Grading our GMs: Dimitroff’s at the top, but where’s Wren?

The "D" also stands for "Don" and "dean of Atlanta GMs. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The "D" also stands for "Don" and "dean of Atlanta GMs. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Two are in their offseasons. Two are approaching their midseasons, one with a monumental decision to make. Three of the four are relatively new to their positions; the other is Teflon Don Waddell. Today’s assignment: Assess and grade the general managers of Atlanta’s four major sports teams. We start at the top.

Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons

Start date: January 2008. Recap: Two winning seasons in two tries, one playoff appearance, no playoff victories. Major achievements: Hired Mike Smith, the 2008 NFL coach of the year; drafted Matt Ryan, the 2008 offensive rookie of the year; signed Michael Turner, who rushed for 1,699 yards in 2008.

Assessment: Has brought precision and professional calm to a franchise roiled by the abrupt departures of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino; made the absolute most of his first NFL draft, landing three starters — Ryan, Sam Baker and Curtis Lofton — with his first three picks; the 2009 draft was less successful, given that top two picks Peria Jerry and William Moore were lost to injury; might have overreached in trying to change nearly half the defensive starters in one offseason; landed Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick in a trade that essentially enabled the Falcons to post consecutive winning records for the first time in their history.

Grade: A big fat A.

Rick Sund, Hawks

Start date: June 2008. Recap: One winning season, one playoff series victory; the Hawks are leading the NBA Southeast in Year 2. Major achievements: Bolstered the 2008-2009 team with deft (and cheap) acquisitions of subs Flip Murray and Mo Evans; held the Hawks’ core together by re-signing Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia over the summer of 2009, again on the cheap, and landed the excellent Jamal Crawford to boot.

Assessment: Started rather ingloriously by seeing sixth man Josh Childress leave for Olympiakos of Greece; made up for that by landing Murray and Evans; made the correct choice upon arrival by granting coach Mike Woodson a two-year contract extension; is risking distraction and Woodson’s lingering ire by refusing to renegotiate until that contract expires after this season; took Jeff Teague with the 19th pick of the 2009 draft, and even Woodson, who’s hard on rookies, says Teague “will run this team someday”; is more a nuts-and-bolts guy than a grand visionary; knows the NBA and its workings as well as anyone, having worked in it since 1979.

Grade: B-plus for technical merit.

Frank Wren, Braves

Start date: October 2007. Recap: One winning season, no playoff appearances. Major achievements: Rebuilt the Braves’ rotation in one winter; lifted a club that had lost 90 games in his first season to 86 victories in 2009; presides over a farm system that just yielded Tommy Hanson and boasts top prospects Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.

Assessment: Had to follow the estimable John Schuerholz; banked on aging starting pitching in 2008 and saw his team crumble due to injury; landed Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami last winter, rendering the new rotation more durable; traded Vazquez to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera and two prospects in a deal that pretty much stumped the band; signed Troy Glaus, a career third baseman coming off surgery, to be the Braves’ 2010 first baseman; guessed wrong on the composition of the Braves’ 2009 lineup but made midcourse corrections by landing Nate McLouth and dumping Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman; both he and Bobby Cox dismissed a Yahoo! Sports report of friction between the two; the next day it was announced 2010 would be Cox’s final season as manager;  irked John Smoltz by not offering more guaranteed money last January and Tom Glavine by cutting him last June; gives the impression of being in too big a hurry; has no ear for public relations.

Grade: A loud and busy C-plus.

Don Waddell, Thrashers

Start date: June 1998. Recap: Two winning seasons, one division championship, one playoff appearance, no playoff victories. Major achievements: Drafted Dany Heatley with the No. 2 overall pick in 2000 and Ilya Kovalchuk with the No. 1 pick in 2001; has spent more time as an Atlanta GM than the other three combined.

