With the Braves set to resume play after the All-Star break Friday night against Washington, Braves general manager Frank Wren shared his thoughts on topics ranging from the team’s first-half play to struggling second baseman Dan Uggla to the club’s needs at the trading deadline and more.
Q: What did you think of what the team accomplished in the first half?
A: If you’d asked us in spring training if we would be happy with 16 (games) over (.500) at the break, all of us would be happy with that. But I also think we also feel like we haven’t played our best baseball.
Q: So would improving from within make the biggest difference?
A: That’s probably the biggest dilemma we have. When we get our folks healthy and hopefully we get Martin (Prado) back (following a staph infection) on Friday, that’s one more piece that we had envisioned being a big part of the team. So it is the real dilemma as to what is the best addition we can make for our postseason run. We’re going to have to have a lot of talks internally about that.
Q: With Prado and when Chipper Jones comes back healthy from knee surgery in three weeks, you might need a role player, not an everyday player?
A: It could be a piece that matches you up better against, say, left-handed pitching, so a right-handed bat off the bench. There are lots of different ways we could go with this. A lot of it will depend on the next few weeks, how our everyday guys perform and when they get healthy.
Q: If Prado and Jones come back, it’s not like there’s a glaring everyday need?
A: No, we really don’t. We’d be hard-pressed to add an everyday bat when everybody gets healthy.
Q: Jones’ 2-3 week recovery puts you right up against the trading deadline. What bearing will that have?
A: I’m not worried about Chipper. I think he’s going to come out of this fine. I’m not worried about Martin Prado. Those two guys have established themselves. We know what we’re going to get when they come back. We just have to watch our team in general and just make the best decision for it.
Q: If Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth do a little more, might that influence your decision?
A: Sure. And we need (Jason) Heyward and (Dan) Uggla to do what they’ve been doing recently, to continue to bounce back from their first halves. All those things are positive signs we were seeing in the last couple weeks. If those continue as they were, our team will be fine. We just need to fine-tune some things.
Q: Second base has been a weakness, but you can’t give up on Uggla, can you?
A: No. And we’ve seen too many positive signs the last two or three weeks that Dan is starting to become the player he’s always been. He’s had a real good series the last few series and he got a lot of big hits for us in Philadelphia the last weekend. Dan’s fine.
Q: It would seem regardless, you could use the right-handed bat.
A: That’s more balancing out your team. And with Prado, Chipper and Uggla swinging the bats, some of that is even alleviated because those are our three right-handed guys.
Q: It seems you could resolve a lot of weaknesses within?
A: A lot of it, we can. There’s no perfect team and we’re not a perfect team. The early indication of what may be out there is, in a lot of cases, not an upgrade over what we already have.
Q: Fifteen teams are within 6 1/2 games of a division lead, half of baseball. Does it seem like the market is limited right now?
A: Yes, I think it is somewhat limited. There are a few players that would make an impact. But you’ve got to weigh the cost and the true impact on your team. That’s what makes it interesting these last few weeks before this deadline and obviously, we’ve got the postseason roster deadline (at the end of August). When there are this many teams left in the races, a lot of times things get done later.
Q: Is relief help something you’re always looking for or could really use it right now?
A: You’re always trying to reinforce that group because those guys have got a tough job. You’ve always got to be cognizant of injuries. So you’re looking to add depth there. We feel like we’ve got a strong core now. But we also feel like we have some internal options that we could utilize. We’ll look and see what’s out there.
Q: With your pitching in majors and minors, are people calling you?
A: No, because I think they’re smart enough to know that we’re not going to be trading our young pitching unless there’s something extraordinary out there to us. We’re going to hold on and that’s been a key strategy for us over last few years, is to stockpile and hold on to our prospects the best we can. We’re going to continue to do that. Depending on who we go after, what we go after, you have to make value judgments at the time, both for the present and the future, as to how big the piece you’re acquiring is to your team and to the ability to play late in October.
Q: With Schafer adding speed to the top of the order, are you happy with what you’ve seen from him?
A: I think we’ve seen a lot of growth out of Jordan in the last year. We’re seeing him in a difficult job transform his game at the big league level. He has to become that guy that puts the ball on the ground and runs, and uses the opposite field as a key weapon, bringing the guys on the corner in and slap the ball by them. It’s all those little things that he’s really learning on the fly. We’ve seen really good progress from him and how he’s approached it. We hope he continues to grow with it because that’s going to be important as well.
Q: Fair to say he’s played some of the Braves’ best center field since Andruw Jones?
A: I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I think he’s a true center fielder. He has a great arm. He covers everything and he’s fearless out there. He’s going to run into the wall, he’s going to do what he has to do. And with him and Nate, Nate is doing the same thing in left field. Nate played a great center field for us early in the season, then had the (oblique) injury. We slid him over to left field. We’ve got that outfield really well covered because Jason also can go get them. You feel like you’ve got three center fielders that can play out there.
Q: Any concerns about your top relievers logging a lot of innings?
A: I know (manager) Fredi (Gonzalez) and (pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) are very cognizant of it and they’re looking for ways, as they have the last week or so, to minimize the use of the key guys on a nightly basis. We’ve play so many tight games, so many extra-inning games, you can’t help it. There’s just no way around it. I do think there are a couple things you can do. One of them in the second half, try to get an extra inning out of your starters; that’s one less bullpen guy you’ve got to use. I think our bullpen as a group has done a real fine job. And you’re just going to have to use some guys later in the game that have now proven they can handle it.
Q: After 90 games with Gonzalez as your manager, has he been the fit that you had hoped?
A: I really can’t imagine it having gone any better than it has with Fredi. It was seamless in spring training and it has been throughout the season. The communication has been great. I think he’s put us in a good position on a nightly basis, as all good managers do. They don’t win a lot games for you but they can make some wrong decisions and help you lose games. I think Fredi has done a tremendous job.
Q: Another new guy is hitting coach Larry Parrish, who has drawn criticism for the team’s low overall batting average. Are you happy with the job he’s done?
A: Yes. I think we’ve seen lots of individual results that are directly related to Larry and his teaching and what’s he’s trying to accomplish with players. When you have change, it’s different for some guys. But I’ve been very happy with what Larry has done. And I think there are several players that there’s a direct correlation to the work he’s done with them.
Q: What are your feelings as team opens the second half?
A: If we come out of the first half playing like we finished since June 1, I think we’re going to be in great shape. We put ourselves in a great position. I think everybody settled in. Teams that are playing well, there’s a part of them that don’t want the All-Star break because they know their team is playing well. I put us in that category. Hopefully we come back and start off right where we left off.