- Overall, I don’t hate this move as much as I normally hate signing FA relievers, but I do realize that, even with all the implicit discounts the Braves received, $7 million is a lot of money for a reliever. Pit the health and aging risks and draft pick lost against the upside and the financial discount (though it’s still a fairly high price. Instead of buying a new Bentley, the Braves bought a refurbished one, that comes with some risk of break-down, but doesn’t cost as much as a new Bentley. Still, it costs a great deal more than a Nissan Maxima, which probably gets the job done well enough), and I think it’s a fairly decent signing. JC Bradbury of Sabernomics has Wagner valued at $8 million/season on an average team, so there’s at least a chance the Braves get full return on their investment, which is all you can really hope for when you’re dealing with free agent relievers.
Perhaps Frank Wren could’ve built a better bullpen and spent less money by signing a few buy-low types, but it sure is nice to have the closer taken care of. And even though spending $7 million on a closer isn’t exactly the smartest thing a mid-market team could do, it’s at least nice to know that the Braves won’t be doing something incredibly stupid like signing Jose Valverde to a 3 year, $30 million contract.
If Wagner's reasonably healthy, he'll make another $6.5 million in 2011. So essentially the Braves are spending $13.5 million and their first-round draft pick next June -- the 20th overall pick -- for two years of Billy Wagner. Considering how well Wagner pitched both immediately before his elbow injury and immediately after coming off the disabled list last summer, he does seem to have plenty left in the tank. And considering that the Braves figure to be competitive in each of the next two seasons, $13.5 million seems about right.
By the way, the headline on this blog post is "Braves Add a Future HOF'er" ... Is that true? Has Wagner already done enough in his career to someday enter the Coop? CAC describes Wagner as "the greatest left-handed reliever of all time," but I don't know if the left-handed thing gets Wagner any bonus points. Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have already had their tickets punched for Cooperstown, but I'm not so sure about Wagner. I suspect that future Hall of Fame voters will look at saves and remember dominance, and right now: 1) Wagner has fewer saves than non-Hall of Famers John Franco and Lee Smith, and 2) is regarded (with good reason) as less dominant than Hoffman.
Which doesn't mean he won't make it, eventually. It's far from clear how the voters will treat relievers in the coming decades. But Wagner has never led his league saves, and he's showed up in Cy Young balloting just twice. I don't know that he needs to do anything else, but he might really help himself with two or three more good seasons.