Braves’ Frank Wren needs to fix good, but not great, team

Michael Bourn may have played his last game for the Braves, who have some big decisions to make this offseason. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Center fielder Michael Bourn may have played his last game for the Braves, who have some big decisions to make this offseason. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Once you get past the fact that the Braves waited until game No. 163 to resemble baseball’s all-thumbs team, and that a major league umpiring crew just made the NFL’s replacement referees look fit to be air traffic controllers, this is what the 2012 season really comes down to: The Braves’ margin for error this season was just too narrow.

They won 94 games. That’s impressive. They went 20-9 down the stretch after it looked again like they were circling the drain. That’s really impressive. But what really pushed this team into the postseason were two unexpected occurrences: 1) A 40-year-old (Chipper Jones) unexpectedly hit .300 for most of this season, had two walk-off homers against Philadelphia (the second when the club looked comatose on Sept. 2), and finished second in game-winning RBIs (12) and third in go-ahead RBIs (18) despite missing 50 games; 2) Kris Medlen went from middle reliever to emergency starter to channeling Cy Young.

Unexpected occurrences can make a good team look like a great team. But it’s not something anybody should count on.

The Braves’ lineup still is a bit heavy on “could be” and “should be.”

Some questioned whether general manager Frank Wren should have brought back predominantly the same roster after the team’s unraveling in 2011. But it was an understandable risk. He could make the case that one horrific finish was an aberration. There is no case now.

The Braves are losing Chipper Jones. There’s a good chance they’re going to lose center fielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn to free agency. Catcher Brian McCann just suffered through the most miserable season of his career, and health issues are an increasing concern. If Martin Prado is viewed as a comforting backup plan at third base, that leaves left field open.

That’s four of eight positions.

When the 2011 season ended, the heat was on manager Fredi Gonzalez and his staff (hitting coach Larry Parrish was fired). That’s not the case after Friday’s Wild Card game loss to St. Louis. The onus now is on Wren. He needs to improve a lineup that too often struggled to score runs, even during a hot September.

Wren said Saturday he’s “very optimistic about where we sit as a franchise.” He referenced the team’s young core (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons), the late-season bounce back of Dan Uggla and pitching. That’s a good start. But these aren’t minor issues that need addressing.

“I think they need some pieces,”  the outgoing Jones said. “But Frank will have a good time with all the money he’s going to have this offseason to try to get those pieces.”

There’s potentially $36.345 million coming off the books for just four players: Jones ($14 million), Derek Lowe ($10 million of dead money), Bourn ($6.845 million) and Jair Jurrjens ($5.5 million). The assumption is Wren will exercise club options for both McCann ($12 million) and Tim Hudson ($9 million).

How might payroll flexibility change the dynamic in the Braves’ offseason? Wren, handcuffed by budgetary constraints in the past, joked, “We may shop in a different store.”

So not Wal-mart?

“We may go up the street to Target,” he said.

When told that, Jones — who remembers when payroll size wasn’t an issue like now — cracked, “I guess that’s good to hear. Maybe one day we’ll get back to Macy’s and Dillard’s.”

Wren said it won’t be a great free-agent group (one reason why Bourn is expected to land an astronomical contract). The Braves more likely will need to acquire talent through trades. The other issue will be leadership, particularly with the loss of Jones. Heyward and Freeman will be expected to take on expanded roles. The Braves have gone through several transitions over the past decade, but this one might be the most difficult.

It’s also something nobody in the organization wanted to be focusing on so soon — one game — into the postseason.

“Anytime you get this close, you want to take advantage of it because you don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” Gonzalez said. “Chipper’s not going to be here. We’ve got to sign [Bourn]. You don’t know if you’re going to be healthy next year. We may not have had the sexiest team out there, but we were good.”

Not great, just good.

By Jeff Schultz

263 comments Add your comment

TheOnlyBravesFan

October 6th, 2012
4:44 pm

Great offseason to be a Braves fan.

Bill Naha

October 6th, 2012
4:46 pm

Fredi references needing to sign Bourne. Is that a little hint they may actually make a run at keeping him? knowing what Philadelphia is likely to offer?

dawggirl

October 6th, 2012
4:46 pm

They need to throw out that lineup and start over. Keep Freeman, Heyward and Prado. Throw out everyone else.

Bobby Bobby

October 6th, 2012
4:46 pm

Baker

October 6th, 2012
4:46 pm

Only one mention of Uggla? And Gonzales says “we’ve got to sign” Bourn but you say Bourn is for sure gone?

