When left-hander Mike Gonzalez was about to become a free agent for the first time, he switched representatives late in the season and went with the agent known for getting fat contracts for free-agent clients.
Agent Scott Boras says there are suitors lined up for Gonzalez, who could be too expensive to keep for a Braves team not known for lavishing multi-year contracts on relief pitchers.
Boras said as many as half of all major league teams called him to express interest in Gonzalez before Friday, the first day teams were permitted to negotiate with other teams' free agents.
"His abilities are extraordinary," Boras said of Gonzalez, who had a 2.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 74-1/3 innings in his first full season since returning from ligament-transplant elbow surgery. "The key thing is how to keep his abilities on the field for a long time and for a lot of years."
Gonzalez and fellow Braves closer Rafael Soriano, along with Billy Wagner, are considered the best relief pitchers available among 171 players who filed for free agency. The Braves have expressed interest in Wagner as a potential replacement.
Like Gonzalez and Soriano, Wagner was classified as a Type-A free agent. That means if he's offered arbitration, any team that signs him would have to give up a first-round draft pick as compensation. But at age 38 and only a year removed from elbow surgery, Wagner might be cheaper and available on a one-year deal.
The Braves must decide by Dec. 1 whether to offer arbitration to free agents Gonzalez, Soriano and first baseman Adam LaRoche, also a Type A.
If the Braves offer arbitration to any, they would get a first-round draft pick from a signing team, plus a supplemental pick created after the first round.
However, the Braves run the risk of taking on a higher salary than they prefer if any of those three accept arbitration offers. LaRoche made $7.05 million last season and hit 25 homers; Soriano made $6.35 million and had 27 saves and 102 strikeouts in 75-2/3 innings; and Gonzalez made $3.45 million.
Gonzalez appears the safest bet for an arbitration offer, for two reasons: The Braves could live with him as closer at his projected arbitration salary, and Boras isn't likely to advise accepting arbitration when "Gonzo" is expected to have plenty of multi-year offers from which to choose.
Boras said Gonzalez, 31, called late in the season to see about joining the stable of Boras clients that includes Braves pitchers Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe and free-agent outfielder Garret Anderson. Gonzalez was formerly represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
"We think we can really help him," said Boras, who had Gonzalez visit his headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., and check out the state-of-the-art health center that services his clients.
"He came out and we met with him," said Boras, who has a staff that includes trainers, physical therapists, nutritionists and assorted doctors, including sports psychologists. "After did our measurements on him at our sport-fitness institute, we think we can bring out improvements in his flexibility and core strength …
"He's got a big [free agent] market. When you look at his true save opportunities in the closer role, it's 85 percent [for his career]. Teams need closers, and this guy is coming off a great year. And a lot of teams also want that quasi-setup guy with closer capabilities."
Braves seek to bolster offense
Besides potential replacements at first base and closer, the Braves want to improve their offense this offseason, preferably with a power hitter.
That could be either a first baseman or an outfielder, since they would prefer not to have to count on top outfield prospect Jason Heyward starting from Opening Day without previous big-league experience.
The Braves have expressed interest in free agent Mark DeRosa, a former Braves infielder who can play the corner-outfield positions. They'll consider trade possibilities including a possible deal for Washington Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham.
They are believed to have interest in free-agent outfielders Mike Cameron, a LaGrange native who says he would like to play in Atlanta, and Jermaine Dye, who began his career with the Braves and still has 25-homer power despite a decline in overall skills. Free-agent outfielders Xavier Nady and Marlon Byrd could be other possibilities.
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