Zaun Signs with Brewers; Soriano from Braves to Rays

Two major roster moves have shaken up the Tampa Bay Rays — and my other favorite team, the Atlanta Braves.

First, Gregg Zaun signed a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week. This is unfortunate for the Rays, who hoped to keep him to back up Kelly Shoppach. There is still Shawn Riggans if he returns in good health, or even Dioner Navarro if necessary. The Brewers had virtually no catching game, so Zaun is a good pickup for them. Good luck to Gregg in this endeavor.

Today came the big announcement that the Rays and the Braves had made a big deal. The Braves, who gave the Rays Willy Aybar before the 2008 season, sent closer Rafael Soriano to Tampa Bay for middle reliever Jesse Chavez.

Soriano had just surprisingly accepted arbitration with Atlanta, signing for one year and $6.5–$7 million. The Braves recently signed former Red Sox (boo) pitchers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for the back end of the bullpen, so Soriano was available on the trading block.

Soriano shared closing duties with Mike Gonzalez in 2009 and posted a 2.97 ERA with 27 saves out of 31 opportunities. He walked 27 hitters along with 102 strikeouts. His closing experience gives the Rays a huge bullpen boost. They could no longer trust J.P. Howell’s on–again, off–again finishing of games. Soriano turns 30 years old on December 19 and thus is in his prime, and while he has been injury prone, he made a career–high 77 appearances last year.

Chavez gives the Braves a reliable middle reliever. He was previously acquired by the Rays in the Akinori Iwamura trade with the Pirates. The 26–year–old made a team–high 73 appearances in 2009, totaling a 4.01 ERA, ballooned by a 5.10 ERA in his final 30 appearances. He can help bolster the front end of an overhauled Atlanta bullpen, the way he would have in Tampa Bay.

Essentially, the Rays dumped Iwamura’s salary and got Soriano through that move, while the Braves kept their bullpen strong and freed up Soriano’s salary to acquire a powerful first baseman or outfielder. Great job by Andrew Friedman and Frank Wren, and best of luck to both Soriano and Chavez.

Until next time, go Rays and Braves.