Braves, Saito agree to contract
ATLANTA -- The Braves made another move to strengthen their pitching staff Thursday, agreeing to a $3.2 million, one-year contract with reliever Takashi Saito.
Saito, who turns 40 in February, has 83 saves in four major league seasons after a long career in Japan. He made the NL All-Star team in 2007, when he had 39 saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last season, the right-hander went 3-3 with two saves and a 2.43 ERA in a setup role for the Boston Red Sox.
Saito is expected to remain in that spot with the Braves, who signed closer Billy Wagner to a $7 million, one-year deal on Wednesday, though there might be an occasional chance to save games.
General manager Frank Wren was determined to restock a bullpen that had depth in 2009 with Rafael Soriano (27 saves) and Mike Gonzalez (10 saves) sharing the closer duties, while Peter Moylan set a franchise record with 87 appearances. Soriano and Gonzalez are free agents and won't be back.
"We've added two guys who will significantly enhance our chances of winning games late," Wren said. "They both have the ability to close. I think they complement each other very well in their abilities to close out games. When one's not available, the other one can be."
Braves manager Bobby Cox already likes the team that is coming together as he prepares for his last season in the dugout.
"We've got two outstanding relief pitchers in the last two days and we haven't even been to the winter meetings yet, so we are way ahead of the game," Cox said. "You're not going to go very far if you don't have a great bullpen."
Cox said he might flip-flop Wagner, a left-hander, and Saito based on the situation. Cox had success last season doing that with Soriano and Gonzalez.
"When Wagner's not closing, [Saito will] be closing," the manager said. "And vice versa at times, depending on who we're facing."
Saito likes the sound of that, and it also could benefit him financially. The agreement provides $500,000 in bonuses for appearances and a hefty $1.8 million in bonuses based on games finished.
"I definitely wanted to be in those pressure situations," Saito said through an interpreter. "As a professional athlete, I think you always strive for competing at the most important, pressure-filled situations. That definitely affected my decision."
Saito will be the second Japanese player to suit up for the Braves. Kenshin Kawakami spent most of last season in the starting rotation, going 7-12 with a 3.86 ERA.
The agreement with Saito likely completes the Braves' pitching staff for 2010. They also re-signed Tim Hudson, giving Atlanta six established starters, one of whom almost certainly will be dealt for offensive help.
Wren has said the team is in the market for a power-hitting outfielder or first baseman, perhaps both, heading into next week's winter meetings.
"Frank and Bruce (Manno, the assistant GM) are working on something else right now and maybe give us a chance to score a few more runs," Cox said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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