Braves’ Wren struggling with decision on whether to deal

This is what Nate McLouth looks like when he's celebrating (granted, it's Brooks Conrad's grand slam).

Here's Nate McLouth celebrating (not his own at-bat, of course, but Brooks Conrad's grand slam).

(UPDATED at 5:15 p.m.)

Success apparently doesn’t bring clarity.

The Braves are in first place, own the second best record in the National League, endured relatively open tryouts for several weeks at leadoff and are still trying to navigate around a black hole in center field. But Frank Wren? He felt a little more certain about things a year ago, when the Braves were scrambling after the All-Star break to get into a playoff race.

“Last year we had started to play good baseball in June, and we felt we just needed a little boost, so we went out and made the [Adam LaRoche] trade,” the Braves’ general manager said Tuesday. “In that one, we could feel and see and knew where we were going. This year, it’s a little different. We got through a tough stretch with injuries. It’s not black-and-white. It’s a little grayer in terms of whether we need something.”

The non-waiver trade deadline is Saturday. If the Braves do nothing, don’t be stunned. But don’t feel comfortable either.

What Frank Wren needs right now ...

What Braves GM Frank Wren really needs right now ...

Good teams become great teams when they’re pro-active. That means, the Braves shouldn’t wait to see if Philadelphia acquires Roy Oswalt and then react. Wren is in a difficult situation, and he isn’t afraid to admit that. But the cautious approach can work either way.

He wants to improve the team.

He wants to add a bat.

He wants to add a reliever.

. . . is his Easy Button.

. . . is his Easy Button.

He wants to be given a super power that would enable him to convince somebody, anybody, even some small and obscure, out-of-the-way republic, to assume all financial responsibility for Nate McLouth or Kenshin Kawakami (who is collecting cobwebs and starting to resemble Norman Bates’ mother in the upstairs window).

Where’s that “Easy” button?

There are significant issues getting in the way of a deadline deal. One is chemistry. These Braves, as we’ve noted, exceed the sum of their parts. That’s rare in sports and dangerous to mess with. As Wren said when asked if he believed the team could continue to manage with a center fielder-by-committee: “I think so. We have only a handful of star players and a lot of really good baseball players. That’s why we’re tough to defend. We’re deeper than you may think after first impressions. We’re not stacked like the Yankees, but we have great chemistry and camaraderie, and we have to be mindful of that.”

Another is payroll. The Braves are hitting their budget ceiling. It’s not hard to decide which names to red-line. But finding a sucker to take them is the problem. McLouth? He’s a train wreck. Wren had no choice but to option him to Gwinnett on Tuesday. But the Braves are still on the hook for the three-year, $15.75 million extension McLouth signed last season, and any team deluded into believing he can be rehabilitated must be willing to absorb the remainder of his $4.5 million salary this year, $6.5 million in 2011 and at least a $1.25 million buyout of his $10.65 million option in 2012. That’s a $9.5 million commitment for a guy hitting .168.

Center field has been disaster central for the Braves, ever since Andruw Jones’ slide. McLouth was supposed to be the bridge to Jordan Schafer, who was just demoted again to Double-A Mississippi. Is there a “Plan C”?

Kawakami is another expensive problem. Wren wanted to move him in the winter but couldn’t. His stock hasn’t exactly gone up since then. He has made one relief appearance in the past month, and that was ugly. The $23 million contract remains intact.

See where we’re going with this?

Wren is comforted by how Jair Jurrjens, Jason Heyward and Matt Diaz have looked since returning from the disabled list. But other problems may be patched with duct tape. If he makes a move before the deadline, it probably will be low-profile. It seems more likely he will try to add a body next month (when players must first pass through waivers), as other teams fall out of the pennant race.

“There are times you clearly feel you need to make a move,” Wren said. “But we already did something with the [Alex] Gonzalez-[Yunel] Escobar deal. That was something that improved our club immediately. We have the ability to sit and wait now, and maybe do something before the postseason deadline when we see who’s available. We’re talking to teams, but we’re not putting a full-court press on.”

