The Case for Frank Wren

Randy GautreauxContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

Ok. I’ve had enough. This is getting to be quite ridiculous. Since the end of the season all I’ve been reading from fans is how Frank Wren’s gotta go out and trade for a big bat. He’s gotta land a 40 HR hitter that annually brings in 120 RBI’s a year. Problem was, the only players really available were the free agents on the market Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, but at $16M a year, realistically, we weren’t going to get those.


So then the trade speculations came in. “Oh he’s going to trade Derek Lowe and ALL of his contract for a 30 HR guy who can bring in 100 RBI’s. No sweat, this is done deal because making deals like that are very easy.” Yeah…right. Then there were rumors of the Brewers being interested in Derek Lowe. All of a sudden I’m on the floor laughing hysterically because I’m reading “smart educated Braves Fans” discuss how we can get Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun for Derek Lowe. I know, I know, don’t stop reading because of the tears flowing out of your eyes from laughing so hard, but I honest to God kept reading those discussions. When that didn’t fall through, Wren was blamed etc, etc…


Listen, is he the greatest GM in the world? No, but really, who is? Every GM has hits and misses and every GM has to be creative within the budget they are given. Let’s take a quick look back at when Wren has done for the Braves, since most of you think he’s done nothing but sabotage the Atlanta Braves.


Wren takes over the Braves in 2007. The same year John Schuerholz emptied the farm for Mark “Here for a year and Gone” Teixeira. In that trade we lost Jarrod Saltalamachia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones. I’m only upset over Neftali Feliz and slightly on Elvis Andrus (having Yunel helps). The Braves farm system was in disarray. Not much help was on its way. We had an aging, yet productive short stop in Edgar Renteria but we needed to get younger. One of Frank Wren’s first moves? Trades the very popular Edgar Renteria to Detriot for Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens? WHAT?! Braves nation went nuts! “Who are those no-names? We traded an all-star short stop for THAT?!” At the time, I actually liked the move. I was excited in the young arm we got, Jair Jurrjens and couldn’t wait to see him in Spring Training. Don’t believe me? Ask my father who called me right after the trade to discuss it. And he spun a little move with the Cubs getting Omar Infante and Will Ohman for Jose Ascaino. At the time people rolled their eyes over the Ohman acquisition thinking, “Another batting practice guy?” Well, that turned out like a good deal didn’t it?


Yes, he signed Glavine who had never gone on the DL before and no one could blame him. Glavine was still productive and it would have been great to see him finish his career with the Braves. Of course that did not work out and down he went. Down went Smoltz, and down went Hudson. Oh, and down went Moylan, Soriano, and Gonzalez. The team finished 2008 much like the crippled 2009 Mets, barely alive.


The 2008 off season brought us some stories. I for one was not a fan of the Jake Peavey proposed trade. What San Diego was asking for was waaaaay too much. Wren was smart enough to say, “Here’s our deal, except it or no more business with us.” And I’m glad he back away and stayed away. People say that Jake Peavey wouldn’t waive his no trade and perhaps that’s true, but part of the negotiations breaking down was San Diego’s persistence in Atlanta adding more to the pot. Oh, and he also signed a guy claimed off the Mariners roster, Eric O’Flaherty which as I recall had an ERA above 5.00 the year before and again, everyone asked, “What’s the point?”


Yeah, yeah, Rafael Furcal back out of the deal. So what? It happens. I’d rather have Martin Prado at 2nd base anyways. Then came the pitching. Wren trades for Javier Vazquez for Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge. Again, Braves nation was screaming, “How can they give up Flowers for an under .500 pitcher with a career ERA over 4.00!” Not the most popular move Wren made but that seemed to work out rather nicely for the Braves…again…did it not? There was no need for Flowers! We’ve got McCann and Flowers best feature was the fact that he was a hitting catcher. Well, we already have that. Wren signs Derek Lowe for a contract that was a bit higher than we should have given him but we needed pitching and I couldn’t blame Wren for it. Then he signs Kawakami even though Hudson was due back in August but, like a smart GM who learned his lesson, he was not going to back on a pitcher coming back from and injury to help us in the middle of a season. Anything we got from Hudson was a plus. He made the tough call with Smoltz and Glavine. Maybe not handled the best way but, hey, it was bound to happen someway and I was ready to move on from the nostalgia of those two anyways.


Last season Atlanta had the best Starting Rotation in either league. Hudson came back and proved his elbow was strong. The offense was pretty bad for the first two months thanks to 3 people. Jordan Schafer (wrist problems but still highly regarded), Kelly Johnson (Cox had no idea how to use him in the lineup so he kept him a lead off which is NOT where he belonged) and Jeff Francoeur (who’s whining was really starting to become a problem). Early June, Wren acted quickly and sent Schafer down and traded for Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke…Locke may come back to bite us, but a 25 HR hitter for relatively cheap the next few years? I can live with that. Francoeur was traded for someone who could actually put up and at-bat. Even though Church was injured for a majority of his stay, he still put up better at bats than Francoeur did. And let’s not compare what Frenchy did in New York. He wanted OUT of Atlanta. A change of scenery was needed and I wish him all the best of luck. Just not against us!


