A few days ago, the Braves removed Kenshin Kawakami from their 40-man roster. Short of general manager Frank Wren stepping into the way-back machine and telling John Schuerholz, “You know, I’ve got a really bad feeling about this Mark Teixeira trade,” there probably wasn’t a better way to begin the offseason.
Quantum leap No. 2 came Tuesday. Wren traded Omar Infante, a valuable utility player – emphasis on utility – for a starting second baseman, Dan Uggla, who has averaged 31 homers and 93 RBIs in the last five seasons.
The lineup just got better. That didn’t take long.
Say this for Wren. He doesn’t sit idle very long. We can debate whether all of his moves have worked or backfired – the Kawakami signing: boom! – but nobody can accuse of him not trying.
When various issues came up this past season, Wren demoted Kawakami, demoted Nate McLouth (after demoting Jordan Schafer twice), swapped Yunel Escobar for Alex Gonzalez, and acquired Derrek Lee, Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth.
Did each move grade out as A-plus? No. But the Braves held together despite significant injuries and lineup changes. Every acquired player contributed something during the team’s unlikely playoff run – right down to Ankiel’s 11th inning home run against San Francisco in the National League Division Series.
That’s a testament to Wren’s efforts.
“We try to be proactive,” he said. “You’re always looking to improve your ballclub. That’s what a general manager’s role is. You see what your opportunities are. Over the course of last year, we tracked and watched our team and made changes. We’ve done that a lot over the last three years.”
That said, this could be the Braves’ only major move this offseason. A few thoughts about that:
♦ Uggla brings power. But the Braves had significant defensive problems last season and his acquisition doesn’t help. His 18 errors ranked second among major league second basemen last season. Wren, however, said that he isn’t concerned and that manager Fredi Gonzalez (who worked with Uggla in Florida) told him Uggla “has worked hard and gotten better.”
♦ Center field remains an issue. But Wren’s plan is to stick with Nate McLouth. He said he’s basing that on McLouth bouncing back after being called up in September (he hit .273). I believe he’s actually basing that on something else — money. The Braves likely will have to eat some of Kawakami’s $6.667 million (whether he ends up with another team or back in Japan). It’s not like there are a lot of takers for McLouth (who is due $6.5 million plus a $1.25 million buyout of his 2012 option). Liberty Media is being tight. Again. There’s a good chance this position will be a problem again.
♦ Martin Prado likely will play third base if Chipper Jones can’t return from a knee injury and left field if he can. That uncertainty isn’t comforting. The Braves just had a season of rotating bodies. But they’re at the mercy of Jones’ rehab right now, and he’s carrying a $13 million price tag of all. Once again, it’s a money decision. The worst-case scenario is the Braves get to spring training and discover Jones’ knee isn’t responding as hoped.
Then what? Wren probably makes another trade.