ORLANDO – Even before baseball’s winter meetings officially began, agent Scott Boras and executives of a National League East team met with the media Sunday afternoon to announce a big free-agent signing.
It went without saying that team wasn’t the Braves.
Not so much because they are averse to signing big free agents – though the Braves don’t do it often – but because they’ve already filled their priority needs this offseason.
“It’s a very different place to be than we’ve been in the last few years,” said Braves general manager Frank Wren, who spent a big part of last year’s meetings at Indianapolis trying to trade closer Rafael Soriano after Soriano accepted the team’s arbitration offer.
Two years ago at the meetings in Las Vegas, Wren spent much of his waking hours negotiating with the agents of free-agent starting pitchers including A.J. Burnett.
At this year’s meetings at the Dolphin Resort at Disneyworld, it could be the Happiest Place on Earth for Braves officials if they can just trade starting pitcher Kenshin Kawakami without eating most of $6.7 million he’s owed in the last year of his contract.
These meetings will be about other teams making moves like the one Washington made Sunday, signing Boras client Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
As for the Braves, they have already done most of what they set out to do this winter.
After trading for slugging second baseman Uggla last month, re-signing free agent Eric Hinske on Thursday and trading for reliever Scott Linebrink on Friday, Wren and the Braves are to the fine-tuning part of their winter program.
The schedule for the GM and his assistants won’t be as hectic as in recent winter meetings, when the Braves could’ve used a revolving door at their suite for the volume of meetings they had with other teams.
It’s not entirely about trying to trade Kawakami. The Braves will also try to add more bench depth. An ideal add might be a player with experience in the middle infield and center field, in case center fielder Nate McLouth struggles and Jordan Schafer has any more problems with the wrist fracture that’s slowed him for two seasons.
Wren will also consider other deals that could come up unexpectedly.
“We’re still going to have conversations about Kawakami and working through how all that’s going to shake out,” Wren said. “I don’t know the answer to that right now.
“And we’re also looking at maybe incrementally improving our club in other areas. We’re going to be open-minded. I don’t see other really big moves right now, but you never know. We’ll be engaged and talking to teams. It’ll still be a productive [winter] meetings.”
Moving Kawakami is a priority. It won’t be easy, without paying more of his remaining salary than the Braves have done to move a player.
Five Japanese teams expressed interest in Kawakami this winter, and at least one might’ve paid close to half of his 2011 salary. But Kawakami can refuse being sold to an overseas team, and told the Braves he wants to stay in the United States to prove he can succeed in the majors.
So the Braves will continue trying to find a suitor here for the 35-year-old right-hander, who was 1-10 with a 5.15 ERA in 2010. He’s made about $16 million in two years and won eight games (8-22) for Atlanta.
– by David O’Brien, Braves blog