Assessment: Was hired to build a roster from the ground up; the Thrashers, now in their second decade, are 28th in a 30-team league in attendance and would not qualify for the playoffs if they began today; was handed a major setback when Heatley, who was driving in the crash that killed teammate Dan Snyder, demanded to be traded; managed to pry the best two-way player in Thrashers annals from Ottawa for Heatley but couldn’t persuade Marian Hossa to re-up in 2008, forcing a midseason trade to Pittsburgh; has had spotty drafts, although Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane show great promise; has had rotten luck with goaltenders, dating from Damian Rhodes to Kari Lehtonen;  faces a Hossa-like dilemma with Kovalchuk, whose contract is expiring at season’s end and whom Waddell has worked hard to keep; hope for retaining Kovalchuk wanes with every day, and his loss could spell doom for hockey in Atlanta.

Grade: D, but it drops if  Kovalchuk exits.

206 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

January 20th, 2010
10:04 am

I don’t understand the photo caption. Maybe I’m just slow this morning. That’s what I get for having a week old daughter.

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:07 am

Check Waddell’s grade, MatthewH.

And it’s not you, I’m pretty sure. I’m just being obtuse this morning.

MatthewH

January 20th, 2010
10:08 am

Also, I LIKE the fact that Wren has “no ear for public relations”. When the Braves start winning again (and they will), that will be the best public relations. His so-called gaffes in public relations have proven to be correct. Smoltz struggled as a member of the Red Sox, and Glavine didn’t catch on anywhere. Should he have signed these two for a farewell tour? Imagine the backlash that would have ensued if he did that!

MatthewH

January 20th, 2010
10:09 am

I figured it was Waddell’s grade, but then why say it also stands for the “dean of Atlanta GMs”? Unless you are now referring to Dimitroff?

MatthewH

January 20th, 2010
10:12 am

Or maybe you mean “dean” as in longest tenure? OK, OK, I get it now.
Anyone else, feel free to jump in

The Grinch

January 20th, 2010
10:16 am

MAN, you guys are hard on Frank Wren. If he had let Smoltz hijack the payroll we would have lost an awful lot more than we did. And Glavine’s washed up 60 MPH changeup all season instead of Tommy Hanson? What are you people smoking? Both of those greedy prima donnas have been more than adequately compensated, and both ditched their teammates and fanbase for more money anyway. Neither deserve SQUAT. I don’t get why you guys get all over Wren for doing his job: building the best team he can with what he has to work with.

A “D” for Waddell is mighty generous. He should have been run out of town on a rail years ago.

The Grinch

January 20th, 2010
10:17 am

I should add I agree with your assessments of Dimitroff and Sund, however.

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:21 am

I didn’t disagree with Frank Wren’s decisions on either John Smoltz or Tom Glavine, and I wrote as much at the time.

PMC

January 20th, 2010
10:23 am

Rick Sund should get an A simply for the complete garbage he traded for Jamal Crawford.

Waddell gets an F because no one can rationally explain how this guy has that kind of tenure in one of the leagues most consitantly awful franchises.

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
10:24 am

We was surpirsed Wren didn’t do a little better on the Bradley Scale . He brought some fine pitching in to a team that had none. He seems to be his own man. We like that. Now, being good at public relations works both ways. He willed the club to get better even though he moved Bobby and a few others out of a comfort zone. We was hoping he’s make some more changes and one of them might be letting Troy Glaus play 3B and moving Chipper to 1st or maybe even to the American League. Whoa! We may be criticized for that one. The basic thing a Clusters notes is that winning a little division sign is no big deal – even 14 of ‘em – if the team can’t advance and win the pennant and/or the Series. That’s like getting the bait on the hook every time but never catching the fish.

Bubba

January 20th, 2010
10:26 am

The paragraph about Dimitroff was probably one of the easiest one you’ve written as a journalist. Don’t think it’s fair to say 2009 was less successful; better to say “incomplete.”

Good assessment on Sund. I’m not sure what he’s trying to accomplish dithering w/ Woodson’s contract (contrary to a certain AJC writer, I’ve never doubted that Woodson was the right man for the job), but you’re right, he’s been a good nuts and bolts guy.