There’s an argument for the cautious approach. Just don’t get too comfortable.

Last three posts (free and in HD)

Braves had no choice but to cut losses with McLouth

Countdown’s health report: A-Roid, hot dog stands, mite fight!

With Oswalt trade looming, should Braves worry about Philly?

Ranking the SEC, from Bama to Vandy (and Georgia No. 4)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

218 comments Add your comment

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

July 27th, 2010
2:23 pm

Uh, do it? The window for a championship is open. BTW, first?

Delbert D.

July 27th, 2010
2:23 pm

There’s this guy named Vinnie Ears down in Miami…

UGA Class '13

July 27th, 2010
2:23 pm

Trade Nate for a Bag of Balls to the Mets

July 27th, 2010
2:24 pm

Only move Bravos should do is send McClown to the Minors and bring up Blanco.
McOut is a cancer

BTW: First

Nate's Batting Average

July 27th, 2010
2:25 pm

One day, Obama’s approval rating will reach my BA

extremus

July 27th, 2010
2:27 pm

It’s a tough call, but as things stand the Braves may be better served in the interest of winning to simply release McLouth and Kawakami even if they receive nothing in return. Otherwise those guys are literally killing them single-handedly in key situations, something we’ve already seen since the All-Star break and something the Braves can’t afford to let happen in a heated race with the Phillies (who have suddenly gotten hot, folks).

Toots

July 27th, 2010
2:27 pm

What if, instead of bad mouthing McLouth which I agree he deserves, we all start praising him to the heavens? Second coming of Andruw Jones, swinging a hot bat, yadda yadda… Maybe we can fool the other teams. They’ll hear us and think, “Man we need to get that guy…”
Maybe that would work. Nothing else seems to.
Recall Blanco.

Willie Coyote

July 27th, 2010
2:27 pm

Hopefully there is a rabbit left in his hat. Aside from acquisition, Blanco is an upgrade in CF and should be called back up. I understand you are paying Nate all that money but Blanco gives you a better chance to win.

Tami

July 27th, 2010
2:28 pm

As Wren said when asked if he believed the team could continue to manage with a center fielder-by-committee: “I think so. We have only a handful of star players and a lot of really good baseball players. That’s why we’re tough to defend. We’re deeper than you may think after first impressions. We’re not stacked like the Yankees but we have great chemistry and camaraderie and we have to be mindful of that.”

Uhhhh, WHAT??!!!! We need the Braves to get rid of this CF by committee. It’s why the Braves’ OF is like at the bottom in the league in RBI’s, average, etc. What is Wren thinking???!!

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

July 27th, 2010
2:29 pm

OK, now that I had a chance to read the blog…

Definitely no way to offload payroll. Surely, strictly from a financial perspective a case can be made that the additional revenue gained by an extended run in the playoffs is enough to justify adding some salary now?

The Braves need another bat to put them over the top and make them a serious contender for a World Series title. Gotta deal…

Tami

July 27th, 2010
2:31 pm

Nate’s Batting Average: You had me choking with laughter for a bit there. Good one! :-)

RollBravesRoll

July 27th, 2010
2:31 pm

The way the DBacks are giving away talented guys for peanuts it’s a shame we can’t convince them to deal from the hip with Justin Upton. We’re a 3 time WS Champion with Upton & Heyward in the middle of our lineup.

Deal Or No Deal?

July 27th, 2010
2:32 pm

Love the Kawakami comparison to Norman Bates’ mother! Maybe have Kawakami pitch some batting practice to McOut?? Everybody else can hit him..maybe it’ll give him some confidence!
I say make a deal for a bat now.

Tami

July 27th, 2010
2:33 pm

At Jeff: Can’t the Braves just give KK his outright release? No team in their right mind is going to take him off the Braves’ hands. And he’s filling a roster position that can easily be filled by someone more capable.

Tami

July 27th, 2010
2:34 pm

LOVE it, Deal or No Deal! That was a good one!