Is that “late-season bounce back” of Uggla enough to pay him $13 MILL for a .220 avg and 19 HRs? Any chance we see someone else at 2B next year?

Najeh Davenpoop

October 6th, 2012
4:57 pm

Uggla needs to go.

bulldogbubba

October 6th, 2012
4:58 pm

If we are going to make changes then do it.Trade Uggla and Hanson cut the dead wood.Hudson is a toss up.If our pitching coach is as good as we think he is then these young pitchers should be the next Young Guns next year.Put the Rev at 2nd and Prado at third.Get us a left fielder and we might have a team that could contend.Thanks for listening. GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!

Big Wally

October 6th, 2012
5:04 pm

Uggla won’t be going anywhere due to his contract. No other teams wants a 2nd baseman that whiff’s as many times as he does and only average defensively. Due to Wren’s incompetence in signing him to that outrageous contract two years ago, we are stuck with Uggla at 2nd.

Buddy Greene

October 6th, 2012
5:05 pm

with mc cann needing shoulder surgery one must wonder if we are going to exercise that 12million option if he is only going to be around as much as moylan was this year b4 bolting to free agency.

lanier

October 6th, 2012
5:05 pm

damn straight they were good

Fredo

October 6th, 2012
5:15 pm

“We’ve got to sign [Bourn]”

you don’t HAVE to sign a leadoff hitter who looks like he’ll now strikeout 150+ times per season. You study the market, you don’t overpay for Bourn, you find the next available cheaper option

Largo

October 6th, 2012
5:18 pm

The future should be interesting.

what a joke

October 6th, 2012
5:19 pm

braves are a joke , when you hired freddi you are never changing….chipper is a hot dog…and a ho

Old Dog

October 6th, 2012
5:21 pm

Do we really want Bourne?

CJ

October 6th, 2012
5:21 pm

Lets be honest. This bargain baseball may work out in Oakland but that won’t cut it in a division where you are being out spent 3 to1 by Miami,Washington, and Philly. To be honest if Philly is healthy next season we probly won’t even make the playoffs next yr.

Old Dog

October 6th, 2012
5:23 pm

I look forward to 2013.

NickGranite

October 6th, 2012
5:23 pm

For the gazillionth time. Uggla is owed 39 million bucks for the next 3 years. Who will take that on? What we really need is another right handed bat(s) that can actually hit left handed pitching. That was one of the reasons we picked up Uggla…. Anyway, who ever we might pick up, it needs to be someone who makes contact to mitigate all the big whiffers in the line-up, particularly if you keep Bourn because he strikes out alot along with Uggla, Freeman and Heyward.

Knox Culpepper

October 6th, 2012
5:29 pm

This is MLB not the NFL so Uggla is here unless someone else is dumber than the Braves or the Braves do another Derek Lowe trade which is highly unlikely. Bourn is gone. With the limited free agent market and Boras as his agent say goodbye and don’t look back. I don’t know if it is wise to resign McCann as he seems to be going in the wrong direction. Freeman, Heyward and Simmons are still under contract and cheap so they aren’t going anywhere. Prado is excellent so he and the other three will be the nucleus of the team and let’s see what Uggla does. That still leaves three starting positions up in the air. Catcher, CF and either 3B or LF depending upon where Prado plays. With $20+ million to spend (after resigning Hudson) Wren could do pretty well. Along with their returning pitching (both starting and relievers) the Braves should be just fine.

English Speaking White Guy

October 6th, 2012
5:31 pm

NickGranite – the Hawks found someone willing to take on Joe Johnson’s contract. Hopefully, the same stupidity exists someplace in baseball and Uggla will be gone.

Curt Douglass

October 6th, 2012
5:33 pm

Before you go too far in castigating Frank wren and the fans at Turner, may I suggest that you consider the fnas when confronted with a really bad umpire call. I’m proud of the fans and they have every right to be upset. Just remember, they paid to get in the front door. Without fans, what does it all mean anyway?

Ralph

October 6th, 2012
5:34 pm

If the Braves want to be a contender next year in addition to Chipper and Bourn leaving McCann, Hudson and Uggla must go utherwise it will be the same-o-same-o. Hudson has been great for us but he is no longer worth $9mil and McCann’s time has come and gone, Uggla is a total waste of money.