Which brings me to this off season. First I’ll address the Bullpen. We all knew Soriano and Mike Gonzalez wanted multi-year deals for ever $5-6M annually, at the very least. The Braves had other needs. So, Wren grabs a hard throwing righty Juan Abreu from the Royals who had a 3.67 ERA and 16 saves in 29 appearances last season in Class A and AA with 53 K’s and 36 BB’s in just 41 2/3 IP. A bit wild but a power arm. Good depth. Wren also signs Scott Proctor to a deal and should join the bullpen sometime and May. He offers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano arbitration which was a good call. Many argue, “Why do so?” well, if they accept then trade them for something, if they sign elsewhere then get the draft picks. Only Soriano accepted once he saw that the market for closers was not exactly what he thought it was going to be. Fans have given Wren a hard time because of how quickly he traded Soriano. Well here’s the problem. Jose Valverde is still looking for a job and Wren had to unload his contract (reportedly around $7M after arbitration) so that he could continue his roster reconstruction. The last thing Wren needed was to build his roster and still have Soriano on the club because nobody wants to trade for him anymore. Again, Jose Valverde is still looking for a job as of press time here. Wren gets Jesse Chavez who was just a rookie last year with the Pirates but has 96mph heat and a great change against lefties, again, more depth. He signs Billy Wagner to a 1 year deal of $7M with some vesting options etc etc…Same thing with Saito, for about $3.5M. Basically, just about the same amount we were paying Gonzalez and Soriano last year. Looking at their numbers they are comparable and people bring up age and health but Soriano and Gonzalez may be younger but they have more health issues than these two guys!


Then Wren makes what everyone believes is the worst move since the Teixeira trade. He trades Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and Melky Cabrera. WHAT!?!?! Where’s the big bat? Why didn’t we get the 40 HR bopper? Well here’s why. First of all, no one wanted Derek Lowe or his contract even if we were willing to eat $3M a season and we were definitely not going to get something significant in return for it. Wren had offers on the table and he chose the best one. We’ll never know what they were but I’m going to trust he made the best decision possible simply based on what I’ve seen him do in the past. It HAD to be Vazquez. He was the only one really getting any interest. Plus, it was going to always be the Yankees. Vazquez has a no-trade clause to the West coast and the Braves were not going to trade him within the division. So that left the NL Central (none have the money to take Vazquez), AL Central and AL East divisions. Only the Yankees were coming in and willing to pay for the whole contract. So, Wren thought about Matt Diaz playing CF and thought, “We can’t have that!” and traded for a serviceable 4th outfielder, and hard throwing LH pitcher and a highly touted RH pitcher adding more depth to our Minor League staff.


Many believed another move was pending. They thought, Johnny Damon or Jason Bay here we come! WRONG! We needed an RH power hitter and Bay was going to cost too much and Damon wants multiple years and at least $10M annually. Well above what we got. So Wren brings in Troy Glaus to play first. “Oh but he’s a 3rd baseman, it’ll never work!” Another verse to play my violin to! He’s a gold glove caliber 3rd baseman so a transition to first isn’t going to cripple the Braves entirely. Do I expect errors? Of course, no one’s perfect but for $2M and the potential for 30 HR’s and 100 RBI’s? I’ll take it! I know, I know, I’ve heard it already…His shoulder…Well, again, I’m going to trust the Braves medical staff on this and believe they have taken this into consideration already and that’s why he’s getting $2M instead of $5M or $7M. Through in a very good pinch hitter and versatile bench player in Hinske and the roster reconstruction is complete.


I’m not at all worried about Vazquez not being a Brave anymore. People tend to forget we signed Hudson so that’s kind of a swap. Would it have been great to keep both? Sure, but Hudson can easily win 15 games if not more (he does have a better track record of winning than does Vazquez) do I’m not exactly all too worried there. So please, before you guys go writing how much of a horrible GM Wren is, remember that he cannot just trade whatever he wants and get whoever he wants. He has to deal with other GM’s that are trying to build their ball club and he also has to deal with owners giving him a budget. People keep saying we have about $5M left or so but that’s not true because the insurance company picked up part of Hudson’s contract last year which made our budget look like $95M but in reality it’s around $90. Plus, Wren has to give himself some wriggle room to make tweaks to the team during the season. I apologize for the long read and if you stuck through till the end, then I applaud you! But let me know who agrees and who wants to make the case against Frank Wren. I’ll gladly take up the challenge of defending him!