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Braves, Mariners finish swap of arms

Braves get Soriano for Ramirez

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It took a little longer than anticipated, but the Braves officially acquired right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano from the Mariners in exchange for left-handed starter Horacio Ramirez on Thursday.

The deal was agreed upon Wednesday afternoon, but it wasn't completed until Seattle had the opportunity to review Ramirez's medical records.

"We've been focusing on [Soriano] for a while," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "When you look at significant bullpen pieces, he stands out."

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When they were looking to strengthen their bullpen during the 2006 season, the Braves were told that Soriano was untouchable. But with the Mariners needing to acquire starting pitching, they were persuaded to move the 26-year-old right-hander, who has limited opponents to a .212 batting average in his five-year American League career.

"Our needs right now were in the bullpen, and we think we got one of the better guys in baseball," Braves manager Bobby Cox said before he exited Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort on Thursday afternoon.

"Everybody I've run into in the lobby from other organizations, they don't lust after this guy, but they like him a lot."

With the move, the Braves have acquired a top-notch setup man for closer Bob Wickman and also saved somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million.

Even though Ramirez was 5-5 with a 4.48 ERA in just 14 starts last season, his arbitration-eligible status could allow him to raise his salary from $2.2 million to the $3 million range.

Soriano, who went 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 53 appearances in 2006, will also receive a raise as an arbitration-eligible player. It's believed the reliever, who will celebrate his 27th birthday on Dec. 19, may see his salary go from $450,000 to the $1.8 million neighborhood.

When the Braves came to the Winter Meetings, this was the type of deal they needed to make to improve their bullpen and create the flexibility they need to work within the constraints of their $80 million payroll.

"What we hope more is that we have saved more wins because of this deal," Schuerholz said. "We didn't make this deal to save money. That wasn't our motivation to make this deal. Our motivation was to strengthen our bullpen and see fewer games get away from us than we had to endure last year."

When healthy, Soriano has proven to be one of the game's top right-handed relievers. Minus his injury-shortened 2004 season that included just six appearances, he's completed 125 1/3 innings of relief at the Major League level. Within that span, he's posted an impressive 1.86 ERA.

Like Ramirez, who was on the disabled list for almost four months this season, Soriano comes with some injury concerns. But the Braves believe the 26-year-old right-hander's shoulder and elbow are healthy.

They are a little concerned with how he'll react after getting hit in the head by a line drive off Vladimir Guerrero's bat on Aug. 29. But one of their top scouts, Chuck McMichael, was pleased with what he saw recently while watching Soriano pitch in the Dominican Republic.

Soriano recorded 65 strikeouts, issued 21 walks and limited opponents to a .204 batting average in 60 innings last season.

"He is a huge piece," said Cox, who will have confidence in using Soriano as a closer on the days that Wickman needs rest.

A converted infielder, Soriano has a fastball that has been clocked anywhere from 90-95 mph. Cox also has been impressed with the reliever's breaking balls and split-finger fastball. His vast array of pitches gives him the ability to be a potential starter. He hasn't filled that role since the 2002 season, in which eight of his first 10 career big league appearances were starts.

During the 2003 season, Soriano made 40 appearances and posted an eye-opening 1.53 ERA. Opponents hit just .162 against him and he registered 68 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 53 innings.

Soriano's ascent at the Major League level was halted in early May 2004, when he began experiencing a sore right elbow. He remained inactive until undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery on Aug. 17.

Soriano returned to action in September 2005 and remained healthy until his shoulder began bothering him around the All-Star break this year. The ailment, originally diagnosed as being a dead arm, forced him to be on the disabled list from July 20-Aug. 4.

In the first 10 appearances he made after being activated, Soriano allowed just two earned runs. But his successful season came to an end when he was drilled by Guerrero's line drive.

Coincidently, Ramirez's injury-filled 2006 season also included an episode in which he was hit in the head with a batted ball. It occurred on June 11, when a Lance Berkman liner struck the left side of his head.

Ramirez returned 11 days later and proceeded to allow just four earned runs in his next 22 1/3 innings (three starts). But after continuing to show some promise over his next few starts, the 27-year-old left-hander saw his season come to an end on Aug. 7, when he suffered a partial tear of the tendon pulley in his left middle finger.

The injury caused him to spend the remainder of the season on the disabled list. He was also disabled from April 6-May 27 with a strained left hamstring.

Ramirez allowed one earned run or less in four of the first six starts he made after ending his first stint on the disabled list this season. In the process, he showed some of the promise that was evident during his 12-win 2003 rookie season.

During the first 38 starts of Ramirez's career, he was 14-8 with a 3.60 ERA. But since enduring shoulder problems that forced him to miss four months of the 2004 season, he's 16-14 with a 4.59 ERA.

"They got a good starter in Horacio," Cox said. "[Braves pitching coach] Roger McDowell thinks he can win 15-20 [games]. He really does. He's sincere about that. Horacio has always had those capabilities."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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