NCBravesFan

July 27th, 2010
2:37 pm

I think the lack of a batter that you could feel really good about acquiring complicates the issue as well. And as good as the Braves are this year, they are loaded on the farm and have some really bright days ahead. Those two factors urge a lot of caution.

The Braves “struggles” out of the All Star break are more due to the lack of quality pitching than hitting – especially the bullpen. They miss EOF and hopefully will get it going again once he gets back (or a trade for an arm is done before the deadline).

Gtax

July 27th, 2010
2:39 pm

Let me just start off by saying I know we paid Mclouth a bunch of money that he has yet to be worthy of this year. So instead of getting rid of him, because, let’s face facts Wren can’t not realistically, why not send him down to AAA, move Gregor Blanco up for a while, and let Nate get his confidence back up at the plate.

It’s only going to get worse for him in the Bigs if he keeps having to hit against Strassburg, Josh Johnson, Halladay, etc. So, instead of watching your investment dip into oblivion, send him to AAA and get him some confidence.

I just don’t understand it right now. Gregor Blanco gives us a chance to win games. That’s what’s most important. Forget the money. Just win and with Mclouth it isn’t happening.

SNM

July 27th, 2010
2:39 pm

Give Blanco the chance he deserves….he has well earned the chance to start and send Nate back down to work out whatever he has wrong with him…..

Nick

July 27th, 2010
2:40 pm

@Tami, they won’t outright release KK or McClouth. They have too much money in both people and too many years left on their contracts. Its just the way the braves do business.

PMC

July 27th, 2010
2:41 pm

Well, say this, the 1996 yankees were greater than the sum of thier parts. They beat a better team by playing that way.

The real questions for Wren are in what a move might do for the team now. They do need an outfielder but can they find one that’s worth it without cleaning out their best minor league talent and still fit it in the budget?

The obvious choice would be to send McClouth back down and bring up Blanco who was playing well. That costs nothing and any one is an upgrade over McClouth at this point even if you have to cut him and eat his money… It’s not any worse that what they are eating on Kawakami and to a lesser extent Derrick Lowe.

Cody Ross would be ok… but why would the Marlins help us?

They’ve wanted to get better in the outfield for sometime… but teams don’t generally trade really good players like the kind we need without asking for the world back. There’s no reason to make somekind of Mark Texiera type trade for the average talent they would be getting back.

If the value is there he’ll make the move I’m confident.

kreedham

July 27th, 2010
2:42 pm

The Braves shouldn’t and won’t give up any young pitching unless, as part of the deal, the other team will take Nate or KK. But then one minor league pitcher is all they should give up. I suspect, as written by JS above, that we’ll wait a little longer as more teams drop out of contention and see who passes through waivers!

Don’t be surprised if Nate is suddenly put on the DL again!

Rey

July 27th, 2010
2:42 pm

How about trading Bobby Cox for Freddie Gonzalez? Bobby Cox’s decisions leave me scratching my head at times.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

–See Nate McClouth and Jesse Chavez

Kenbud

July 27th, 2010
2:43 pm

There’s ALWAYS a team that will take bums with high salaries. Never fails … problem is they want the good ones to go with the bad ones ……. I know the Braves have the greatest pitching prospects in all of baseball, at least more than 5. And everyone wants pitching. I think you could give away one pitcher along with McLouth or Kawakami. … that might entice a non-playoff team. This won’t leave the cupboard bare by any means.

I also think the mid-season Teixeira trade haunts the organization.

One stick and one (consistent) reliever, and this team will be hard to beat.

extremus

July 27th, 2010
2:43 pm

I agree with Tami about the “position by committee” issue, the reason being that consistency is key to chemistry. The biggest reason the Braves have won so much this year is that it’s one of those rare times when guys are picking each other up and getting the clutch hits in high pressure situations, but over too much time the magic will inevitably run out. The Braves need an everyday player (and really TWO outfielders, let’s face it) who can be counted on to play 150 games a year and be a positive factor offensively and defensively if not an outright star.