MikeY

October 6th, 2012
5:35 pm

Here’s how I see it:

Potential Braves 2013 roster members before free agent re-signings/signings:

McCann (assume Braves accept $12M 2013 option, if not, $500K buy-out)
Boscan

Freeman
Uggla
Simmons
Pastornicky
Janish
Prado
Francisco

Constanza
Heyward

Hanson
Hudson (assume Braves accept $9M 2013 option, if not, $1M buy-out)
Medlen
Minor
Maholm (assume Braves accept $6.5M 2013 option, if not, $500K buy-out)
Juurgens
Delgado
Teheran
Beachy (midyear)

Kimbrel
Venters
O’Flaherty
Martinez
Avilan
Varvaro
Gearrin

Bourn, Ross, Hinske, Diaz, Wilson, Sheets, Johnson, Overbay, Baker, Bautista, Moylan, and Durbin are free agents or retiring, thus not on the 2013 roster unless re-signed. Chipper will be in retirement. And there are some more prospects in the minors that could have a chance. Obviously the Braves need some back-ups and to add to the OF roster.

It is also interesting to look at 2013, from a money perspective, Chipper, Lowe, and Hernandez (yes, the Braves are still on the hook for Livan’s salary for 2012) come off the books, and free agents Bourn, Ross, Hinske, Diaz, Wilson, Sheets, Johnson, Overbay, Baker, Bautista, Moylan, and Durbin are gone, if the Braves do not re-sign them. That frees up about $40M. BUT we will have a number of arbitration raises: Prado, Jurrjens, and O’Flaherty are all arb-3. Janish is arb-2. Venters, Hanson, Medlen, Martinez, and Heyward are all arb-1. My guess is that raises for all these arb-eligible guys will eat about $16M. Assuming Liberty leaves the salary budget at the current level, that leaves about $24M in 2013 to either re-sign our FA’s or sign new FA’s. Plus the Cubs paid part of Maholm’s remaining 2012 salary, so that might cut the Braves’ 2013 remaining budget a bit. It will be interesting to see how the Jurrjens situation plays out, he is making $5.5M in 2012, if he does not turn it around he could be released in 2013, freeing up at least $5.5M. He might actually get a raise in the arbitration process if we keep him!

I certainly hope we re-sign Durbin, Moylan, Ross and Johnson. Of the veterans that we lose to free agency, those I would really like to see back.

I could see a Constanxa/Johnson (if we re-sign him platoon in CF, the go for a BIG bat in LF (w/ Prado at 3B) or at 3B (with Prado at 3B). Ask yourself, would you like a CF platoon as above, with Josh Hamilton in LF?

smoltzfan

October 6th, 2012
5:38 pm

Any future plans has to include off-loading Uggla, he’s a massive hole in the lineup and a liability in the field. I love McCann, but his body seems to say it’s time for the AL. BRINGING BACK THE SAME SQUAD AFTER LAST NIGHT JUST WON’T CUT IT WREN.

Henry D.

October 6th, 2012
5:38 pm

I agree with trading Hanson and whoever we need to to get a good right handed bat somewhere in the lineup. Prado at 3rd and leave him there. Have no clue what to do about Uggla, but something has to change either at the position or between his ears. Hinske is gone, he was awful this year. We do need a speedy center fielder other than paying Bourne half of the money we have to spend. I don’t think Canstanza is the guy, but he may be piece in a trade. I would like to see another experienced pitcher brought in to help steady this starting staff. McCann is another puzzle. To pay him 13 mil. is a big gamble based on his health the last 2 years.

There you go Frank, take these suggestions and run with them.

stevie zero

October 6th, 2012
5:41 pm

wish we could find a sucker to take on strugglas contract. for 12 mil a year, he kinda sucks

Armchair Observer

October 6th, 2012
5:41 pm

For the poster who said play Pastornicky over Uggla, your credibility is gone.

Bye, bye, Bourn.

Should be bye, bye, McCann.

Definitely bye, bye Hanson.

jed

October 6th, 2012
5:42 pm

if we’re stuck with uggla, do we have to keep him at 2b? he’s a huge liability defensively.

Skram30082

October 6th, 2012
5:44 pm

MikeY,

Good analysis, but I think the Braves will let Jurrgens go. There is no reason for the Braves to go to arbitration with him. That takes another $5.5 off the books.

