Sports fans scream for a championship every season. But really all most expect is for somebody in the executive suite — whether it’s the person who’s making trades or clutching the checkbook — to care as much as they do.
As a general rule, “We’re building for next season,” just doesn’t play well with the guy in the $6 seat.
Given that, the Braves should be commended today. They’re being as passionate and proactive off the field as they have been on it. They’re trying to win now, not sitting back and praying for unicorns.
Maybe Philadelphia’s acquisition of Roy Oswalt spooked them a little. Maybe they see something special in this team. Maybe they’re intent on trying to send Bobby Cox out with a championship.
Does it matter?
Drink this up Atlanta: You have a team going for a championship.
Faced with a tight trade market and a thin budget, general manager Frank Wren managed to improve the team anyway. This is the way things are supposed to work with playoff contenders at trade deadlines.
Trade deadlines highlight the serious players and expose the pretenders.
The Braves made a five-player trade with Kansas City. Outfielder Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth come this way. Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and prospect Tim Collins go that way. If you break this deal down by player, Chavez’s exit will result in the loudest single cheer. At some point, the question became not whether he would make it as a Brave, but whether he would make it to the parking lot.
He had a 5.89 ERA. He had given up six home runs, 40 hits and 12 walks in 36 2/3 innings. Torch-carrying villagers were starting to wait for him outside the stadium.
But Ankiel and Farnsworth provide immediate help. Ankiel can fill the Braves’ black hole in center field. He brings some power (having his 25 homers in 2008), even if he’s currently hitting only .261 with four homers. Farnsworth, who was briefly a lights-out closer for the Braves in 2005, has been strong out of the bullpen this season (3-0, 2.42).
Neither is a centerpiece. Neither has to be.
They fit what the Braves need and what this team has become. The roster lacks star power, but makes up for it in depth, aggressiveness and chemistry. They just needed a boost lately, with Philadelphia rising, the lineup settling and Troy Glaus looking more and more like a one-month wonder.
Credit Wren. If this and other recent moves lead to the Braves’ first postseason berth since 2005, he may have just sewed up Executive of the Year honors.
Approaching the trade deadline, Wren had to feel like he was duct-taped to a lamp post. Dead money was killing the budget. Fact is, for all of Wren’s success in rebuilding the roster over the past three years, he still was paying the price for three significant miscalculations: Derek Lowe (four years, $60 million), Kenshin Kawakami (three years, $23 million) and Nate McLouth (three years, $15.75 million). The three read like a bad 401k portfolio.
Lowe was signed to be an ace. He quickly become a fourth starter making $15 million a year. Kawakami was signed to be a second or third starter. By midway through this season he couldn’t even hang on to the No. 5 job and was jettisoned to the bullpen.
Nobody has seen him since. He’s like D.B. Cooper.
McLouth, acquired from Pittsburgh, was expected to be the perfect bridge to Jordan Schafer. That’s an “oops” to the second power.
Expensive mistakes hamstring general managers. Lowe, Kawakami and McLouth represent $27 million of an $85 million payroll (31.7 percent) this season. Factor in Chipper Jones’ $14 million contract, and that’s $41 million for four players (48.2 percent).
Wren suggested in recent days that he likely wouldn’t do anything. The market was too tight. The budget seemed blown. He also kind of liked his team.
“We’re talking to teams,” Wren said a few days ago, “but we’re not putting a full-court press on.”
Either he was being less than truthful then or something changed. Doesn’t matter. He chose not to sit back. Serious teams don’t do that. The message about this season seems clear.
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