Braves’ collapse doesn’t mean they need big trade

The Braves' collapse last season through Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren for a loop. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren remain baffled by last season's collapse. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Over the past few days, we have seen the Value City of major league franchises, the Miami Marlins, spend $191 million on three free agents and the Los Angeles Angels give Albert Pujols a contract ($254 million) that exceeds the gross national product of several small countries.

Meanwhile, the Braves have done nothing. They may continue to do nothing, or at least very little.

And that’s OK.

I know. You want a splash. Everybody loves a splash. Splashes are a fan’s barometer for knowing that an owner cares as much as they do. But splashes aren’t always wise, and the Braves are a perfect example.

It has been two months since their collapse was complete. There’s a lingering hangover from blowing a 10½-game lead for the wild-card spot in roughly a month and missing the playoffs. (The team passing them, St. Louis, went on to win the World Series.) The Fredi Gonzalez bandwagon flipped over. It’s natural to demand change.

Take a cleansing breath.

As currently constructed, the Braves remain a potential World Series team. To believe they’re not assumes that having the third-most wins in baseball on Aug. 25 last season amounts to an aberration. (The only two teams ahead of the Braves at that time were Philadelphia and Boston. The Red Sox missed the playoffs. The Phillies were bounced in the first round by the Cardinals. So should the new blueprint be: Struggle for five months, rally and then hope the last spasm gets you into the postseason and pushes you to a World Series? Good luck with that.)

Several months later, we still don’t know exactly why the Braves belly-flopped. We don’t know why Jason Heyward struggled, Brian McCann faded and Dan Uggla was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We don’t know why pitching fell apart and body parts suddenly exploded. It just happened.

“I don’t think anyone knows,” general manager Frank Wren said Thursday when asked for his postseason analysis. “We all have our theories. We all can point to things that started the September slide. All we know is, once things started rolling downhill, we couldn’t stop it.

“You can make a knee-jerk reaction: ‘We didn’t make the playoffs. We have to fix everything.’ But that would be the wrong approach. Are we working to get better? Yes, but I don’t think we’re going to react to something that happened in a 30-day window.”

Nor should he. Generally, I’m not shy about jumping into the blow-it-up camp, but that’s not applicable here.

A .280-hitting, Gold Glove shortstop would be great. So would a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder. Any candidates? Who are you trading to get them. How are you fitting them into the payroll? (Stop the Jimmy Rollins fantasy.)

Wren has long resisted dealing any of the organization’s top prospects. That leaves the two lone marketable and relatively available veterans: Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. Both are due significant raises in arbitration. Hence, their availability.

Personally, I think dealing either would be risky. Moving Jurrjens would turn the starting rotation into a relative kiddie corps. (Behind Tim Hudson, who is coming off back surgery: Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran.) Moving Prado means there’s no backup plan for Chipper Jones at third base, as well as no strong candidate to start in left. Also worth noting: Prado was this team’s relative MVP two years ago.

Wren insists, “I don’t feel desperate” to make a trade. The Braves will have Michael Bourn for a full season. They’re assuming a bounce-back season by Heyward. Maybe there’s some risk in that, but it’s the logical stance right now.

The Braves aren’t the Marlins. Miami needed to become relevant, moving into a new stadium, so they signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

The Braves aren’t the Angels. L.A. needed power and figured it can make back some of Pujols’ ridiculous contract with new sponsorships in that market, and probably by charging $17 for a hot dog.

The Braves don’t need a splash. Maybe a tweak. You can’t assume the final month is reality and the first five were an aberration.

Unless, of course, they collapse again.

By Jeff Schultz

187 comments Add your comment

Mike S

December 8th, 2011
6:14 pm

You are exactly right Schultzie. I wish that the rest of the AJC blog denizens would see the light…

Shultz sez

December 8th, 2011
6:15 pm

Other than Pujols himself, I don’t think there are any Pujols-like moves.

Stinger2

December 8th, 2011
6:17 pm

Jeff: Why did the Braves let Gonzalez go. He only got a one year deal from the Brewers. Braves said they did not need him for 2 years. So why did they not sign him for one year?