Wren? Who is this man? One day I think he’s Scheurholtz’s disciple, next day I think he’s a Mini Me of Michael Adams. Maybe he needs to decide what he wants to be when he grows up.

Only thing I can say about Waddell is that he’s got incriminating pictures of somebody. How else can he keep his job? He has taken the great potential of the market and turned it into a receptacle for rotting fruit.

Ree Roe

January 20th, 2010
10:26 am

I disagree. Sund deserves an A for the job he’s done and I put him ahead of Dimitroff. Yes Sund is building off of some of Billy Knight’s players, but Sund has bolstered a team that was barely an 8th seed in 08 to a team that was a 4th seed in 09 (and won a playoff series) & is challenging for a division title this yr. Yall give Dimitroff too much credit, id say he gets a B plus. Sund gets an A minus

-REEcently Roe!!!

Mark Bradley

January 20th, 2010
10:27 am

Sonny, I wavered between a B-minus and a C-plus on Wren. And I considered giving Waddell an F, PMC.

PMC

January 20th, 2010
10:29 am

Wren is probably a C. Obviously the big learning disability in the room is the dreadful ownership but Wren is a big time dreamer when it comes to signing players.

If wishes and hopes won championships Wren would get an A plus. He’s done a pretty good job building a mostly competitive team but they are years away from winning anything.

His grade will improve if Troy Glauss actually works out at 1st…. but considering the work he did getting JJ perhaps you could say B. The bugetary constaraints kill thier ability to buy what they need which is middle of the order mashers.

Frank has done a lot of good stuff as GM but they still aren’t close to winning anything even with Bobby as manager.

Rich Hoodenpyle

January 20th, 2010
10:31 am

Good article. Grades appear accurate. The REAL question about Wren will be how well he will be able to preform when he no longer has Bobby Cox to mediate and pave the road for some discussions.

Without-a-clue

January 20th, 2010
10:33 am

Once again, I am in total agreement with you. Is one of us “dumbing down”, or is one “smartening up”. Only The Shadow knows.

Ree Roe

January 20th, 2010
10:33 am

I disagree with your assessment. Sund deserves an A for what he’s done (4th seed, a winning record & winning a playoff series in 09, challenging for a division title in ‘10). As far as offseason moves go Acquiring Jamal Crawford>>Acquiring Tony Gonzalez. Dimitroff gets a lot of hype, but he hasn’t won anything. He gets a B plus

-REEcently Roe!!!

PMC

January 20th, 2010
10:34 am

Good job with this Mark.

Resign or Resign?

January 20th, 2010
10:34 am

I agree with PMC; what would Waddell have to do to get an “F”? Set fire to Phillips? Let Kolvy walk?

fieldofdreams

January 20th, 2010
10:37 am

Unlike AJC sports writers Frank Wren is constrained by a budget. I agree that there are lots of wild cards in this lineup but we don’t have the liberty of filling the roster with big salaries. With our pitching, however, this team could land in the World Series.

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
10:38 am

This Clusters likes Wren. The Braves PR department has told us how good we have it for too long. The Braves are exposed in a 5-game series. How many wild card teams have had their way with Bobby and the boys? Now, we have 3 seasons of struggles and they want to return us to division winning baseball? Forget that. Just go for the pennant. Nothing less than the pennant. Then, we’ll see if they can outslug an American League team because they won’t be playing National League ball and trying to move runners over and get them in. Some say this has been great baseball . . . and winning more than losing is to be preferred – but having nothing for the post-season means something is wrong. And missing the post season 3 times in a row is a habit. Let Wren do his thing. Let him purge the organization of the “business” types that have emotion only when they are angry for some perceived slight – even if they are throwing <70 mph pitches and getting lit up. Change the culture. Bring in some winners. Cabrera was on a Series winner. Glaus is a former All-Star. Bring us some more that play at a high level every game and have been winners. Braves fans deserve better. Wren looks like he is trying given the constraints he apparently works under.

dap01

January 20th, 2010
10:38 am

I agree with Sunds decision to negiote Woody’s contract at the end of a contract. If you follow the Hawks you will see much progress but you wil also see many questions concerning the ability of the current staff to coach up any type of offensive system.

