After a few weeks of inactivity the Braves picked up the pace Tuesday night and agreed in principal to a one-year, $7 million contract with closer Billy Wagner. The deal is pending Wagner passing a physical, which will apparently take place in Atlanta on Wednesday. If all is well, I would expect an official announcement and press conference sometime Thursday.
There is a second year on Wagner's deal and it is a vesting option worth $6.5 million, and will become guaranteed if he finished 50 games next season, according to Ken Rosenthal. I read that as "finishes" and not "appears in," so that means he pretty much has to stay healthy all season. Wagner has average 56 games finished per season over his career.
The $7 million salary for 2010 is essentially replacing Rafael Soriano's $7 million salary from last season. The Red Sox offered Wagner, a type-A free agent, arbitration, so the Braves stand to lose their first round pick. But by offering Soriano and Mike Gonzalez arbitration yesterday, the Braves should gain that pick back (plus some) if those two relievers, as expected, sign elsewhere.
Wagner will turn 39 next season, but when healthy he's one of the best closers in the game -- averaging over 30 saves a season, while sporting a career ERA of 2.39 and an 11.8 K/9 rate. I especially like the fact that he's a lefty closer in a division that has quite a few lefty sluggers. The ability to neutralize the left-handedness of the Phillies lineup will be invaluable.
This is a good signing by Frank Wren and company. Wagner proved he was plenty-healthy last year, and he is absolutely one of the best closers in the game. Well played, and a good upgrade (yes, upgrade) over Soriano or Gonzalez. Add to all this that Wagner hasn't made as low as $7 million since 2001, and we not only got a great closer we got him for a bargain -- pure Braves move.
Oh, and by the way, Billy Wagner's agent is named Bean Stringfellow... Bean Stringfellow.