Frank Wren inherited a team once accustomed to postseasons. He has gone 0-for-2. It follows that while there are a lot of nice things that go with being the general manager of the Braves, one of them is not the benefit of the doubt.
The Braves are one month from the start of spring training. Wren’s winter roster makeover is pretty much complete after last week’s signing of Eric Hinske. We hear crickets.
Outgoing: Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Adam Laroche, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Church.
Incoming: Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn, prospect Arodys Vizcaino, Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske.
Elsewhere in the National League East: Philadelphia acquires pitcher Roy Halladay. New York signs outfielder Jason Bay.
Put it this way: Even if Wren had 14 division titles, five pennants and a World Series on his resume like his predecessor, John Schuerholz, people would still be slapping their foreheads in unison and going, “Huh?”
Wren understands this. But he’ll also tell you, “We think we’re way ahead of where we were a year ago at this time.”
And ahead of where the Braves were at the end of the 2009 season?
“Yes,” he said. “I think we’re better.”
Clip and save.
If the Braves turn out to be better in 2010 than in 2009, when they jumped from 72 to 86 wins but missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season, it will be because reclamation projects like Glaus and Wagner ran like refurbished classics and every one of Wren’s low-budget pickups like Cabrera, Saito and Hinske turned into players of significance.
But are those the questions you want to be asking yourself right now?
“I can’t control that,” Wren said when asked about the skeptics. “We’ve got good baseball people in this organization and we feel good about this group of players. I can’t get caught up in the media perception of what we’ve done to this point. The proof’s going to be when we take the field.”
The Braves tried to deal Derek Lowe. There was little interest because of his contract. The market for Vazquez also wasn’t tremendous, despite his great season. Still Wren defends the package of players he got from the Yankees (Cabrera, Dunn, Vizcaino).
He was forced to trade Lowe or Vazquez, of course, because he made the decision to re-sign Tim Hudson to a three-year extension, a decision he doesn’t regret.
“He’s clearly been a better pitcher than the other guys.”
Fans want to be wowed. That’s just not happening any more with the Braves. They don’t have the budget. They’re at about a $90 million payroll, and Wren said, “We feel fortunate where we are. That’s still pretty good, especially with declining attendance. We’re not a three million attendance club, which would allow us to do more.”
Glaus, once a solid 30-to-40 home run hitter, is coming off a major shoulder injury. (”It’s a calculated gamble,” Wren said.)
Wagner is not long removed from elbow surgery.
Cabrera is a career .269 hitter.
It’s like renovating with change from under the couch cushions. Still, that’s Wren’s responsibility. If these changes get the Braves back to the postseason, he should be lauded. But he says he’s not bothered by the early criticism.
“Roll it back a year ago – there wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare when we traded for Vazquez,” he said. “Two years ago, there’s wasn’t a lot of fanfare for Jair Jurrjens. People said, ‘Jair who?’ I’m looking forward to spring training. I think fans will warm up to this team.”
Maybe Jason Heyward makes the club out of spring training and covers up for the team’s deficiencies. Maybe Jordan Schafer rebounds. Maybe a rotation with Hudson, Jurrjens, Lowe and Tommy Hanson will win enough games on their own.
But if people aren’t just assuming success, Wren understands why.