Let Woody finish out his contract, his pay day will come.

Sund had done very good.

Wren has the Braves pointed in the right direction. John Schurholtz left the cubboards very bare!

Reid Adair

January 20th, 2010
10:40 am

Mark, you’re far too generous with Frank Wren’s grade. You omitted the fact that Wren lied to Braves fans and the public, claiming that the Braves’ offer was close to that of the Red Sox for John Smoltz. Wren overloaded the pitching staff in 2009, creating a situation that would require dumping one or more of them prior to 2010; while overloading the pitching staff, he did nothing to answer questions regarding the lineup. While he likely made the right decision regarding Tom Glavine last season, he handled that about as poorly as he possibly could have. In the off-season, he has dumped Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez for two relievers likely much less effective in Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito.

Diceman

January 20th, 2010
10:41 am

I have no idea why you gave Wren such a low grade! We have a team which will compete for play offs and with what little money he has to work with he has done a great job. The only one signing that has yet to work out is Lowe who will most likely rebound this year.

I would give Wren no lower than a B.

Dr. Warren

January 20th, 2010
10:44 am

I’d swear there is a fake Sonny Clusters who appears sometimes. The syntax and word choices don’t match up here, but maybe the wizard is just peeking out from behind the curtain.

El Bravo

January 20th, 2010
10:44 am

Agree on Dimitroff.

I would also give an A or A- to Sund. Sometimes the best move is no move at all. He is yet to make a single bad move, which is quite remarkable considering the financial constrains he is under…

Wren did a superb job upgrading our pitching staff and considering our financial constrains there is little else he could have done. Also, one of the toughest things to do in business is maintaining objectivity when emotions are involved, as Wren did with Smoltzie and Glavine. For that alone he deserves a B-…

If anyone ever deserved an F then Wadell is your man…

emptyseats

January 20th, 2010
10:44 am

How many championships has the city of atlanta’s professional sports franchises won????? the only two i can remember were the 95 world series and the Atlanta Knights won one. Until these guys win a championship they all get F’s in my book. I can put together a 3 place team in the NL east with a $95 million payroll. Same with the Falcons they have the highest payroll in the league. The Hawks are improving but we’ll never spend enough to win a championship. And Don Waddell should have been fired before he was even hired.

The Grinch

January 20th, 2010
10:49 am

Amen, Sonny Clusters! You get an “A.” Or perhaps a “DQ.”

Mark, I suppose I was thinking more of Shultz than yourself.

Russ

January 20th, 2010
10:52 am

It is unfair to judge Waddell this soon, as we haven’t reached the end of his 25 year plan.

Bangkapi Ajarn

January 20th, 2010
10:56 am

Mark, sorry to pick nits, but in Wren’s section you said “rednering the new rotation more durable”. I suggest rendering, as in “rendering the outfield asunder”. Substance wise, I generally agree with the article, thanks!

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
10:58 am

We was on a roll there, Dr Warren. And we was Honor Roll in school. Clusters don’t like all that “public relations” Wren is supposed to not be good at. Clusters prefer to have good ballplayers playing good ball and wanting to win. Give this Clusters a team of Prado’s and Diaz’ and we would win more than we’d lose. Add a few players that have been on real winners and see what happens. Take all the sore thumb super stars and professional deerslayers and replace them with somebody that doesn’t want to come out of the lineup for a runny nose. We was never out of a game with sore thumbs or tender toes.

De' truth

January 20th, 2010
10:59 am

I think Waddell secretly owns a majority of Thrasher’s stock else how could he have been retained given his abysmal performance?

