Six days ago the Braves learned they’d lost their cornerstone for the duration. The trade deadline was already gone, meaning any Braves’ trade target would have to clear waivers. And, these being the Braves, any trade target would need to come cheap.
On Wednesday the Braves traded for Derrek Lee, who’d cleared waivers before Chipper Jones had gotten hurt and therefore couldn’t be blocked by, say, the Phillies. They traded for a first baseman with a great glove who hits in the middle of the lineup and who just happens to be a free agent at season’s end, meaning the Braves are only on the hook for a pittance of his salary before Lee leaves to make room for Freddie Freeman.
All of which leads us to say: This is the Braves’ year.
Said Frank Wren, the general manager: “There have been a lot of things that have happened that have gone well for us. I can’t deny that.”
Chipper Jones gets hurt in mid-August, and that’s one of the worst breaks a team could have. But this particular team had an All-Star second baseman (Martin Prado) about to come off the disabled list and an All-Star utility man (Omar Infante) capable of holding down second while Prado moved to third. And now it gets a true first baseman and a real power hitter for three marginal prospects, and just like that a tattered infield becomes a shiny new creation.
Said Chipper, ambling freely about the clubhouse four days after surgery: “You’ve got to applaud Frank for being pro-active. This was the only A-plus move you could make, and the players really, really appreciate it.”
Smiling, Chipper also offered this: “It kind of makes me upset that it took me getting hurt for this to happen. D-Lee is a guy I’d love to have in the lineup with me.”
Five years ago D-Lee hit 46 homers and flirted with a Triple Crown. He’s no longer that guy, but he’s a clear upgrade on poor creaking Troy Glaus, who’d given this team all he had and now goes on the disabled list and then to Gwinnett to see if he can re-learn third base. (Said Wren, referring to Glaus’ bravura May: “We’re not here in position to make a trade like this if not for Troy Glaus.”)
A clubhouse that has seen 20 victories in the final at-bat has been handed another tangible reason to believe. The deal made at the deadline for Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel was one of those a GM makes just to show his team he’s trying. The deal for D-Lee is one that could make the difference between a September fizzle and a banner October. If Wren wasn’t already the executive of the year, he is now.
“We’re all competitors, whether we’re in uniform or in the office,” Wren said. “When you’ve got a group of guys who’ve put in the effort these have, you want to do everything you can possibly do … We want to win this thing.”
They just might. The timing of this deal’s development was uncanny. Wren called Jim Hendry, his Cubs’ counterpart, on Sunday to inquire about Lee, who went out and hit two home runs. (Then he tweaked his back and left the game.) Lee, who’d vetoed a trade to Anaheim in July, agreed to this one. And there was nothing the Phillies or anyone else could do to stop it.
Chipper: “If a third baseman comes up on waivers after I get hurt, he’d have been blocked.”
Wren: “That’s why I was vague with you [reporters] last week about what we were looking for. I didn’t want to tip our hand.”
Skill was involved in this maneuver, and so was serendipity. When those two concepts collide … well, that’s what we in the astronomy business call a harmonic convergence.
Said Wren: “Four or five days ago I didn’t know if we could get to this point. You don’t find many 3-4-5 hitters.”
But Wren did. He found one who plays the absolute right position with the absolute perfect contract. When it’s your year, it’s your year. And this year is the Braves’.
And with that, we’ll open the floor — a bit belatedly, but things have been hopping at the ballyard — for your comments, questions and reactions to the D-Lee deal. I thank you in retrospect for your patience, and I thank you in advance for your participation.