Remember Greg Norton’s reputation the first year or so he was a Brave? Nice clutch hitter who could be depended on; problem was the Braves kept using him long after the bottle was empty. Kenshin Kawakami was “the Dragon Slayer” last year, beating some of MLB’s best and brightest while otherwise being mediocre; from the time he was matched up against Tim Lincecum in San Francisco his first game this season, it was clear his magic had run out. The offense was going smoothly when Blanco was in the lineup, and then McLouth came back and the Braves are .500 since the All-Star break, the victims of having the equivalent of a second pitcher’s spot in the batting order.

If the Braves go into a short playoff series at the end of the year against a St. Louis or San Diego pitching staff, for instance, the lack of at least one more everyday-caliber outfielder will be exposed for the weakness it is; they need a guy who’s enough of a threat at the plate to affect how an opposing pitcher approaches the guys in front of him. That’s not Hinske, Infante, Diaz, or Cabrera, and as we all know, certainly not Nate McLouth.

Make a move and make it a good one please, Frank Wren.

Blackberry Cobbler

July 27th, 2010
2:45 pm

What the hell are the Braves waiting on……….. you’ve got a .168 hitter (McOUT) who is the subject of the managers man-crush, you’ve got an aging 3rd baseman who’s lucky to play 100 games and is mostly non-productive in the one’s he does play, you’ve got a pitching staff that with very few exceptions is becoming more suspect every day, and you’ve got a 1B that’s good but not likely capable of playing everyday.

If you make a deal, at least you can say you tried. You didn’t sit back with your finger up your @$$. If you don’t do something, then you really leave yourself open for critisism and speculation if things don’t work out. Take the safe route, cover your butt and make the deal.

Put McOUT on the bench the rest of the season one way or the other!!

gem dawg

July 27th, 2010
2:46 pm

Good one, Deal.
Don’t give up pitching for another midlevel player, we thought we had one of those in McLouth. Only make a trade for an outstanding CF and that player may not be available right now.

lin

July 27th, 2010
2:46 pm

simple send both kk and nate to minors and bring blanco and some other pitcher up to pen to help out. can not due any worse. i still put braves 2nd to finish to mets and phil 3rd. long shot

richham

July 27th, 2010
2:47 pm

lets see DeJesus is hurt so mark him off your list.
Hart is hurt and I would want to see him play and perform before I would trade anything for him.
It looks like the Marlins may keep Ross because of injuries to other players.

I’ve heard Josh Willingham’s name come up recently. Just like the reliever market, the outfielder market is pretty bare. This Braves team has played well and I don’t see giving up a ton for anything outside of a major superstar.

So that leaves slim and none as our choices. Unless your spooning the tech team your columns are all doom and gloom.

Craig

July 27th, 2010
2:48 pm

Yes, we need to deal. Bye-bye to McOut and hello to Corey Hart. We are going to face a bunch of left handed pitchers coming up and we rank 14th in the NL in batting average against lefties. Pull the trigger and help Cox out in his last year.

Nate McLouth

July 27th, 2010
2:48 pm

You fair weather fans can shove it

At the end of the day I am making more money batting .168 (one season) than some of you make in your entire life.

Tale of Woe

July 27th, 2010
2:48 pm

If the Cubs are willing to eat millions on Kosuke Fukudome contract, why can’t we do that with McLouth? McLouth is owed much less than Fukudome and he has been an All-Star or golden glove winner or something like that. I don’t need a huge return – just an open roster spot would make me happy

L

July 27th, 2010
2:49 pm

Because of McLouth we have an automatic out every inning he comes up in. How many times are we going to have to watch up come to bat with the bases loaded only to strike out or hit into a double play? He’s dreadful and really needs to go -whether it’s traded or the minors. If FW wants any hope of winning the WS this year, he has got to eliminate the deadwood. The whole team was playing better while he was on the DL. He comes back, and there’s like this dark cloud hanging over the dugout.

bearcatjacket

July 27th, 2010
2:49 pm

kk’s taking a lot of heat for his record, most of which happened during the breakdown of offense in the early part of the season. his first win was almost thrown away by the bullpen. losing game after game with zero offensive support doesn’t make you a bad pitcher. but he probably could use his own change of scenery to be where someone actually hits for him for a few games – before throwing him overboard.