Big J

January 20th, 2010
11:00 am

WREN = DUMPSTER

Ginger

January 20th, 2010
11:02 am

Waddell D or F…Thrasher just not good….Wren—C, Essentially giving Vasquez away to Yankees. And it was said that Braves have pitching—and bats were needed for this yr…don’t see where we have that now…We need to figure out what the collective batting avg is for all the guys on the roster now–just as a barometer to see what our team batting avg might be this yr…If I am thinking correctly most of the good teams will bat about .280 plus for team avg…might adjust my thinking on Wren depending…..but as of right now—don’t see where We have lots of reasons to be excited about Braves this yr………….Sund—like the job he is doing…B+ is about right…Hawks headed in right direction.—-a veteran that has won a championship would be nice to have on team for leadership…sometimes they don’t play hard enough…..Dimitrioff—A….Falcons are so much better…wonder who they will hire to take Emmitt Thomas place.

The Grinch

January 20th, 2010
11:03 am

I wonder what Chipper charges to sign a deer. And what would you get for it on e-bay?

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
11:11 am

We also think somebody should tell Bobby that games in April and May count as much as games in August and September. And we believe they is way too much seed spitting going on in the dugout. They should be watching the game and studying the pitcher. Clusters got caught up with some things when Andruw was allowed to bat cleanup for a season and a half with no results and Jeff was allowed to spoil rallies over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Players work to get back in a game and Bobby makes no effort to see that the rally continues. We get to see the same old same old. Clusters say change it up some. The Braves are in a habit of missing the playoffs now. Bring in some players that will make a difference. That’s what Dimitroff did. Let Wren work some magic if he can. Somehow, an organization talking about Glavine right now instead of talking about a power hitting corner outfielder is mis-directed. Wren’s not the one doing that talking – it’s the “look at us we won the division” boys doing that.

DV

January 20th, 2010
11:13 am

I’d give Wren a B. Schuerholz sold half the farm in 07 to make a final run. Can’t say I blame him, but it obviously didn’t work out. So Wren’s done a fine job of rebuilding the farm system, while improving the big club. He got Jair for next to nothing and built a sound staff. The Vazquez/Melky deal was somewhat of a headscratcher, but it can work out in the long run depending on the pitching prospect Wren’s so high on. This could be a make or break year for Wren and I’m actually confident about the Braves chances. The staff is deep and the lineup should be more than adequate if Heyward is as good as advertised.

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
11:18 am

We was very glad to see some baseball blogging going on here today. This town needs a good baseball blog written by a good baseball man. Mark is leading the way by getting a little baseball into this blog about general managers. Next, we hope he will talk a little bit about the Braves’ spring training and how it seems the players come out of it not ready to play ball. They do get in a lot of golf and fishing, though, and they seem to pull hammys for the first month of the season as a result. Oh, well, not making the playoffs is a habit now. Will anything change? Oh, that’s right they want to bring Glavine in. As The Grinch is wont to say, BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Dr. Phil

January 20th, 2010
11:22 am

Frank Wren is the “Michael Adams” of GM’s.

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 20th, 2010
11:29 am

Wren and Waddell both deserve their poor grades but in their defense, the respective owners don’t appear to be real committed to winning.

Pompano

January 20th, 2010
11:32 am

I saw nothing wrong with Wren’s handling of Smoltz or Glavine. Neither would have helped our team last year – the guy made a gutsy call that may have been unpopular with some folks but it was the right decision. Don’t think it’s fair to down-grade a GM’s performance over hurt feelings by a couple of entitlement minded past-their-prime players.

Bryan G.

January 20th, 2010
11:33 am

I feel like we have a fake Sonny Clusters today.

Supes

January 20th, 2010
11:33 am

If DW doesn’t sign Ilya to a 10-12 year deal he’s DEAD to me, and the grade would be a big fat F.

TD has done a good job and you can’t control injuries to drafted players. Perry Jeria didn’t have an injury history, neither did William Moore. I believe both will be key contributors to the Falcons D in the future.

FW has surprised me, and has done a decent job so far and he fixed the Starting Rotation in one season. Braves have always been about pitching, good D and timely hitting, so the team looks to be returning to that formula.

RS has done an excellent job with the Hawks. They are improved and look ready to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals this season.

