Braves trade prospect for Indians closer Wickman

Updated: July 21, 2006, 8:37 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

The Atlanta Braves, looking for bullpen help as they make a run at the National League wild card, acquired closer Bob Wickman from Cleveland for minor league catcher Max Ramirez on Thursday.

Relief Pitcher
Cleveland Indians

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
29 1 4 11 17 4.18

Wickman, 37, is 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA and 15 saves this season. He's eligible for free agency this winter. He said he had vetoed other deals before agreeing to the one that sent him to Atlanta.

"I was very close to signing with this team twice, to the point where I was scheduled to report to Atlanta the next day for a physical before Cleveland came back to sign me," Wickman said.

"I'm happy to be here and I want to help this team get into the playoffs. It's going to be a challenge and something that I'm looking forward to."

The Braves were desperate to upgrade a bullpen that's tied with Kansas City for first in the major leagues with 20 blown saves. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox has used Chris Reitsma, Mike Remlinger, Ken Ray and Jorge Sosa, among others, to close games this season.

"I think our team is better," said Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz after the trade. "We have all year long characterized our bullpen as a work in progress. It's been problematic for us. Acquiring Wickman solidifies that closer role and puts all the other pitchers in a more comfortable position to do their jobs."

Wickman got an important introduction to Atlanta in 2000 when he visited Turner Field in his first All-Star appearance.

"Bobby made me feel unbelievably comfortable at that All-Star Game and it was something I will never forget," Wickman said.

Ramirez, 21, was rated Atlanta's No. 20 prospect by Baseball America before this season. He was hitting .285 with nine homers in 267 at-bats for the Braves' Class A Rome affiliate. He was picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.

With Cleveland at 42-52 and 21 games out of first place in the American League Central Division, baseball front office people expect Indians general manager Mark Shapiro to shop Aaron Boone, Guillermo Mota, Ronnie Belliard and possibly one or two more veterans between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The Braves have won 14 straight division titles, but their chances looked to be in doubt when they were 33-46. Since then, Atlanta has won 12 of 16 to get back into wild-card contention, five games behind Cincinnati.

Atlanta's seven-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at St. Louis. The Braves were off Thursday, and play a weekend series in Philadelphia.

Wickman earned his 15th save Wednesday to help the Indians end a five-game losing streak. The right-hander is 1-4 with a 4.18 ERA in 29 games.

Cleveland has been a disappointment this season and fallen far back in the AL Central and wild-card races.

Ray, who has five saves in eight chances, had perhaps the most success, but no reliever fared well enough to hold the job.

The Braves also struggled to close games last year, when former closer John Smoltz made his return to the starting rotation.

Wickman has been a reliable closer despite often allowing baserunners.

It was no different Wednesday when he gave up a two-out double to Orlando Cabrera before striking out Vladimir Guerrero in a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

Wickman, in his seventh season with the Indians, is the club's career saves leader with 138. He has a lifetime record of 60-55 with a 3.64 ERA and 229 saves in 14 seasons.

Last year, Wickman converted 45 of 50 save opportunities and made his second All-Star appearance. It was Wickman's first full season after having elbow surgery that caused him to miss the 2003 season and the first half of 2004.

Wickman chose to sign a one-year, $5 million contract in December after the Indians were unsuccessful in signing B.J. Ryan or Trevor Hoffman.

The Braves are well-stocked at catcher. Brian McCann, at 22, made the NL All-Star team this year and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, playing at Double-A Mississippi, is regarded as a top prospect.

Wickman joined the Indians in 2000, coming over in a seven-player deal that sent Richie Sexson to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Hard-throwing rookie Fausto Carmona appears to be the favorite to take over the closer role for the Indians, who expected to be contenders after winning 93 games last season.

Wickman was the most obvious trade candidate for the Indians, who entered Thursday 21 games back in the AL Central.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer