Braves close to deal with Mariners

Braves close to deal with Mariners

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A Braves trade that appeared to be a near certainty late Wednesday afternoon found itself on the back burner again just a few hours later.

Long before it was learned that Atlanta was close to completing a trade that would send left-handed starter Horacio Ramirez to Seattle in exchange for right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano, it was believed that it was very close to sending first baseman Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh in exchange for highly-coveted left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez.

But according to one Braves source, the LaRoche-for-Gonzalez deal may be dead. He said that Braves general manager John Schuerholz grew impatient while awaiting a response from Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield.

By the time Wednesday evening arrived, the Braves were believed to have ended these negotiations with the Pirates. But with these Winter Meetings not ending until Thursday, there's still a good possibility that Schuerholz will complete at least one more trade in addition to the one that involves Ramirez and Soriano.

"All I can say is that we're working hard, talking to a lot of teams, and [we] think that we're putting together a lot of good deals that, if we can get them done, will help our team be stronger," Schuerholz said.

At one point Wednesday, there was some speculation that Atlanta was close to completing a trade that simply needed medical clearance. With knowledge that the Gonzalez-for-LaRoche talks were heavy, it wasn't realized that the deal actually was the one that involved Soriano and Ramirez.

The Braves are believed to have already provided medical approval in regards to Soriano, who had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2004 and experienced a short stint with shoulder soreness this past season.

But the Mariners' medical staff left the meetings on Wednesday and its cross-country flight didn't land in Seattle until around 6 p.m. ET. Three hours later, it still wasn't clear if Seattle's doctors had reviewed the medical records of Ramirez, who missed the final seven weeks of this season because of a partially torn pulley tendon in his left middle finger.

At midnight, Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren said that the team wouldn't be making any more announcements before the morning.

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, there's a strong belief that this Ramirez-for-Soriano deal will be announced sometime Thursday morning. With it, the Braves will be acquiring a powerful 27-year-old right-hander who can serve as Bob Wickman's primary setup man.

This was a role that could have also been assumed by Gonzalez, who converted each of the 24 save opportunities he had with the Pirates in 2006. Opponents hit just .213 against Gonzalez this year, and in his 168 career appearances, he's limited them to a .206 batting average.

Soriano is one year younger than Gonzalez and owns some pretty impressive stats of his own. Minus the six appearances he made during his injury-shortened 2004 season, the 27-year-old right-hander has completed 125 1/3 innings as a reliever. During that span, he's posted an impressive 1.87 ERA.

In the 53 appearances he made this year, Soriano completed 60 innings, recorded 65 strikeouts, registered 21 walks and limited opponents to a .204 batting average. Just after the All-Star break, he spent two weeks on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.

When he returned, Soriano was pitching effectively and had earned an opportunity to serve as the team's closer. But his season ended on Aug. 29, when he was struck in the head with a line drive off the bat of Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero.

Because of the depth the Braves possess in their starting rotation, they have the luxury of trading the oft-injured Ramirez, who was 5-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 14 starts this year. If this deal is completed, they will realize a savings of nearly $1.5 million.

With both being arbitration-eligible, Ramirez is expected to receive a salary in the neighborhood of $3 million and Soriano will likely earn somewhere near $1.5 million.

Just as important to the cost-savings element is the fact the Braves have strengthened their bullpen. This will further enhance the value of their potentially strong starting rotation. With John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton at the top, the rotation's depth was enhanced with last year's emergence of rookie left-hander Chuck James.

"There were times last year that he pitched like the best pitcher we could put out there," Schuerholz said of James, who posted a .733 winning percentage in the 25 appearances he made this season.

After joining the rotation in late June, James provided Atlanta the confidence it needed to even consider trading Ramirez. In nine of his final 11 starts, the 25-year-old rookie allowed two earned runs or less.

Late Wednesday evening, another Braves source indicated that the club could be ready to make a big trade on Thursday. There still hasn't been much of a market for second baseman Marcus Giles, and it's almost certain the club won't be trading Hudson.

As for Andruw Jones, it's become even more evident that he'll be in Atlanta for the 2007 season.

On Tuesday night, Jones' agent, Scott Boras, indicated there was "new information" regarding his client. This hinted that the Braves were ready to approach the Gold Glove outfielder about a potential deal that couldn't be completed without him waiving the no-trade clause he's earned by compiling 10 years of Major League service time and being with the same team for five consecutive years.

When asked about Boras' comment, Schuerholz's response wasn't surprising.

"I don't really care what he says," Schuerholz said.

Both Braves manager Bobby Cox and Schuerholz have indicated all of their plans for this upcoming season involve Jones, who will earn $13.5 million in the final year of his contract.

"I've said that all along," Schuerholz said when asked if he envisions Jones remaining with the Braves. "He is a 10-5 man. He controls his own destiny for this year."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.