DON, Just PAY Ilya his money. Top 5 offensive players don’t “just land” in your lap every year, they come once every few years in the draft and you get them if you are LUCKY. Just damn. I don’t wanna hear too much payroll would be invested, BS. Did the Caps invest “too much of their money” when they payed Alexander the Great all his money? No, they simply realized they MUST lock up their franchise player.

El Bravo

January 20th, 2010
11:43 am

Anyone criticizing Wren for the Vasquez trade is at the least premature in their assessment and at most uninformed. We got excellent talent in return for a pitcher with an expiring contract who just had a career year. There is a reason he has changed jobs as often as he has. Cabrera is a good outfielder and the two pitching prospects we got were rated very highly by all accounts…

Dawg Foot

January 20th, 2010
11:50 am

D-Wad is a nice guy BUT…he needs to be relieved of his duties. He talked about a 5 year plan and the team is in year 10. I must admit I like the new team but I still think we are a couple of years from the playoffs again. Give KOVY his money you cheap bastage ownership group. DEAL WITH IT and shove a hockey stick up your tight arse.

Sonny Clusters

January 20th, 2010
12:01 pm

They is no faking a Clusters. Either you are a Clusters or you’re not. They is no faking a Clusters just like they is no crying in baseball. The only thing different today, is that this Clusters is fed up with JS and the others in Braves la-la land that tell us how good we have it because they won 14 little division signs. Frank Wren looks to be posturing them to win something more than a sign. Having hangers-on like Glavine running around won’t add near as much as a power hitter or a lead off man will. Instead of pandering to Glavine JS should be finding ways to help Wren fill in the blanks. It should be noted there will be a blank at third base for 10-20-30 games this year if Chipper has his usual hurts. We was thinking maybe Wren can fix some things if they’ll let him. He fixed the pitching, didn’t he? Some of that fix involved letting go the past. We had to let the Dairy Queen go for a time. We was getting fat. We realized we’d been eating too many peanut buster parfaits and we was starting to look like a sportswriter. We went on a program and took off some pounds and gradually worked the DQ back into our life. Now, we are fit and trim and enjoying DQ treats on a daily basis.

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 20th, 2010
12:04 pm

We realized we’d been eating too many peanut buster parfaits and we was starting to look like a sportswriter.

Zing!!!!!

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

January 20th, 2010
12:08 pm

Solid grades on Dimitroff and Sund. Waddell, F. No way Kovy is staying. Wren, D. If the plan all along was to consider signing Hudson, why sign two pitchers to long term contracts last year? There were plenty of one year rentals to be had. He had to make a really bad trade for Vazquez to unload the best pitcher he picked up last year. And there is no way the Opening Day 2010 offense is better than the offense that ended last year, no matter what Wren says.

Khao$

January 20th, 2010
12:11 pm

I would have given Dimitroff a B. He did an excellent job rebuilding this team after the Vick/Petrino debacles. His first draft was a knock out. He got Tony Gonzalaz. Great.
However, I think he began to smell him self when he trotted out a defense filled with rookies, 2nd year players and practice squad guys. While I’m pleased that we ended the “no back to back winning seasons” thing, I feel we really could have built upon Matt Ryan/Smith/Dimitroff’s first season by adding one or two high performing guys on defense (Peterson doesn’t count) to go long with our young talent, to help them learn the game on the practice field, in the field room and game day. That way, we’d have a true succession plan in place: play the vets and let the rookies learn and replace them. That’s how the Steelers and Eagles have done it for years. We missed a golden opportunity to build on last years success on the field AND in the playoffs. Both he and Rick Sund inherited messes. Sund got a team with owners suing each other after it’s previous GM drafted a bunch of forwards. Therefore, I’d give both B+’s.

Still-Angry Smoltz & Vazquez Fan

January 20th, 2010
12:14 pm

Frank Wren belongs in Hell.

Frankly, the Atlanta Spirit Group owners, Vick Supporters, Bad Newz, Kennelz patrons, Lane Kiffin, Tiger Woods & his harem of mistresses, losers who shout “Knights!” during the National Anthem like the DUMB MASSES they are and Jeff Schultz should all be there to keep Wren company.

Burn, Wren, Burn.