We can assume Frank Wren will make another deal these next two weeks because that’s what Frank Wren does: He always makes another deal. In 2009 he made three major in-season trades. Last winter Wren was a hummingbird of activity: Signing Billy Wagner and Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske and Takashi Saito, trading Javier Vazquez and Rafael Soriano. In all of sports, there’s no more aggressive general manager.
Knowing this, we can speculate that Wren, who last week made a big deal involving shortstops, isn’t yet done. If the regular season ended today, the Braves would be division champs and Wren would be the 2010 executive of the year, but there are two-plus months to go (and then October). And the GM who made trade upon trade last summer when his team was scrambling to contend isn’t apt to rest with his club five games in front.
So: We expect another trade, and not for an infielder or a reliever, and the Braves’ rotation is good enough to get them to October. (And in October the rotations shrink.) That leaves the outfield, where only Jason Heyward is a given and where even Heyward is no longer a lock to be rookie of the year.
Nate McLouth should return from the disabled list this week, but before he was concussed McLouth was hitting .176 with three homers and 14 RBI’s. Melky Cabrera has spent the season convincing us he was as advertised when the Vazquez deal was made — a fourth outfielder. Hinske was terrific when the Braves reinvented themselves in May, but he hasn’t been as good since. Matt Diaz has hit like crazy since coming off the DL but remains a right-handed platoon man, and how many lefties will the Braves see?
We’ve spent the past month pondering possible targets: Cody Ross of Florida, Josh Willingham of Washington, Corey Hart of Milwaukee, even B.J. Upton of Tampa Bay or the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. Hart would be the most expensive of the left-field lot — he has 22 homers and 70 RBIs — and would surely force the Braves to trade one of their top young pitchers. (Perhaps not Julio Teheran or Arodys Vizcaino, but surely Kris Medlen or Mike Minor.) And Hart is due to become a free agent after the 2011 season.
So are Willingham and Ross. Of the two, Willingham is having the better year. But would Willingham, who’s hitting .276 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs, be a clear upgrade over the Diaz/Hinske tandem?
Center field is the greater need, and center fielders are hard to find. I suggested Upton a while back because he’s an underperforming major talent, but a team that just rid itself of Yunel Escobar mightn’t be in the market for another such enigma. Kemp has likewise had issues in L.A. And the Dodgers, who stand fourth in the NL West and rank 12 in the National League in team ERA, would surely demand two young arms.
That said, the Braves just dealt a 27-year-old shortstop for one six years older, a clear signal that this GM is in it to win it. The Braves aren’t going to part with Teheran, who some consider the best pitcher in the minor leagues, for anything, but if it came down to Medlen and Vizcaino and/or Minor for Kemp, would you do it? (I wouldn’t, but I hate trading young pitchers. I remember Adam Wainwright. And so do you.)
There’s also this consideration: The Braves are a remarkably happy bunch. Is the risk of another major trade worth the possible effect on communal harmony? As Tim Hudson said Sunday: “I don’t think anybody looks at us as a super team with mind-blowing talent, but with everyone pulling together we’re pretty darn good.”
And they are. And that’s why I can’t see Wren, his impulses notwithstanding, taking a major risk. I can’t imagine the architect of this darn good team doing anything to undercut his work now. I can see another trade happening, but I’m thinking it will be more a tweak than a blockbuster.