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Tampa Bay Rays close to trade for Braves closer Rafael Soriano

The Braves are forced to shop hard-throwing closer Rafael Soriano after he surprised them by accepting arbitration.

Associated Press

The Braves are forced to shop hard-throwing closer Rafael Soriano after he surprised them by accepting arbitration.

INDIANAPOLIS — So Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman and Braves GM Frank Wren are on this elevator together …

When they walked off Wednesday evening, they went to the Scout of the Year dinner. But they kept talking and by the end of the night, the Rays were set to acquire RHP Rafael Soriano, putting a legitimate closer at the back end of their bullpen.

Soriano, who turns 30 on Dec. 19, saved 27 games in 31 chances last season with a 2.97 ERA, and did so powerfully, striking out 102 (and walking 27) in 752/3 innings.

The deal, which required considerable negotiation, could be completed today pending a standard medical review.

The Rays would pay all of Soriano's salary — which could exceed $7-million and push their payroll toward $70-million — and send reliever Jesse Chavez, acquired last month from Pittsburgh for Akinori Iwamura, to Atlanta.

It seemed unlikely the Rays could fit Soriano, who made $6.1 million last season to complete a two-year, $9 million deal, into their payroll, especially since principal owner Stuart Sternberg said last week: "There's no $7 million closer showing up."

But it what would have to considered a commitment from ownership toward making a strong run at the playoffs this season, Sternberg is willing to approve the increase.

Soriano was a free agent but surprised the Braves — who planned to let him go after signing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito — by instead accepting arbitration. Soriano also has the right to approve any trade, which he is expected to do.

Soriano remains eligible for arbitration, but the Rays also could try to work out a deal before a hearing. His addition addresses one of the Rays' largest concerns, and should make the rest of the bullpen better as J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour will be used in earlier situations. Soriano — a 6-1, 220-pound native of the Dominican Republic who pitches with a scowl — relies primarily on his fastball and is particularly tough on righthanders, allowing only a .138 average last season.

He came up with and pitched parts of five seasons with the Mariners, then, after being traded in Dec. 2006 for Horacio Ramirez, the last three with the Braves, though he missed most of 2008 with an elbow injury that required surgery for transposition of his ulnar nerve and removal of a bone chip. He has a career 8-18, 2.92 record with 43 saves in 57 chances.

The relief market took some shape when LaTroy Hawkins left Houston for a two-year, $7.5 million deal in Milwaukee, and the Astros replaced him by acquiring Matt Lindstrom from Florida for two minor-leaguers, and signing Brandon Lyon to a reported three-year, $15-million deal.

CATCHING ON: The Rangers seem the most likely destination if the Rays trade Dioner Navarro before Saturday's deadline to tender contracts. Friedman said they are working on the internal aspects of the catching situation, which sounds as if they are still weighing keeping both Navarro and Kelly Shoppach. The Royals had some interest in Navarro but are in talks with free agent Jason Kendall.

BY THE RULE: The Rays have the 16th pick in today's Rule 5 draft of unprotected minor-leaguers, and Friedman indicated there was a chance they'd try to move up by paying a team for its pick. This is the draft in which players chosen (for the $50,000 fee) have to remain on the big-league roster all season or be offered back. Among players Rays could lose are RHP Aneury Rodriguez, who was acquired from Colorado for Jason Hammel, and RHP Paul Phillips

MORE RAYS: There were some talks, and more rumors, about Milton Bradley (including the fascinating idea that Boston was interested), and it remains possible he'll be acquired in a trade for Pat Burrell. … RHP Ramon Ramirez, released last week after being claimed from the Reds in November, was claimed by the Red Sox, who now have two pitchers by that name. … Ex-Ray RHP Joe Nelson is in talks with the Nats. … C Nevin Ashley was named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects team after hitting .366.

AROUND THE MAJORS: The AL East got a little more competitive as the Orioles acquired ace RHP Kevin Millwood from Texas for RH reliever and Tampa product Chris Ray. "I think it makes us much better," O's GM Andy MacPhail said. Ray, 27, missed 2008 recovering from elbow surgery and struggled last season. … The Rangers replaced Millwood by agreeing to a one-year, $7.5 million contract with RHP Rich Harden. They were talking to the Red Sox about 3B Mike Lowell, and reached a tentative deal for C Max Ramirez. The Sox now may pursue free-agent Adrian Beltre. … LHP Andy Pettitte made his return to the Yankees official, agreeing to a one-year, $11.75 million deal. … The three-team deal that netted the Yankees OF Curtis Granderson and sent ex-Rays RHP Edwin Jackson to Arizona was completed. New York GM Brian Cashman said Granderson's arrival (he'll play center, hit second vs. RHPs) doesn't mean they won't bring back Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, who is drawing interest from the White Sox. … The Brewers signed LHP Randy Wolf to a three-year, $29.75 million deal. … Late Tuesday, INF Ross Gload, a USF product, agreed to a deal with the Phillies.

DRIVING FORCE: Rays team president Matt Silverman will present a previously homeless single mom and three kids with a car on behalf of the Starting Right, Now program at 10 a.m. Friday at Autoway Nissan of Brandon, 9920 Adamo Drive.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays close to trade for Braves closer Rafael Soriano 12/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 11:18am]

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