Deal is done: Soriano for Chavez

The Braves have made their first trade of the offseason.

The Braves have traded closer Rafael Soriano to the Tampa Bay Rays for middle reliever Jesse Chavez.

Soriano shocked the Braves Monday night when he accepted arbitration. The Braves believed he would turn down the offer and sign a multi-year deal with another club, which would have netted Atlanta two early picks in next June's draft.

But after Soriano's agent accepted the offer, the Braves immediately sought a trade. With last week's signings of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, Soriano was no longer needed by the Braves.

General Manager Frank Wren said Tuesday that right after the news broke on Soriano's decision, numerous teams contacted him about a potential deal. So Wren was very confident a deal could be reached quickly.

The Rays will use Soriano as the main closer next year. J.P. Howell was their closer last season, but he had only 17 saves.

In exchange for Soriano, the Braves receive reliever Jesse Chavez, a 26-year-old right-hander who was traded to the Rays from Pittsburgh last month for second baseman Akinori Iwamura.

Chavez just finished his first full season in the big leagues, appearing in 73 games for the Pirates. He was 1-4, with a 4.01 ERA, 69 hits allowed in 67.1 innings pitched, 22 walks, and 47 strikeouts.

Chavez features a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s, topping out at 97 mph. He also has an effective slider and changeup.

Here are some interesting stats on Chavez. He had a 3.24 ERA in the 6th inning (in 8.1 innings), and a 0.83 ERA in the 7th inning (21.2 innings) last year. So in the 6th and 7th innings, which is when he'll probably pitch the most for Atlanta, Chavez had a 1.50 ERA.

Chavez was also very tough on left-handed hitters, allowing just a .228 average. But his troubles last season came against four teams in his team's own division.

Chavez had a 8.39 ERA in 26 games against Milwaukee (10.80 ERA), St. Louis (10.80), Chicago (7.36), and Cincinnati (6.14). Against all the other teams he faced, Chavez's ERA last year was 2.25.

Originally from Victorville, California, Chavez played summer league ball in high school with Braves' pitcher Jo Jo Reyes. He then played at Riverside Community College, which is where Tommy Hanson would go a few seasons later.

Chavez joins Wagner, Saito, and Scott Proctor as the four new members of the Atlanta bullpen.

Here's what George Von Benko, the publisher of Pirates Dugout.com, had to say about Chavez:

"Well he was a workhorse for them last year. He had some very good performances. Like any young pitcher, he also took his lumps at time, with a tendency to give up some long balls. He was a very serviceable pitcher. The Pirates really didn't want to give him up, but they had to get a second baseman. I still think he's got a lot of upside, cause he's got a good arm. Fastball is pretty good. He still needs to refine some of his other pitches. He is in the lower-90s, and occasionally can top it into the mid-90s. I talked to Joe Kerrigan and he was very pleased with his progress. It was sort of a classroom for him, when you're thrust in that situation, and with the way the Pirates bullpen disintegrated; he became one of the more useful pitchers. That's why he was used so much. But he was learning how to pitch. He has a slider, and when he'd hang it he'd get into trouble with it. I think it really started to develop more in spring training. I think that's a pitch that could be refined and become better. He visible wore down a bit toward the end of the season, cause they were using him a lot. When Matt Capps had that run, when he was going bad, there were times when Chavez and (Joel) Hanrahan were put in different situations. But he shouldn't have to do that with the Braves. I think he's going to flourish in that role. I still think, as a young player, he still has some upside. He could turn into a pretty nice reliever."

And here's Pirates' pitching coach Joe Kerrigan talking about Chavez to Von Benko after the season:

"I'll give you an example: Jesse Chavez pitching 70 games to understand all the variables, all the situations that are thrown at him. What pitch is needed in those variables and situations? How do I get out of those jams? How do I pitch with a one-run lead as opposed to a two- or three-run lead? How do I pitch around a lineup? What did this guy hit off me the last time I faced him? The only way you get better is to absorb all that knowledge and bring it with you the next time you're in that situation. And Jesse is getting a lot better at that."



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.