Frank Wren Has the Atlanta Braves Winning Again
ATLANTA -- Imagine asking Michelangelo to create the Sistine Chapel, except your budget allows for only a few water colors and crayons.
Or perhaps you would like him to erect the Statue of David—only you provide him with Silly Putty as opposed to marble or stone.
Well imagine being Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, and you've been saddled with the task of resurrecting the once-perennial playoff contender with a budget only slightly north of $80 million, and you're competing in a division that includes the back-to-back NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies and free-spending New York Mets.
This can not be done without making some unpopular moves or questionable decisions—and definitely not without a lot of imagination.
Coming from the Baltimore Orioles' organization and sitting at the side of former Braves' GM John Schuerholz for close to eight years, Wren did not exactly endear himself to the Atlanta faithful by forcing Braves Nation to say goodbye to longstanding icons, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
After a lengthy rehab that landed Tom Glavine on the disabled list to begin last season, Glavine was essentially forced into retirement as the Braves had budding ace Tommy Hanson waiting in the wings and ready to go by the time Glavine was medically cleared to pitch again.
In a move that appeared largely financially driven, Hanson was forced to begin the season with the Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett in an effort to delay his arbitration clock.
Having Hanson make his debut two months later in the beginning of June as he eventually would avoided Hanson becoming a "Super-Two" and delayed how soon he would be able to take the Braves to arbitration, thus giving Atlanta an extra year of control of the young right-hander.
Glavine's anger was fueled by speculation that the Braves never intended for him to actually pitch for them, as he would have been owed $1 million in salary had he ever taken the mound.
The two sides have since made nice as Glavine currently has a position within the Braves' organization.
Since taking over for former GM John Schuerholz at the end of 2007, Wren's edition of the Atlanta Braves have gone a combined 202-198, but they saw a 14-game improvement from 2008 to 2009.
The team did not finish better than third in either season.
Compounding the mediocre play on the field has been the offseason spurns of big free-agent names like Ken Griffey, Jr., who returned to the Seattle Mariners prior to last season, and A.J. Burnett, who eventually signed a mega-deal with the New York Yankees.
As a consolation prize to losing out on those stars, Wren instead signed long-time Angel and current Dodger, Garrett Anderson, to play left-field and handed out a huge contract to right-hander Derek Lowe to anchor the rotation while ace Tim Hudson recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Just before last year's All-Star break, Wren authored the trade of a once highly-touted right-fielder who was also a local product, Jeff Francoeur. His talents were so hyped, that he earned himself the cover on an issue of Sports Illustrated, with "The Natural" as title.
The player received in return for Francoeur, Ryan Church, is no longer with the team.
The 2010 offseason didn't begin any better with another unpopular trade that involved the team's best starter from a year ago, Javier Vasquez, heading to the New York Yankees in exchange for light-hitting outfielder Melkey Cabrerra, reliever Mike Dunn, and pitching prospect Alroydis Vizciano.
The deal was deemed a necessity with the recent signing of Tim Hudson to a three-year extension and the size of Lowe's free-agent contract signed last offseason.
Looking for corner-infield power, and power off the bench, former Cardinal Troy Glaus and Erik Hinske, who split last season between the Pirates and Yankees, were snatched off the scrap heap and signed to free-agent deals.
The new additions failed to excite much of the fanbase, and two years into the job, the vast majority of Frank Wren's moves had been met with either a chorus of boos or a series of yawns.
But fans are now witnessing the method to Wren's perceived madness.
Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are no longer pitching competitively; Tommy Hanson is a budding ace that the team controls for an extra year through 2013; moving Jeff Francouer cleared the way for phenom Jason Heyward's arrival this year; Melkey Cabrerra has become a key rotational player due to Nate McClouth's struggles; and Glaus and Hinske help give the Braves their deepest lineup and bench since 2005.
So with meager supplies and just a bit of imagination, Frank Wren may be creating his own masterpiece as the Braves are rediscovering what it takes to win. Maybe we should all just give him room and watch him work.
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