Braves GM Wren encouraged by Dominican trip

While the Braves wait to see if they can work out a fit for a left fielder and leadoff hitter on the trade market, general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez spent four days in the Dominican Republic getting a closer look at some of their internal options.

They were encouraged by what they saw from their young players in winter ball there.

That started with Juan Francisco, the leading candidate to play third base if the Braves don’t acquire another left fielder and move Martin Prado to third. The Braves had charged Francisco with two things: cutting down on extra movement in his swing and getting in better shape.

“(Hitting coach) Greg Walker wanted him to continue to work on less rotation in the swing, and I think he’s done that,” Wren said Tuesday. “And we wanted him to get in better shape and he’s well on his way to that as well. He’s slimmed down and it’s noticeable. It’s still a couple of months before spring training, so I think there’s still more he can do and …

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Teheran tops Baseball America’s Top 10 Braves prospect list

For an organization that prides itself on being pitching rich, the Braves saw that reinforced Monday when Baseball America named seven pitchers among its Top 10 Braves prospects for 2013.

1. Julio Teheran, RHP

2. J.R. Graham, RHP

3. Christian Bethancourt C

4. Sean Gilmartin LHP

5. Lucas Sims, RHP

6. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP

7. Alex Wood, LHP

8. Evan Gattis, LF/C

9. Zeke Spruill, RHP

10. Jose Peraza, SS

Teheran, 21, was named the Braves’ top prospect for the third consecutive year. After a dominant 2011 season in Triple-A, he admittedly struggled in his return to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2012, but he’s been back to form in the Dominican Republic this winter. Teheran, who went 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts in Gwinnett last year, is 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA in seven starts this winter for the Licey Tigers.

He hasn’t allowed a run in his past three starts – while giving up only two hits – over 16 2/3 innings. He gave up only one hit, struck out eight and walked none in six innings on …

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In last year on HOF ballot, case made for ‘Murph’

Dale Murphy won back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, something only Joe Morgan had done before him and only Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols have done since. He won as many MVP awards in two seasons as Braves greats Hank Aaron and Chipper Jones won between them in their entire careers.

“Murph” was a seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, and he finished 12th or higher in the league MVP balloting six times during 1980-1987.

Fifteen of his first 18 seasons were spent with the Braves, a period when the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy played for a lot of bad teams and a few good ones. He played in front of a national audience that tuned in to watch the Braves on the cable SuperStation, most of it during a time when fans outside major league markets had only the choice of Braves or Cubs to view on TV on a daily basis.

And so he was a popular player not just in Braves Country, but across the country.

For a time, Murphy was one of the very best players in baseball, winning back-to-back MVP awards.

For a time, Murphy was one of the very best players in …

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Braves still LF shopping, glad they got CF early

The Braves don’t know who’ll hit leadoff or play left field when they open the season against Philadelphia on April 1, but they left the Winter Meetings in Nashville last week thankful to know who’ll be playing center field.

The five-year, $75.25 million contract the Braves gave center fielder B.J. Upton on Nov. 28 was the first significant move of baseball’s Hot Stove season, and at the time many of us thought the Braves were impulsive in so quickly giving Upton the largest free-agent contract in franchise history.

But in light of some deals signed since, and contract figures being bandied about for free agents in Nashville, the Upton deal has begun to look like – well,  maybe not a bargain, but not unreasonable.

If 32-year-old Shane Victorino, coming off a season in which he hit .255 with 11 homers, 55 RBIs and a .704 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, got a a three-year, $39 million contract from with Boston, and 32-year-old Nick Swisher rumored to be in line for a four-year …

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Braves re-sign Johnson, leave WM without LF

NASHVILLE – Even if the season were to begin Friday, manager Fredi Gonzalez insisted the Braves would be OK despite making no deal for a new left fielder during the Winter Meetings.

But Opening Day was nearly four months away, plenty of time for general manager Frank Wren to sign or trade for a left fielder as well as a couple of bench players. Wren indicated Thursday that the bench players could be acquired much sooner (and within two hours of saying that he had one of them, outfielder/pinch-hitter Reed Johnson).

“I think some things could pop in the next few days, because a lot of seeds have been planted,” Wren said before leaving the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to drive back to Atlanta late Thursday morning. “We feel like we moved a little closer on some bench things, so hopefully we get some answers in the next day.”