OldTimer

December 8th, 2011
6:35 pm

Somebody at the AJC needs to hop over and give Jay Bookman a hug.
Dude’s lost it.

Falcons4Eva

December 8th, 2011
6:45 pm

The very fact that we’ve dumped Derek Lowe gives us at least 5 more wins is progress enough.
If Jason Heywood hits .275 BA and 25 HR will give us at least 4 more wins.
If Dan Ugla hits better than he did last year for the first half of the season and come close to what he did the second half of the season thats worth another 3 wins.
And surely Brian McCann not going though that kind of slump is another 2 wins
And not to mention those other bums we had in our bull pin no longer with the team – is worth another 1 win – that would give us 15 additional wins. Looking at 95 – 105 wins this year.

I’m good with that. That should get us in the playoff.

StevoDeg

December 8th, 2011
6:49 pm

Good article, Jeff. All this needed to be said!

El Bravo

December 8th, 2011
6:50 pm

Schulzie, I’m glad someone is finally speaking some sense in the Braves blogosphere. The Braves will be good next year and even better in the years to come, thanks to the boatload of young talent that we currently have…

Mike S

December 8th, 2011
6:51 pm

Stinger2, Gonzo’s deal reportedly has a vesting option, so it will likely be a two-year deal ultimately. Also, while his defense was other-worldly last year, the FO probably got a bit tired of his sub-.300 OBP and all-or-nothing streakiness. The $$ for the deal still hasn’t come out either, and I’d guess whatever it is is more than they would have wanted to pay for a guy that probably isn’t going to start all year (since they want Pastornicky to take over eventually).

PapaDawg

December 8th, 2011
7:04 pm

I’m glad he didn’t go to the Marlins but teams have tried to buy championships before but wound up staying at home during the playoffs. Yankees, Phils, Red Sox and in the past the Mets.

1eyedJack

December 8th, 2011
7:09 pm

OMG!!! I find myself in agreement with you Jeff. Of course, the Braves aren’t going to make a big free agent deal. Wren ran home to Mama and decided to do it the way Shuerholz did it to start. The Braves (Bobby Cox) Way. Build through the farm system, stockpile young pitchers, and trade off surplus talent for role players.

lanier

December 8th, 2011
7:11 pm

a bunch depends on Hayward comming alive and I for 1 dont have any faith in that . maybe Francour burned me, hope so

Herschel Talker

December 8th, 2011
7:22 pm

Schultzie:

You still don’t know why we collapsed? How about Fredi the fool continuing to pitch Derek Lowe every fifth game and then justifying the move with “what am I supposed to do, pitch a rookie?” How about Fredi the fool continuing to bat cold hitter too high in the lineup. This team will go nowhere until Fredi is gone and until there are no more coaches left from the Bobby Cox tree. The culture of complacency and choking continues to permeate the organization as long as any remnants of Cox remain with us.

HT

winkie face

December 8th, 2011
7:27 pm

BRAVO Jeff! I have literally been holding my breath the entire week in sheer terror thinkin the Braves would do the impetuous thing (aka stupid) and trade JJ and Martin.
Ponder this – of the ‘vet’ pitchers currently on the Braves roster, Hanson has a healing shoulder tear (and) a funky delivery that could cause the same issue again (GOD FORBID) – Huddy has a blown out and freshly repaired disk – JJ is 12 months backside of a miniscus repair. At the start of last spring, JJ reported with under 4 months rehab on the repaired knee. Thus, his quad (weakend from the surgery) had not had enough time in rehab before being pounded again on the mound and thus was not able to properly hold the knee cap up off the surgically repaired tendon – resulting in pain/weakness/taper of velocity/risk of further injury, etc by mid season. One has to believe that if JJ had a bit more time to recoup/properly rehab the knee after it was repaired – we likely wouldn’t be having a conversation/debate regarding the possible trade of our All Star ACE. The same conversation applies to Martin Pardo. Ever have a MRSA staph infection? How about go get one as severe as Martin’s was and as soon as the ‘ooze’ stops – jump back in and resume your ‘normal’ activity … then get back with me.
Bottom line, we need to give our players (who ARE human – even Chipper) sufficient time to recoup and rehab! Poppin it up with a cortizone injection, spit and passion for the game just AINT enough in every case. As it stands now, when our starters report on Feb 19th – Huddy will be around 8-ish weeks in front of a ruptured disk repair – paired with Tommy’s hurling technique and healing shoulder, and Chipper on 3rd who is also recouping from a knee issue and although awesome, still human and pondering hangin up the glove…uhhhh….we may wanna hang on to our ALLSTAR ACE – Jair Jurrjens and our MVP “I will play where ever you tell me to play and KILL myself doing it” – Martin Prado. YA THINK?

