Frank Wren was the most aggressive general manager in baseball over the winter. Barely a week passed that the Braves weren’t in the middle of some transaction, some of which were consummated (Vazquez, Lowe, Kawakami, Garret Anderson), some of which were not (Peavy, Burnett, Furcal, Griffey). With the Braves four games out of first place with 78 to go, there seems little chance he’ll relax now.
But maybe he should. Maybe this is one of those almost-but-not-quite seasons that would be better left to its own devices. Wren has already made a major move in landing Nate McLouth, and that was a reasoned acquisition — a team that needed a professional center fielder found one who’s under contract for four years more. But sometimes decisions made near the trade deadline are less reasoned. Sometimes you swing for the fences and wind up with …
Mark Teixeira for 365 days.
Wren, it must be said, didn’t make that trade. John Schuerholz did. And the new GM has positioned the Braves nicely for 2010 and beyond. All his starting pitchers save Tim Hudson, who’s rehabbing, are under contract for next season, and the Braves and Hudson have a mutual contractual option. They have a first-rate catcher, a burgeoning if occasionally bewildering shortstop, a center fielder and Chipper Jones. They have Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman and perhaps again Jordan Schafer on the way.
The worst Wren could do now would be to risk the future on a present that mightn’t be altered by one hurried deal. Teixeira was supposed to put the Braves over the top in 2007 — heck, people were writing songs about him (see below) — and he didn’t budge the needle, standings-wise. And then, 365 days later, he was gone. And the farm system was the poorer for it.
The belief here is that the Braves will again seek to be a buyer at this deadline. Wren had to concede last season and jettison Teixeira, and no GM wants to do that two years running. Besides, this GM has much political capital invested in 2009. He has taken hits for his handling — some say mishandling — of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, and what better way would there be to prove his mettle than to steal a division title?
Sometimes, however, a division title isn’t worth the risk abject larceny would require. This team as constituted might — I said “might” — be able to finish first anyway, assuming the Phillies don’t find any pitching and the Mets don’t get healthy. Given a whole offseason to shop the free agent market and find another bat, Wren could well render the 2010 Braves division favorites.
This does, I must admit, represent a modification of my thinking, such as my thinking ever is. For two months I’ve thought, “You know, if the Braves trade Javier Vazquez for a big bopper, they might just win this thing.” But now I’m thinking, “Do you really move a starting pitcher of All-Star caliber for a corner outfielder who can’t field and who strikes out 170 times a year? Does the long-shot chance of propping up a rickety team offset the gamble of weakening yourself going forward?”
My answer two weeks ago was yes. My answer today would be no. I don’t believe that’s what Wren’s answer would be, but it’s now mine. There’s little chance the Braves will be sellers this July and every reason to believe they’ll try to buy one more player. But I’m saying they should be neither. I’m saying, just this once, they should be bystanders.