Blackberry Cobbler

July 27th, 2010
2:50 pm

Rey at 2:42pm–

AMEN to that brother.

extremus

July 27th, 2010
2:50 pm

Mr. Schultz,

Lately (probably two or three times during the past week or two) I’ve tried to post comments on the boards that somehow didn’t show up or at least took awhile to. I don’t use foul language or try to do anything deliberately offensive, but I wonder if there are perhaps other criteria your filters tend to block (I think length is certainly one, though these were of a fairly short nature). Anyway, I just thought I’d ask; by the time I post this, it’s possible my earlier post will be up.

Tale of Woe

July 27th, 2010
2:51 pm

If the Cubs are willing to ear millions of Kosuke Fukudome’s contract why can’t the Braves do that with McLouth? McLouth is owed less and I would think he would be the better attraction than Fukudome. I think McLouth won a gold glove or something at one point. I don’t care what we get for him – we didn’t give up much to get him. I just want the open roster spot – that would make me very happy

Trade Nate for a Bag of balls

July 27th, 2010
2:52 pm

I think the only bright spot for McOut was the walk off homer against the Phillies.

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:52 pm

Fed Up — The window most certainly is open.

extremus

July 27th, 2010
2:53 pm

There it is; I guess sometimes you guys must look over posts before passing them along to the boards. Am I right?

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:53 pm

Toots — I think that’s a great idea. Let’s say we all go over to his house and make s’mores!

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:55 pm

Tami — I think it’s just what a GM says when there’s no obvious trade on the horizon. That way, if nothing happens, you or I can’t say, “But you said we had to get somebody!”

Sonny Clusters

July 27th, 2010
2:55 pm

We never hit .168 but we know somebody who is hitting that right now and playing centerfield for a first place team. We was thinking if that position was hitting anything at all maybe the Braves would be 8 or 10 games up on the division right now. We never played big league ball but we know somebody who does and he said an outfielder ought to hit at least .248 to be playing all the time.

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:56 pm

Curious George — “Easy” button exploded.

Herschel Talker

July 27th, 2010
2:56 pm

Schultzie:

This team needs a bat. Glaus has been a train wreck since June, McLouth has been a train wreck since last June, and Melky is mediocre. Mark my words: if we don’t trade for a bat, there will be no world series. We’ll likely still make the playoffs, of course. But as constructed, this lineup cannot win the whole thing, even with the great pitching. Also, can we get someone to stop butchering the bullpen? Jesse Chavez is a disgrace.

HT

Alan

July 27th, 2010
2:56 pm

Jeff, does McLouth have options left? If so, I’d suggest sending him to Gwinnett and recalling Blanco — immediately. If not, I’d certainly bench him — permanently — and put Melky in center and leave him there the rest of the season. Wasn’t Melky the starting CF for the world champion Yankees last year? I’d also immediately farm out Chavez and recall either Marek or Kimbrel. As for Kawakami, he should be nothing but a mop-up man the rest of the year. I doubt the Braves will be able to make any kind of deal for him because of his outrageous salary unless they agree to eat a large portion of said salary. If he’s still on the roster at season’s end, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they release him and end up eating next year’s salary anyway.

ryan

July 27th, 2010
2:58 pm

PLEASE COREY HART !

Herschel Talker

July 27th, 2010
2:58 pm

ryan:

Corey Hart is now injured. Not happening.

HT

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:59 pm

RollBravesRoll — Upton signed a 6-year, $51 million contract in March. I doubt he’s going anywhere.

Nahila

July 27th, 2010
2:59 pm

I think the Braves need to hire a new batting coach and have him work with Mcclouth and all the Brave hitters.

Jeff Schultz

July 27th, 2010
2:59 pm

Deal or No Deal –Thanks, just a visual I got.