ButterMilk Tuesdays

October 6th, 2012
5:44 pm

Pick up McCann’s option? Uh, why? The dude is absolutely useless; he can’t hit, run, defend, or call a single decent game behind the plate. He’s a couple years shy of 30, but his body appears to be ahead of that by a few years. And Uggla? I’m not even going to go there… Wren just needs to swallow his pride, and get rid of him.

Orange Brave

October 6th, 2012
5:45 pm

Why would you even consider keeping McCann at $13 million????

JT

October 6th, 2012
5:49 pm

I saw Ted at the Ted yesterday. Sure wish we had his money back in Atlanta. Then maybe the Braves could be a legitimate contender. It’s unfortunate that in order to attract good ballplayers anymore you must first make them multi-millionaires!

Big Crimson 75

October 6th, 2012
5:49 pm

The Braves Pitching is solid:
Beachy, Medlin, Hanson, Hudson, Minor, Maholm, Delgado, Teheran, Kimbrell, Venters, O’Flatery, Martinez, Avalan & Durbin.
As good a staff as any in MLB.
The position Players:
McCann is done. Bourne isn’t worth 10+mil.
It’d be a gift if someone took Uggla off our hands.
Move Prado to 3rd, Freddie is solid at 1st. Singleton at SS. Heyward in RF.
Wren needs to spend some $$ on 2 Five-Tool Outfielders for CF & LF.

Orange Brave

October 6th, 2012
5:51 pm

Remember everyone in the division “upgraded” last year and will probably do so this year. This is not about keeping up with the “jones” (pun intended), but to think that all your weak links (McCann, Uggla, hanson, JJ, etc.) are going to improve is nuts. Remember the definition of insanity??

Chipper was bigger than you think, just saying.

McCann was a bigger hole than you think. Bring up the BettenCourt kid, keep Rossy, nuke Hinske (really any reason to pay him a million )to hit .192 and be a “good presence” in the clubhouse.

On another note, I would/could be a good presence in the clubhouse and they don’t even have to pay me. Just give me peanuts and few beers (I will put it in a cup) and high five the guys and go out after games with them and buy them supper and generally yuck it up.

Great article Schultzie. Some of your sentences hit the nail on the head. After reading you for many years, I am finally agreeing with nearly everything you say.

I think DOB is a homer and think you tell it like it is in an entertaining way.

Cheers.

Orange Brave

October 6th, 2012
5:58 pm

love the “struggla” name. funny.

I do think he is worth keeping just because noboday else will take the contract. Maybe our hitting coaches can show him some dumbed down stats that can convince him not to swing for the fences eveytime.

We should nuke: McCann (sorry McFann); JJ (5.5 mill, really, really, really??); Hinske (why keep), and Jack Wilson (just seeing if anybody reads my posts).

Bourne; make him a generous offer, but no reason to play around. I think he likes it here and we need him. Braves DONT need a long term high dollar contract. He is our catalyst and an All Star, but no reason to cripple us (e.g. Lowe, Struggla, etc.) with a long term deal for a player already peaking.

TNT

October 6th, 2012
6:01 pm

Josh Hamilton, please.

Mitchell

October 6th, 2012
6:11 pm

Is that picture from this year or last year?

Ha!

2 funny.

alex

October 6th, 2012
6:13 pm

CAN’T KEEP PLAYING UGGLA, WHAT’S THE PURPOSE ? I SUSPECT THERE ARE SEVERAL 240-250-AAA OR AA 2ND BASEMAN AVAILABLE WHO CAN FIELD AND THROW,LET’S FACE IT HE IS NOT STARTING MATERIAL.Get someone to take Hanson and MCcann and throw in the uggla to play for their AAA team….As for Bourne, his post alllstar team collapse makes me think he’s in it only for the money and thinking the all star gave it to him, doesn;t give a sh33 and won’t produce after some idiot gives him a big check, read uggla, lowe….
d

JT

October 6th, 2012
6:14 pm

TNT – 6:01 pm – I thought about Josh Hamilton, as well. He can be a little “streaky”, but when he’s on his game, watch out.

JT

October 6th, 2012
6:14 pm

TNT – 6:01 pm – I thought about Josh Hamilton, as well. He can be a little “streaky”, but when he’s on his game, watch out.

Charles

October 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

I wish the Braves would hire any decent Little League coach to keep reminding Mr. Uggla to stop swinging up on every pitch. Or, does that snarl he makes all the time affect his hearing?

Jay Dubu

October 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

The Braves are not bringing JJ back, unless there’s someway that they can sign him to a minor league contract (and to get that, he’ll have to show some drastic improvement over the offseason).