Dan

December 8th, 2011
7:28 pm

Jeff do you think Prado for Nick Castellanos 3B Tigers and Jurrgens for Wil Myers OF from Kansas City are dead issues or do you think there is always a possibility.

smug

December 8th, 2011
7:37 pm

I agree! KEEP Jurrjens and Prado in Braves uniforms & let’s PLAY BALL!

JEFF SPARROW

December 8th, 2011
7:44 pm

THE FIRST THING WE DO IS GET RID OF THE MANGER , OUR ROTATION IS NOT NO WHERES GOOD ENOUGH ,YOU CAN’T HAVE 3 OR MORE 4 YOUNG GUYS IN IT AT THE SAME TIME , WE NEED AN ACE ,GO AND TRADE WITH SEATTLE FOR FELIX , WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS BY PITCHING AND DEFENSE AND TIMING HITTING ,WE NEED ALL 3 FOR 2012 AND A COUPLE GUYS IN THE BULL PEN SO WE CAN TRY TO NOT TO OVER USE OUR BIG 3 GUYS AGAIN WHICH IF WE HAD A GOOD ENOUGH MANAGER THAT WOULD HAVE NOT HAPPEN. BYE BYE BYE FREDI AND WREN

Steve

December 8th, 2011
7:44 pm

I disagree. There are questions at 3b ( age), ss, rf, and lf. That is half the starting eight. Something needs to be done to give the Braves some more offensive pop.

goldwreck

December 8th, 2011
7:46 pm

I talked with the new hitting coach Greg Walker today and he said he’d be in Atlanta next week to start working with the hitters.He mentioned Jason Heyward specifically and was excited about the opportunity to work with the likes of McCann,Freeman and Jones.I can’t wait for spring training.

gcs

December 8th, 2011
7:54 pm

The Angels are going to regret that one!

.

Yunel Asscobar

December 8th, 2011
7:56 pm

Jeff – always enjoy your stuff, but disagree on multiple points:

1. …”the Braves remain a potential World Series team.” Little League World Series? Certainly, no question they have the talent on board. College World Series? Perhaps, assuming they stay healthy. No way this team, as constructed, competes for a playoff slot unless ALL the stars align, everyone stays healthy, and most have career years.

2. …” we don’t know exactly why the Braves belly-flopped.” Yes, we do. It’s just that Wren doesn’t have the courage to address it. It’s called managerial malpractice. Fredi is in so far over his head, he could have a lifetime contract and never lead this team anywhere.

Totally agree with @Herschel Talker on that point. You don’t win the World Series without effective leadership and the Braves don’t have it. Actions to date would suggest spitting the bit was on Parish. Teams that get it done deal with the real issues.

dawg4u

December 8th, 2011
8:00 pm

Maybe the final month wasn’t a reality to you but to me it destroyed what we had built up and worked for for the first five months. I agree we should not panic but just hoping that the guys who had off years will bounce back and have better years seems to complacent. We need another bat for sure and much better management of our pitching staff as HT pointed out.

SawThat1nce

December 8th, 2011
8:05 pm

The Braves are a pretty good team, and very capable of winning the 2012 WS.
GO BRAVES!!

