Braves Bargains May Prove to be Strength of the Team
By Martin Gandy
March 25, 2010
Since the heyday of the 90's the Atlanta Braves have moved from one of baseballs big spenders to one of the league's average spenders. While they haven't trimmed their salary too much, many other teams used the Braves example of spending on key free agents and spending to retain their homegrown talent, and have surpassed Atlanta in salary expenditures. But the Braves have always found ways to stay competitive with whatever budget they found themselves with, and this off-season they used that craftiness to sign some players who could
turn out to be the best bargains signed by any team this winter.
They needed a first baseman and a middle of the order hitter, so they signed Troy Glaus to a contract of under $2 million. So far this spring he looks like a free agent steal, as he has been hitting around .400, and his walks have him on base in more than half of his plate appearances. If he can keep up even a fraction of that performance during the regular season, then he may be the free agent bargain of the decade.
After almost eight years of making more than $8 million a year, and having made more than $10 million for each of the past four years, the Braves convinced closer Billy Wagner to sign for a mere $7 million. That's the Billy Wagner who is fifth on the all-time saves list, and second among left-handed relievers. That's the Billy Wagner who has been consistently good year after year, posting only one season out of his 15 major league seasons with an ERA over 2.85. This in an off-seaosn when the former Atlanta closer options of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez each got more money from their new teams. At $7 million Billy Wagner is a bargain.
While watching guys like John Lackey and Roy Halladay get huge new contracts from their new teams this off-sesaon, the Braves were able to re-sign their ace Tim Hudson to a contract that was less than his last contract. At just $9 million a year for the next four years, Hudson is a bargain for a starting pitcher who can be as good as the guys making almost twice as much.
Four years ago Scott Proctor was the Yankees top setup man and one of the most coveted relievers in baseball. He had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and sat out all of 2009. The Braves signed him to a minor league contract this off-season. Since then he has done nothing but exceed expectations and is ahead of schedule in his return, with an eye towards starting the season with the big league club. He may turn out to be one of the top middle relievers on the team -- a guy with overpowering stuff and the experience to back it up. All of this for under $1 million, and he's been one of the top guys in the clubhouse who have helped the younger Braves relievers this spring.
The Braves seem to be adding impact players at almost every position at bargain prices; guys who will play critical roles on the 2010 team. Add to Glaus, Wagner, Hudson, and Proctor, guys like Eric Hinske, one of the top pinch hitters in the game for just $1 million. Taksahi Saito, a top setup man and veteran closer in his own right, signed for just over $3 million. Matt Diaz, a guy who was one of the top-10 hitters in the NL in the second half of last season, for $2.5 million. The list goes on and on.
The Braves have always known how to find great players at a great price, and it's good to know that they still can. This year certainly seems like a year in which this team can go all the way, and if they do, it will be because of these bargain players.