Unless Hudson decides to leave, the Braves will bring him back. He won 16 games and pitched 179 innings. Nine mil is a bargin for a pitcher that dekivers those numbers.

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2012
6:19 pm

Bill Naha — I think everybody on team would like Michael Bourn back but I think his value on the open market will exceed what the Braves will budget for him (and possibly what he is legitimately worth, even as much as everybody likes him).

Jay Dubu

October 6th, 2012
6:19 pm

If the Braves can’t afford to sign Bourn, there no way they can get Hamilton. Hamilton will be looking for a contract simular to Carl Crawford and/or Pujols.

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2012
6:21 pm

For those interpreting Gonzalez’ comment on Bourn: I think the context was more like signing Bourn is on the “to-do” list, he wasn’t suggesting if they lose Bourn that they’re doomed (although the need for CF and leadoff hitter obviously becomes a crucial).

Deep Six...........

October 6th, 2012
6:21 pm

Deep Six and File 13: Tommy Hanson, JJ, Fredi Gonzalez, Roger McDowell and Dan Uggla – Trade Brian McCann while you can get something for him – try to find some real men and not sissies (aka Jason Heyward) that really want to play baseball and invest Gimper Jone’s salary in some decent young hitting prospects………and while you are at it Frank, go play out in the middle of I-75 in rush hour traffic.

Ken Stallings

October 6th, 2012
6:23 pm

In my view, McCann is a player I may wish to keep my money in my wallet and let go. It would be a bit of an unpopular move, but the Braves have options at catcher and need to start using them. I think McCann is on the injury road now. I would save the $13 million on McCann and of course exercise that $13 million option on Tim Hudson.

There is a chance to keep Michael Bourn and I would make that effort.

However, Josh Hamilton has lost the Midas touch in Texas despite putting up another year of monster numbers. The kid is from North Carolina and therefore it might be possible for the Braves to pursue him. If the Braves are willing to devote $30 million then I believe it is possible to keep Bourn (if he wants to stay) and sign Hamilton. That would create a monster infield.

You then move Prado to third base.

It would represent an overall increase in payroll of about $10 million, but it would give the Braves precisely the kind of lineup needed. If Hamilton is willing to move, put the emphasis on signing him and then replacing Bourn with a lower cost option. If Boras is able to fleece a team for a $15 million a year contract on Bourn, then the Braves should walk away immediately. The limit I would pay Bourn would be about $10 million a year, and that would leave something in the $18 million a year range for Josh Hamilton.

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2012
6:24 pm

Some cries here for Josh Hamilton. I would say: proceed with caution.

Alaska Braves Fan

October 6th, 2012
6:26 pm

I’m still shell-shocked over yesterday’s game. None of the terms for it that come to mind are suitable for public use.

One certainty going forward: We will not have Michael Bourn next year. He will draw such huge offers from other teams that the Braves would have to scrape the gold off the capitol dome to come up with enough cash to keep him. Management will try, but they cannot succeed in keeping Bourn.

ABF

Stinger2

October 6th, 2012
6:28 pm

I enjoy reading the thoughts and comments about how Wren should go about reshaping the team for 2013. It seems that Freeman, Heyward, Simmons and Prado are unamiously liked as the core position players with varying opinions about the pitching, backups, Uggla and McCann. That leaves a big job for Frank over the winter.
I trust him do do all he can with the money available and his expertise in trading and signing FA to make the 2013 team a legitmate contender.I am a fan who prefers to observe others opinions (rather than to give my own) as long as these people do not make negative comments that are personal, out of line with the AJC blog rules. Also, those comments which are negative, repeatitive against the same indivduals and disguised under attempted humor or jokes are ones to which I will respond. If my
responses annoy someone, they should remember what we all are entitled to and subject to what others are entitled to say instead of calling that person by ugly names. In other words, if you put ugly stuff out there have thick skin.

archie

October 6th, 2012
6:31 pm

The “late season bounce back” of Dan Uggla? What? You mean when he skyrocketed from .210 to .220? Surely, our farm teams in Cleveland, Toronto or Kansas City would take him off our hands, as they so kindly did with Frenchy, Kotchman, Yunel & Cox’s son Kelly Johnson: all of whom are proudly hitting just above their weight. Uggs would be a superstar on those teams.

McCann $13 million? Stop the madness! His overweight body is tired, worn out and beyond repair. If he was in a footrace with Octomom at full term, he’d finish 10th!