him out of Atlanta than pushing an already lost draft pick to the second round will have on adding him to the Braves.

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  12. walkoffblast says:

    To me this is one of those cases where you have to look at the big picture, not just the move in a vacuum. The move itself is questionable but for many of the reasons people have stated actually makes a lot of sense for the organization as a whole.

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  13. Will says:

    Think about it this way – the Braves were clearly telling Soriano and Gonzalez that they will not be the closer if they accept arbitration. That makes it an almost certainty that they get awarded those 4 additional picks.

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  14. nick says:

    We’re talking about a guy who if he plays to his career averages which judging off his tiny sample in Boston is a distinct possibility (not the insane K rate but just remaining immensely effective) is a top 5 relief pitcher in all of baseball, the same cannot be said for either Soriano or Gonzalez simple as that. I’d also fully expect the Braves to add one more reliever (im hoping Calero) with late inning ability to go along with Moylan, Medlen, O’ Flaherty, and Kimbrel/Valdez. That’s a very strong bullpen.

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  15. Cobrasnake says:

    “Re-signing Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano would’ve eliminated the need to sacrifice a draft pick.”

    About this, if they re-sign one of them they would have still been sacrificing a draft pick. Only difference is it would have been one that they would have got from another team, instead of one that they already had.

    Also another thing that you are over looking, the Braves only have to give up a first rounder to get Wagner. On the other hand if they lose Gonzalez or Soriano or both they not only get a first rounder from the team that signs him but they also get a supplemental pick as well.

    So really when comparing the picks you get or don’t get you have to add in the supplemental pick as well. Even if the team that signs them signs a higher ranked type A FA and we get a 2nd rounder instead of a first, wouldn’t the supplemental pick that we would get help make up for that?

    If I’m not mistaken the supplemental pick is a pick between the 1st and 2nd round, that has to have pretty good value as well.

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