Braves may target free-agent closer

Braves may target free-agent closer

ATLANTA -- As expected, the early portion of the free-agent season has proven to be rather quiet for the Braves and most every other Major League club.

Still with the arrival of Thanksgiving, we move closer toward the Winter Meetings and a period when clubs will likely provide better indications about who will be filling the needs that they have carried into the offseason.

Most of the early news regarding the Braves during the free-agent period has simply confirmed that left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez is going to gain strong attention from a number of clubs looking to strengthen the back end of the bullpen.

There have also been some reports that have linked them to a couple of American League Central sluggers. But early indications provide reasons to believe they aren't currently seriously entertaining the options of acquiring Miguel Cabrera from the Tigers or grabbing Jermaine Dye off the free-agent market.

While Cabrera would provide the Braves with a top-caliber right-handed hitter who could play first base, he would also come with a cost of $126 million over the course of the next six seasons.

The Braves are among the handful of clubs that have had discussions with Bean Stringfellow, who represents Billy Wagner, the veteran left-hander who could fill Atlanta's need for a closer.

This need stems from the fact that Rafael Soriano and Gonzalez could sign elsewhere this winter. The Braves are expected to offer arbitration to both of these free-agent relievers, who have been classified as Type-A free agents.

With it still appearing to be too early to quantify the level of interest the Braves are showing, it may be more appropriate to simply look at the free agents that they are expected to continue pursuing over the course of the next few weeks.

POTENTIAL FREE-AGENT TARGETS

Billy Wagner: An AL scout who watched Wagner pitch during the regular season's final weekend said he is convinced the 38-year-old reliever can still be an effective closer. This belief seems to be strengthened by the fact that Wagner posted a 1.98 ERA and limited opponents to a .174 batting average in the 15 appearances he made after returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

Stringfellow's claim that Wagner might be willing to accept an arbitration offer from the Red Sox seems to be an attempt to persuade Boston not to provide his client this option. By doing so, the club could scare away those teams that are not willing to provide the Type-A Draft-pick compensation that would be required if they then signed the veteran closer.

Because the Braves are in a position where they could gain Type-A compensation via both Gonzalez and Soriano (a pair of Type-A free agents who will likely leave Atlanta), they won't necessarily be scared by Wagner's status.

Wagner is just 39 saves away from matching John Franco's record for saves by a left-handed reliever. With this in mind, there's little reason to believe he would entertain the option to accept arbitration and return to Boston to serve as Jonathan Papelbon's setup man.

Fernando Rodney: If the Braves are unable to sign Wagner and it becomes even more apparent that both Gonzalez and Soriano will prove to be too expensive for their tastes, the Braves may at least entertain the option of signing Rodney, who converted 37 of 38 save opportunities and posted a 4.40 ERA for the Tigers this past season.

Rodney's September struggles soured a season during which he posted a 3.17 ERA and limited opponents to a .216 batting average in his first 58 appearances. The 32-year-old right-hander is a Type B free agent, who at the right price could also draw interest from the Braves as a setup man.

Octavio Dotel: Dotel's previous stint in Atlanta proved to be ugly as injuries limited him to just nine games after he was acquired at the 2007 Trade Deadline. Still, the 36-year-old reliever proved to be effective while posting a 3.32 ERA and limiting opponents to a .239 batting average in 62 appearances for the White Sox this past season.

Any concerns about Dotel being listed as a Type-A free agent are negated by the fact that the White Sox aren't expected to offer him arbitration. If the price is right, the Braves may opt to pursue him to serve as a setup man.

Marlon Byrd: Coming off a season during which he hit .283 with 20 homers, Byrd will be attractive to a number of clubs looking for an affordable option to fill their outfield. If the Braves were able to grab him off the free-agent market, they would find themselves with more reason to explore the possibility of trading former top prospect Jordan Schafer.

Adam LaRoche: Like Gonzalez and Soriano, there is still a slight chance that LaRoche could return to Atlanta next year. But the Braves seem content to wait to see what kind of demand he draws before determining whether they'll re-sign him to serve as their first baseman.

As the Braves continue to explore their offensive needs, they seem to be putting more emphasis on the trade market with the hope that it will provide them the first baseman or outfielder they are seeking.

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