Simpson's Homer

December 8th, 2011
8:09 pm

IF we end up stuck with basically the same roster as last season, that would be a big roll of the dice. Some of our divisional rivals had made big moves to improve, for one thing. So, our team may have to be noticeably BETTER than last year’s to equal the same record as 2011.

1. What are the odds of Heyward being drastically improved over 2011? It’s not like he was great in 2010, after he hurt his thumb. His performance against lefties was VERY poor last year. Heyward HAS to put together a complete 2012, or we may need a midseason move for RF, at least as a platoon.

2. Can Beachy, Minor and the other young starters get past the 5th and 6th innings? If not, Fredi may wear down our bullpen once again (even if he claims that he won’t do it again).

3. Will the Braves continue to have a boring, uninspiring offense that can not score without the homer? Will Bourn be our only spark? Will anyone else in the lineup learn how to bunt or hit & run?! Pitching is good for 162, but we’ve proven for 20 years that you also have to SCORE in the playoffs to win – against top-flight pitching!

If some Baseball Genie can answer these 3, the Braves may surprise us, even with the current group. If not, watch the Marlins pass us…………… GO BRAVES…!!!!

Rilo

December 8th, 2011
8:15 pm

Jeff you are out of your mind. The Braves were in the position they were in last year bc the teams out West struggled as well as several teams out of the Central. Also, let’s not forget Dan Uggla had one of the best second halfs in baseball. If any Braves fan thinks the Braves can win with what is in the farm and already in Atlanta I hate to break it to you but they won’t. The farm system is not as strong as we thought our players are washing out after teams figure them out. I’m not asking Frank to get Albert, Fielder, or Reyes. I just want some one who can give Braves Country hope. Our who season from what previous people have said relies on IF’S. Such as
IF – Heyward doesn’t slump the whole season again
IF – Chipper plays 90 at the level he did 3 years ago
IF – Our pitching staff(starters and relievers) hold up for an entire year
IF – Prado has the year he did 2 years ago
And now who is going to play short but yet another rookie to rely on. I am a life long fan and have been to NLCS and WS games and the teams we put on the field over the past few years are nothing like those teams. All I’m asking for Frank is guys we can count on year in year out not these IF guys. Go get Quention from the White sox I’ll take him over our 2 current corner OF guys

MitchC

December 8th, 2011
8:22 pm

Jeff, how can you say.. realistically, that the Braves are a “potential World Series team”. (Your words, Mr Schultz, not mine).

Do we have.. Roy Halliday, and Cole Hamels.. at the top of our rotation? Do we have.. Ryan Howard.. in the middle of our lineup? No to both questions.

The Braves.. maybe.. are a wild card team.. that depends on… what the effect of the nangover of blowing the lead is.. and how good Florida actually turns out to be. The Cards losing Albert probably means they arent as much of a threat.. but…

Chipper is ancient, and always injured. Hudson is coming off surgery..

Need I go on, sir?

The Braves wont be pitiful. The team in NY stinks, and I dont think the Nats are big of a threat.

You honestly think the Braves keep up with the Phillies, and beat them in a playoff series?

Psychologically, I think Wren needs to do something., If not.. we’ll see whether that stance gets the Braves into the playoffs, and if they dont end up making the playoffs, how long both Mr Wren and Mr Gonzalez, both have their jobs afterward.

GSWhocares

December 8th, 2011
8:32 pm

Here is what I am begging someone to tell me: How much money, with this supposed slight uptick in budget and 5M saved from Lowe dump, is available for a FA? This has to be the only MLB beat that has a writer that just refuses to ask any real questions.

dawg4u

December 8th, 2011
8:33 pm

Forget the Phillies who are much more talented than the Braves – we now definitely have to be worried about the Marlins. We had problems with them before they added the new free agents. I know FW doesn’t feel compelled to make a move but without another big bat we may be looking up at two teams in our division next year instead of one.

