Braves come to terms with Wilson
Club stays active with addition of versatile veteran
ATLANTA -- As things remained quiet during the first few weeks of January, some began to wonder if the Braves had grown content with their roster. Over the past 24 hours, all of those thoughts were certainly put to rest.One day after solidifying their bullpen with the acquisition of Mike Gonzalez, the Braves have signed versatile free agent Craig Wilson to a one-year contract. The announcement of the signing was made early Thursday evening. "He's an experienced veteran productive offensive player who can play a variety of positions," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "We like him, and we think he'll be a valuable asset." Schuerholz says Braves manager Bobby Cox will determine Wilson's specific role. The 30-year-old veteran, who played with both the Pirates and Yankees last year, could find himself sharing time at both first base and in left field. During his six-year Major League career, Wilson has hit .265 with 98 homers and tallied a .480 slugging percentage. He's compiled 1,394 of his at-bats against right-handed pitchers and has batted just .253 against them. But the .293 batting average the right-handed hitter has compiled in 558 career at-bats against left-handed pitchers make him a prime candidate to serve in a platoon. He can share time in left field with Ryan Langerhans, who, like first baseman Scott Thorman, is a left-handed hitter. When Gonzalez was acquired on Wednesday in exchange for Adam LaRoche, it was thought that Thorman would become the everyday first baseman. He has shown an ability to hit all pitchers, hitting .300 (65-for-217) against right-handers and .293 (27-for-92) against lefties this past year at Triple-A Richmond. But with Wilson having played 262 career games as a first baseman, he certainly has the experience that Thorman lacks at the position. Obviously, the signing of Wilson also brings the possibility that Matt Diaz, a right-handed hitter who saw significant time in left field last year, could be traded. Like Wilson, Diaz could serve as a valuable option off the bench, but he lacks Wilson's power and doesn't have the same amount of position versatility. Chris Woodward, who was signed in December, could serve as a backup infielder and fifth outfielder.
"All I know is that our 25-man roster is strengthened with [Wilson's] experience and versatility," Schuerholz said. "His pinch-hitting numbers are remarkable. But we think he's more than that."Since beginning his Major League career in 2001, Wilson has hit just .214 (22-for-103) as a pinch-hitter. But his 12 pinch-hit homers rank second among all active players, trailing only the Giants' Mark Sweeney, who has needed 525 at-bats to record his 13 career pinch-hit homers. While combining to appear in 125 games with the Yankees and Pirates last year, Wilson hit .251 with 17 homers -- 13 of which came in the 255 at-bats he recorded with Pittsburgh. Wilson's most productive season came in 2004, when in 155 games with the Pirates, he hit .264 with 29 homers and a .499 slugging percentage. A left hand injury limited him to just 59 games during the 2005 season. When Wilson lost a starting role with the Pirates in Spring Training this past year, there were rumors that the Braves were close to obtaining him in a trade that would have sent John Thomson to Pittsburgh.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.