Braves thrilled with acquisition of Soriano

Rafael Soriano

The Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez trade was made official with a noon announcement. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

After watching his bullpen blow thirty-three saves last season, Braves' General Manager John Schuerholz knew improving the relief corps was his main priority at the winter meetings. The Thursday trade acquiring Mariners' reliever Rafael Soriano accomplished that main goal.

"We've been focusing on him for a while," Schuerholz said in his suite announcing the trade. "He stands out. We have a much stronger bullpen now with this move."

Soriano was acquired for Braves' lefty starter Horacio Ramirez. He is a 27-year-old hard-throwing right-hander who was 1-2 in 2006 with a 2.25 ERA in 53 games. Soriano allowed 44 hits in 60 innings pitched, 15 earned runs, 21 walks, and 65 strikeouts.

The Braves have been after Rafael Soriano for some time now, even inquiring about him last year. But when Schuerholz realized the Mariners were interested in getting another starting pitcher, he believed he could strike a deal.

"In analyzing what their needs were, and what we were looking for, we believed we could finally acquire him," Schuerholz admitted. "I'm happy we were able to match up with them."

"We tried to get Soriano last year and he was untouchable," Braves' Manager Bobby Cox said. "Everybody I've run into in the lobby really likes him a lot."

Soriano has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s along with a curve, changeup, and an occasional splitter. He was hit in the head by a line drive last season, but the Braves checked the medical records and were satisfied Soriano had no lingering effects from the injury. Braves' scout Chuck McMichael recently saw Soriano pitch in the Dominican Republic and had a good report.

Cox mentioned that Soriano could also start, but the Braves have a huge need in the bullpen. They got the closer's role wrapped up late in the season when they re-signed Bob Wickman, but they wanted a pitcher with experience as a setup man to join a long list of internal candidates that will be battling for jobs in spring training.

Tyler Yates, Macay McBride, and Oscar Villarreal have an inside track on the three of the remaining five jobs in the pen. Blaine Boyer, Chad Paronto, Joey Devine, Peter Moylan, Phil Stockman, Lance Cormier, and possibly Chris Reitsma will compete for the remaining two spots.

The Braves have to make a decision on Reitsma by Tuesday when they have to tender contracts to players eligible for arbitration. They are likely to non-tender Reitsma, who started last year as the closer, and try to bring him back for a smaller contract.

Cox said Cormier could also emerge as a candidate for the starting rotation next season. With Ramirez gone, Chuck James and Kyle Davies will probably not get the final two spots behind John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and the returning Mike Hampton.

Schuerholz said he did not anticipate looking for an additional starting pitcher. He also acted like the Braves would not actively seek another reliever this winter. The team had been in extensive trade talks this week with the Pittsburgh Pirates about acquiring closer Mike Gonzalez. Those talks broke down when the Pirates asked for more than Braves' first baseman Adam LaRoche.

With most teams leaving the Winter Meetings this afternoon, discussions and activity may slow down a bit. But Schuerholz said his staff will "be doing our share of talking" to try to further improve the team.

Cox said the Braves did not want to trade Ramirez but the depth in the rotation and need in the bullpen necessitated a move. Ramirez has been in the Braves' rotation for the last four years. He was 12-4 in his rookie season with an ERA of 4.00 in 29 starts. Then he started out strong the next year going 2-4 with a 2.39 ERA in his first nine starts before going down with a shoulder injury.

Ramirez bounced back in 2005 to win 11 games, but his 4.48 ERA showed he had not really turned the corner into a dependable and consistent starter. This past season Ramirez was hurt in his first start of the year, pulling his hamstring in Los Angeles. He missed almost two full months with the injury, and when he returned Ramirez had solid June (2-2, 2.87 ERA in five starts). But the inconsistency popped up again as Ramirez had a 6.29 ERA in July.

Then in mid-August Ramirez suffered a partial tear of his tendon pulley in his middle finger, an injury similar to what forced John Thomson to miss three months in 2005. Ramirez would miss the remainder of the season.

Ramirez will now join a Seattle rotation that is about to lose right-hander Gil Meche, expected to sign a contract today with the Kansas City Royals.

The Braves could still look to sign an additional free agent reliever, particularly since this trade does free up an extra $1.2 million dollars in the budget. There should be several relievers still on the market through January.

Along with the LaRoche rumors, the Braves tried to acquire a reliever for second baseman Marcus Giles. But the activity on Giles has been very slow.

***
Schuerholz said the Braves were disappointed that free agent Daryle Ward chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs. The Braves wanted Ward to return next season as their main hitter off the bench.

"We wanted him," Schuerholz said. "He took the deal that he liked."


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard on the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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