Atlanta is at it again.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports, Saito’s base salary will be $3.2 million, according to a major-league source. He can earn $2.3 million in appearance-based incentives.
The move further re-enforces the backend of a bullpen that could have been destroyed by the free agent exodus of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez who have shared the bulk of the closing and setup duties in recent years.
Soriano and Gonzalez were both offered arbitration, and sources said the Braves would have qualms with one or both accepting the offer and returning next season.
It is believed, however, that both are looking for multi-year deals and the opportunity to close, thus likely closing the door on their respective tenures with Atlanta.
Saito, 39, will serve both as a setup man and an insurance policy in case Wagner’s surgically-repaired elbow becomes an issue.
Throughout his four years in the Major Leagues, Saito has served both roles and proven he can excel in any capacity.
Saito spent 2006-2008 in Los Angeles serving as the Dodgers’ primary closer. In that time he went 12-7, racked up 81 saves, posted an impressive 1.96 ERA, and an equally imposing 0.91 WHIP.
A sprained elbow forced Saito to the disabled list in 2008 and when he returned he’d lost the closer’s role to Jonathon Broxton.
As such, the Dodgers non-tendered him that winter and he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox for the 2009 campaign.
Saito spent the year serving as a setup man to Jonathon Papelbon and went 3-3 with a 2.43 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 55.2 innings of work.
He was very solid in his role and reportedly had a number of teams looking to acquire his services.
The move should solidify the Atlanta bullpen for 2009 with incumbents Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, and Manny Acosta all expected to resume their late-inning roles.
As the bullpen now appears settled, the Braves can turn their attention to the next goal, acquiring a power bat to reinforce a lineup that was desperately in need of a spark for most of last season.
The Braves have already been linked to free agents Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady, Mike Cameron, and Marlon Byrd, among many others.
There is also the possibility that the club will avoid dipping into the free agency pool for a hitter and go the trade route, instead.
It is widely-anticipated that last offseason’s key additions, Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, will be shopped this winter with the intent of bringing the aforementioned big-time bat in return.
The Braves may struggle to find a taker for Lowe and the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract.
Vazquez is only under contract through 2010, but was easily the club’s most reliable starter in 2009 and the Braves would no doubt be hesitant to lose his presence at the front of the rotation.
Neither pitcher figures to have much value until after John Lackey is signed to a new deal. After Lackey the free agent pool of starters is very shallow and many teams could find Lowe and Vazquez to be more attractive alternatives.
Whatever the rest of the offseason holds for the Atlanta, one this is certain, the bullpen is all taken care of for 2010.