Frank Wren knew he couldn’t fix all that ailed his 90-loss team in one offseason, so he prioritized. He started with the rotation and added three new arms. He stabilized the most egregious source of instability. He made the Braves competitive again.
But say this for Wren: He’s no Pollyanna. He sees the potential in his reconfigured team, and he also sees a ceiling. Just past the quarter pole, the Braves are very much in the NL East mix. To stay there, the general manager believes something has to change.
“I do think we’re going to have to perform better offensively,” Wren said Wednesday. “Our pitching is giving us a chance to win, but to be legitimate contenders we have to improve offensively.”
The hope when the Braves came north from Disney World was that many competent bats would override the lack of a true big bat. “We don’t have a big bopper who’s going to hit 40 home runs,” Wren said in April. “We might have seven guys who’ll hit 20.”
He meant 20 apiece. But if you take away Brian McCann, the other regulars — this counts the two-man platoon in left field — have managed a total of 22 homers. That’s not enough to win over the long haul, not for a team that isn’t built for speed, either. (Last in the majors in stolen bases, you know.) The Braves have scored 20 runs in their past seven games, and seven came in one inning against Toronto.
The best-case scenario was that Garret Anderson would contribute professional at-bats and Jordan Schafer would lend a spark and Jeff Francoeur would remember how to hit. “We thought we had a chance to get some of our offensive production back from guys returning to form,” Wren said, but a team – and a GM – can wait only so long.
Obvious question: Is there a deal a-coming? Wren: “The time to address need is just beginning. Teams are just now starting to see where their needs are. I don’t see any trade happening really quickly.”
If you read ajc.com blogs, you’ll find a contingent of protesters who fault Wren for not finding a real hitter over the winter. (Boilerplate criticism: He should have landed Adam Dunn, or Bobby Abreu, or Raul Ibanez, who has been reborn in Philadelphia.) But the real world of baseball, it must be noted, isn’t so convenient.
“The offensive players who were available this winter would have been hard to put into a National League outfield on an everyday basis,” Wren said. “As we were trying to improve our pitching, we had our eye on defense as well. It was a balancing act.”
And that makes sense. Really, most everything Wren has done to date makes sense. He retooled the starting pitching, which is always the hardest part. “You can’t put together a rotation on the fly,” he said, and the 90 losses of 2008 stand as stark evidence. But the modern way of baseball is to fix over the winter and tweak in the summer, and now summer’s here.
“We’re interested in improving our offense,” Wren said. “It’s obvious we need more offense.”
So there’s hope yet, Braves fans. This GM isn’t in denial. He knows what his team lacks. He’s on the case. But he’d better hurry.