Braves Sign Takashi Saito
In a matter of 48 hours, the Braves have rebuilt their bullpen.
A day after signing Billy Wagner to be their closer, Atlanta wasted no time in locking up a setup man — Takashi Saito.
Saito was signed to a one-year, $3.2M contract. And just like that, the 8th and 9th innings are solved for the Braves.
I know what you’re thinking: a 39-year-old closer and a 40-year-old setup man sounds like a formula for trouble — particularly when both oldsters have suffered elbow issues in the past two years. But Wagner has a new elbow, and Saito cruised through 56 appearances last year — pitching in the AL East, no less.
All told, the Braves spent a total of $10.2M and a one-year commitment to shore up the back of their bullpen with two standout veterans. Compare and contrast that to the Mets’ strategy last winter of tying up K-Rod for 4 years and spending a total of $60M for him and J.J. Putz to finish up games in 2009. Now, which bullpen makeover made better sense?
So, to conclude the activity for the day: the Phillies added a Gold Glover to their infield, the Braves completed the overhaul of their bullpen, and the Mets signed two backup catchers.
The offseason is still young.
Further, it’s EASY to evaluate an acquisition a year later — I’m not patting the Braves on the back because I have a crystal ball, I’m doing it because I believe they did an excellent job of balancing risk vs. cost vs. potential.
Yes there is some risk in counting on a closer coming off TJ surgery. But considering the overwhelming number of success stories after that particular surgery, it’s much less risky than having a late-inning reliever who has a history of elbow issues and is NOT coming off that particular procedure (i.e., Putz last winter). And if Wagner craps the bed next year, the Braves are only out $7M — they still have trading chips to make a deal for someone else (or promote from within) if necessary. Same goes with Saito — if he breaks down, oh well, the Braves flush $3M down the toilet and start over. Not a huge deal.
The Mets, on the other hand, routinely overspend and empty their farm system in the winter, then have to pray nothing goes wrong during the season, because they’ve allowed themselves no financial flexibility and they’re out of trading chips (or players to promote) when disaster strikes.
But Takashi Saito would not be the arm I want ‘backing up’ Wagner in the pen. His history of elbow woes are well documented, and are certainly part of the reason why the Sox limited him to only 55.1 IP and 56 appearances in 2009. If he is to become a prime setup man and part time closer in Atlanta, you need to inflate those numbers by at least 20 each, and I’m not sure Saito can handle that.
To give you an idea about what the Wagner/Saito combo are being asked to replace, the Gonzalez/Soriano tandem combined for 157 appearances (78.5 per pitcher) and 150 IP (75 IP per pitcher) last season. Do you think Wagner and Saito can duplicate those numbers, especially considering the way Bobby Cox loves to overuse his bullpen?
The offseason is young, so perhaps the Braves have another move up their sleeve to alleviate the pressure off of Wagner and Saito, but as it stands now, I’d say the 8th and 9th innings for the Braves are anything but fully secure in 2010.