Ryan's Dad

December 8th, 2011
8:40 pm

The Braves were doing so great and then they collapsed. Because of injuries or mental fatigue or whatever, they looked like a team out of gas. I believe they ran out of gas the year before when we were forced to start Brooks Conrad in the playoffs and the ball kept finding him. We had to finish the season with no Chipper, Prado or Wagner. Contrary to this article there seems to be a pervasive inabilty to finish the marathon season and therefore much change is needed. Jeff says, ‘good luck with the Cardinals model” but the Cardinals were something the Braves and Bosox were not: good finishers!!

Supes

December 8th, 2011
8:57 pm

The Braves MAY NOT need a “splash”…but they do NEED a 30HR RH power bat in LF….I believe we will be fine with Tyler P. at SS (if need be).

I’m sorry but Prado is not the left fielder that we need…I’m in favor of him being on the Braves back to his role as a super utility sub guy and Chipper’s backup.

Dream on

December 8th, 2011
8:57 pm

You didn’t win with this group of “if” last year. What the hell makes you think they will this year. I guess you expect Greg Walker to work a miracles….good luck.

JSS

December 8th, 2011
8:59 pm

When I read that Fredi Gonzalez said this: “Yeah, Chipper’s going to play at what, 40 years old? And last year he played 125, 130 games. We’ll probably cut back on him a little more, having Prado you have that luxury you can move him to third. If we need to give a rest to Chipper, it’s a big plus for us.” Why are you paying this man (C. Jones)? Heaven, send him away and get something or someone in here who can really help this team!!! “Cut him back?” My goodness!!!

Josh

December 8th, 2011
9:02 pm

I agree that the Braves don’t need an Earth shattering move to remain a playoff contender, but minor moves are necessary. I think a Nick Punto as a backup SS would be a good move as would a Cody Ross for an OF spot. I think JJ would be the most expendable if it’s for a power hitter, but I would by no means trade Prado. They can’t afford to lose him if Chipper is injured most of the year. However, I think best case scenario is that they keep both guys and add Punto and Ross and maybe a solid middle reliever.

Dream on

December 8th, 2011
9:06 pm

Punto & Cody..suck..what a joke!
about as bad as Conrad and Diaz…could hit my azz…

Dream on

December 8th, 2011
9:06 pm

couldn’t hit

Octomania

December 8th, 2011
9:33 pm

Huh???? World Series contender? What I recall is a team that struggled against the Nats, Marlins and Mutts. Got manhandled by the Phils and Cards. Then a total collapse in Sept. of biblical proportions.

We need more offense, just like we needed more offense last year. We don’t get it, expect the same as last year. It is that simple.

(maybe Jeff’s been drinking some mountain whiskey)

Speedy Gonzalez ( Fredis cousin)

December 8th, 2011
9:39 pm

Youre right Schultzie, but we do NEED a SS, LF, a full time 3B, a comeback year from J Hey, a comeback year from McCann, a consistent year from Uggly,& our pitchers to stay healthy! Thats not asking too much from Santa is it??? FW, stand pat & the Marlins will be seeing us in the rear view mirror!

Prado's NOT a 3rd baseman

December 8th, 2011
9:45 pm

Soon as JJ is healthy & pitching good, trade his soft arse for a bat in LF, he will surely fold like a tent again in the fall, he cant stay on the field & we cant win if we dont score any runs, same old story every year, no offense, we have plenty of pitching, lets get some bats in here FW!!!!!!!

Uggly's wild ride

December 8th, 2011
9:50 pm

Tell you 1 damn thing, Id be glad to pay 17 bucks for a hot dog if WE had signed Pujols!!!!!

devoted fan

December 8th, 2011
10:02 pm

I get so tired of the Braves brass giving the same old rationale for their lack of off season moves. They say the Braves owners let them have enough money to make the necessary moves to improve the team. However, since Frank/John are smarter than everyone else, they can improve the team without spending money on free agents or trading for a big bat in the middle of the lineup. Frank can delude himself that it is possible to get back to the playoffs if everything falls the right way. Odds are low..
. As a season ticket holder, I have seen my tickets increase 18% in the last 2 years. In that period of time, we have been relegated to fighting for 2nd and 3rd place with a revamped Marlins squad and the up and coming Nationals. in 2012. This will be my last year if they continue along this path.