Johnson agreed to terms by early afternoon, getting a one-year, $1.75 million contract with a club option for 2014. He’ll get $1.6 million in 2013, and the option …

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Braves beef up big-league scouting

NASHVILLE – The Braves shuffled their major league scouting department and hired two veteran scouts, Dave “Doc” Holliday and Brad Sloan, as special assistants to general manager Frank Wren.

Holliday, who spent the past 19 seasons as a Colorado Rockies special assistant, will be assigned to cover the American League. Sloan will be a major league scout for the Braves, after spending the past nine years as a scout with the Los Angeles Angels and six as San Diego Padres scouting director.

The Braves also promoted special assistant Dom Chiti, whose duties will including pitching development and special-assignment scouting.

Chiti was a special assistant/major league scout the past four seasons, but late during the 2012 season he also worked with Braves pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado to help get them back on track. He will do more work like that alongside Braves pitching coaches in the minors and major league pitching coach Roger McDowell.

With Holliday assigned …

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Braves balk at some trade ‘ask’ prices

NASHVILLE – They still were working several possibilities, but as the last full day at the Winter Meetings wore on Wednesday it sounded as if the Braves might leave Nashville without making a deal for a left fielder or bench help.

“Last night we started exchanging names more and getting information, and some of the ‘asks’ were beyond what we were comfortable doing,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “So we crossed some conversations off the list. We still have a couple of open conversations, but I’d say we had probably four or five more specific conversations going on and we were able to cross a couple of those off last night because of the high ‘ask.’ We’re still continuing to talk with a couple of others.”

Wren doesn’t divulge specific players the Braves are pursuing, but it was known they explored potential trades for outfielders including Arizona’s Justin Upton, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler, Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, and Toronto’s Emilio …

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Braves extend Fredi G through ‘14 (updated)

NASHVILLE – Fredi Gonzalez has managed the Braves for the first two seasons of the post-Bobby Cox era, and was assured of being paid to manage at least two more after the team picked up a 2014 option on his contract Wednesday.

“It’s great organization, people you want to work for and people you get along with,” Gonzalez said. “And the one goal is to keep putting a good team on the field. “

Gonzalez has a 183-141 record as Braves manager since being hired to replace his mentor, Bobby Cox, who retired after the 2010 season.

“We think he did a terrific job of leading us to the playoffs,” Wren said of Gonzalez, who managed the Braves to a 94-68 record and wild-card berth in 2012. “We feel like his leadership is very helpful for our ballclub going forward, to stay competitive.”

Gonzalez, who’ll turn 49 in January, has a 459-420 record as a major league manager with the Braves and Marlins. A former third-base coach on Cox’s Braves staff, he spent 3-1/2 seasons as Marlins manager …

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Braves sign catcher Pagnozzi for depth

NASHVILLE — The Braves signed catcher Matt Pagnozzi to a minor league deal and plan to have him serve as Gerald Laird’s backup until starter Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery.

McCann is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season and possibly a month. Laird was signed last month after backup David Ross left the Braves for Boston and a two-year, $6.2 million free-agent contract too good to pass up.

Pagnozzi, 30, is the nephew of former St. Louis Cardinals Gold Glove catcher Tom Pagnozzi, and has spent a decade in minors with a few cups of coffee in the majors with St. Louis, Colorado and Pittsburgh.

He has a .310 average with one homer in 83 plate appearances in 33 major league games, and Pagnozzi is a .220 career hitter with a .300 OBP, 26 homers and 225 RBIs in more than 2100 at-bats in 703 minor league games.

“He’s always been a catch-and-throw guy,” said Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno, who was with the Cardinals when they …

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Braves continue search for LF, bench help

NASHVILLE – Reed Johnson could be back, but the Braves career of Matt Diaz appears to be over.

The Braves want to add two bench players – a right-handed hitter and a lefty – and hope that outfielder Johnson is one of them. The right-handed hitter had a .290 average and .337 OBP in 269 at-bats last season with the Cubs and Braves, including .413 as a pinch-hitter with a majors-leading 18 pinch hits.

Johnson hit .311 with a .798 OPS against left-handers, and general manager Frank Wren said the Braves have had discussions with Johnson’s agent.

“I think he’d like to come back, but I think he’s also at a point where he wants to just explore and see what opportunities are out there,” Wren said of the veteran, who came from Chicago in a July deadline trade along with Paul Maholm. “We’ve expressed an interest in bringing him back. He’s expressed an interest in coming back. But we’re just not there yet.”

Meanwhile, the Braves don’t plan to bring back Diaz, a popular outfielder whose …

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