Skeezix

December 8th, 2011
10:04 pm

Still bummed out over last year so it is hard to get motivated about 2012 or even dare get my hopes up again. The Braves are marginal right now. Too many ifs and not enough offensive punch. The offense was weak most of last year; at times pathetic. So we may not need a Pujols (and I believe it would be stupid to spend the money the Angels just did on one guy), but we definitely need serious help–especially in the OF. So why stay on the margin? Wren needs to get some big sticks in the line up and with this pitching staff, the Braves could go somewhere; maybe to the WS. Wren is like a roller coaster ride–he seems to be hyperkinetic some times (and then makes unnecessary moves–for example KK) and then gets too laid back like now.

Oh well, it is time to head for the bed…………

Tucker T

December 8th, 2011
10:29 pm

JJ will have to go either this year or next. It’s simple economics. He will certainly become too expensive after next seasons arbitration and there is little chance of signing him long term with Boras as his agent so if they can get a good return for him I would go ahead and do it but only for a great player(s) in return. I think Wren is playing it well. Wait until the big names are off the board and see which team is left and desperate for pitching.

Kevin

December 8th, 2011
10:41 pm

There was a Fredi Gonzalez bandwagon?

jharber

December 8th, 2011
10:41 pm

Mr Jeff, if the braves make the playoffs in 2012 as currently constructed , email me and i will buy both you and dob dinner anywhere you choose, do you care to counter? this team would have a struggle to win college world series.

KleskoRules

December 8th, 2011
10:47 pm

Why are you people who sh^t on the Braves every day even fans of them anymore? Go rag on the St Louis Post’s site about THEM losing Pujols. Why don’t y’all see that the right fit for Atlanta wasn’t there in FA this year? 1B and P. Pretty strong areas in Atl. SS’s are ridiculously over-paid. Reyes is never going to live up to that contract and Rollins is old. Last year we were rolling until the wheels fell off. Sh^t happens.

When Prado rebounds. When Uggla is consistent next year. When Heyward becomes the player everyone was on his jock about him being not 14 months ago! When Fredi unleashes Bourn.

So much negativity around a team y’all are supposed to love. P^sses me off.

Bill

December 8th, 2011
10:47 pm

Jeff this was a joke, right. You couldn’t be serious. LOL!

Does Wren think the Braves fans are all idiots? He needs to get a life then…The idiot maybe the GM.

Mbrav

December 8th, 2011
10:47 pm

Maybe get andruw jones n platanoon him with prado

SAD

December 8th, 2011
10:54 pm

I just dont see it and dont believe it.
we won 1o out of our last 30 games.
But what is worse is the state of our country. we are in a mess in this country and are paying 200 million dollars for somebody to play ball. incredible.

GOP Cannon

December 8th, 2011
10:57 pm

Jeff, great article and good points as always. Look, I agree that the Braves have the pieces in place to be successful next year… if we do nothing, Atlanta will be a decent team with a good starting rotation, an excellent bullpen, and a below average lineup.

I think that I speak for a lot of people when I say that the September collapse was the worst thing that I have ever seen as a Braves fan. Despite all of our ups and downs in the play offs over the years, to watch the Braves blow a 10 1/2 game lead in September is the most despicable thing that I have ever witnessed.

My point: For the sake of the fans, Wren must do something major to show that this organization does something different and is committed to winning. If the Braves do nothing in the off-season, I guarantee that it will hurt attendance in 2012.

OPEN YOUR EYES

December 8th, 2011
11:04 pm

THERE WILL BE NO FAN SUPPORT THIS YEAR. I CAN GAURNTEE IT!!!!!

Todd

December 8th, 2011
11:07 pm

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This team is put together on the cheap year in and year out. It is not amazing to me that the 2011 braves choked – it was a miracle that they even came that close. There is no real leadership on the team that I can see and no consistent hitters in the clutch so 2012 should be more of the same unless we get some bats – and that ain’t happening.