Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Evaluating Frank Wren...

With the trade deadline approaching and the Dempster-to-the-Braves saga lingering on, I felt it was time to take a look at Frank Wren and see what has worked and what hasn't since he took over in October 2007.  This will be somewhat similar to the John Schuerholz "Best and Worst" entry that was more of a recap of his tenure. 

Before we begin, it should be noted that - contrary to popular belief, Wren was not the GM of the Braves when the Teixeira for multiple future All-Stars trade went down.  Wren took over in October of 2007, so this is his 5th full season as GM.  Chronologically, here are his notable transactions year-by-year with my input.

2008 season

Draft - Had a good draft, despite 1st pick Brett DeVall being a colossal disappointment and out of baseball after 2+ years.   Wren took future All-Star Craig Kimbrel in the 3rd round, by far the best pick of the 08 draft.  Second round pick Tyler Stovall has also struggled, but Wren's 2nd pick in that round was Zeke Spruill, who has progressed nicely through the system.  The other pick in the 08 draft that has played in the big leagues is JJ Hoover, who has 17 relief appearances for the Reds after being sent to Cincinnati before the 2012 season for Juan Francisco.

Other picks in the top 10 rounds Paul Clemens and Bret Oberholtzer were the key prospects in the Michael Bourn deal and; also noteworthy, future 6th overall pick in 11 Anthony Rendon was an 18th round pick out of HS by the Braves in 2008

Grade - B+

Pre-Season -

1)  Traded Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens
2) Traded Jose Ascanio to the Cubs for Omar Infante and Will Ohman
3) Signed Tom Glavine
4)  Traded Joey Devine to the A's for Mark Kotsay

The Renteria trade was a success as Yunel Escobar was ready for the position, Hernandez was a key portion of the Nate McLouth trade, and Jurrjens went on to be an All-Star, although he has struggled as of late.  Glavine made 13 relatively ineffective starts (although I was a fan of bringing him back) and Kotsay did as well as could be expected.  Ohman had an excellent season and Infante was an All-Star.

Grade - A

2008 In-Season

The 2008 Braves season was pretty much a debacle as the team went 72-90 and was out of contention early in the season.  Wren basically made 2 transactions of note during the season - 1)  He flipped Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek and 2)  He signed undrafted free agent Brandon Beachy.

The Teixeira trade was inevitable and Big Tex didn't have a lot of value as he was due to become a free agent after the season and was commanding big bucks via Scott Boras.  Beachy developed into a front-line starter and was on pace to be an All-Star in 2012 before season ending surgery.

Grade - A

2009 Season

Draft - Interestingly enough, the only 2 players to appear in an MLB game from the Braves 2009 draft class are 1st pick Mike Minor and last pick (50th) Josh Edgin (picked by Mets in 10).  Minor has settled into the Braves rotation and shown some promise after terrorizing the minor leagues for 2+ seasons.  No other pick has moved the radar as a prospect...

Grade - C+


1)  Selected Eric O'Flaherty off waivers from Seattle
2)  Signed David Ross as backup catcher
3)  Signed Derek Lowe
4)  Signed Kenshin Kawakami
5)  Traded Jon Glimore/Tyler Flowers/Brett Lillbridge to the White Sox for Boone Logan/Javiez Vazquez

Again...some really good (O'Flaherty/Ross) and some really bad (Lowe/Kawakami).  Obviously, the 1st 2 on the list have worked out as well as could be expected and more, but #3/4 are what make this off-season a disaster.  Wren certainly had to upgrade the rotation after 2008, but over-paid for a 36 year old (4/60 million) and took a huge financial gamble on an unknown Japanese right-hander (3/23 million). 

Starting pitching was a priority, but rather than overpay for Lowe and Kawakami, Wren should have either explored more trade options or signed another cheaper solutions like Eric Bedard/Jon Garland/Randy Wolf/Carl Pavano and used the dollars to upgrade elsewhere.

Vazquez did, however, bolster the rotation by having one of his best seasons and Logan turned in to a solid MLB left handed reliever.  Gilmore never panned out and Lillbridge/Flowers are in the big leagues but are back ups.

Grade - C

2009 In-Season

1)  Acquired Nate Mclouth for Gorkys Hernandez/Jeff Locke/Charlie Morton
2)  Traded Jeff Francoeur to the Mets for Ryan Church
3)  Traded Casey Kotchman to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche

While the McLouth experiment was a failure, the trade seemed like a home run when it was made.  Problem was, Nate was just a glimpse of his former All-Star self as a Pirate and struggled through his tenure as a Brave.  Morton was having a pretty good 2011/12 before going down to Tommy John surgery, and Locke and Hernandez never progressed after the deal.  The Francoeur deal was a wash, but Frenchy had to be moved with all he was dealing with in Atlanta.  LaRoche, a notorious slow-starter, was acquired with hopes he would have a big 2nd half.  While LaRoche played well(.325/12/40 in 57 games), the Braves still finished 3rd in the NL East at 86-76.

Jurrjens was good again, Lowe won 15 games, Vazquez was lights out...McCann was outstanding, Prado emerged, 1st base was better than expected, Escobar had a good year...problem was, the OF just didn't produce.  Francoeur/McLouth/Anderson/Diaz/Church just didn't produce anywhere near the level of production needed from a playoff team.  This was probably a playoff team if they acquired Matt Holliday, but Wren had his hands tied with payroll and reduced prospects/young talent from the Teixeira trade.
Grade - B

2010 Season

Draft - The Braves made it known prior to the 2010 draft that they wanted more athletic position players to fill up their system.  Well, they certainly did that and drafted several players with potential in the early rounds.  First round pick Matt Lipka has show an ability to play SS and CF, and was hitting the ball pretty well and stealing some bases in Lynchburg before an injury last month.  Second round pick Todd Cunningham was an All-Star this year and 3rd round pick Andrelton Simmons made the big league club on June 1st.  The Braves 6th round pick Joey Terdoslavich and 23rd round pick Evan Gattis are also considered top 10 prospects in the organization.

Grade - B+

2010 Pre-Season

1)  Signed Billy Wagner
2)  Traded Rafael Soriano for Jesse Chavez
3)  Traded Boone Logan/Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Mike Dunn/Aroyds Vizcaino/Melky Cabrera
4)  Signed Cristhian Martinez
5)  Signed Takashi Saito

Wagner was outstanding in his lone year as the Braves closer, and when Saito was healthy, he was good as a set up guy.  The Soriano-Chavez trade was a disaster, but it was partly salary-driven.  Martinez has been solid in the pen the last couple seasons, but the big move before 2010 was the Vazquez trade.  Wren did a good job at moving him while his value was high, and received a needed outfielder (even if he did blow-up after leaving ATL), a solid LH reliever, and a future elite prospect.  Vizcaino made the Braves MLB club last year and was scheduled to be a big part of the bullpen in 2012 before season-ending surgery.

Grade - A -

2010 In-Season

1)  Traded Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes to Toronto for Tim Collins/Alex Gonzalez/Tyler Pastornicky
2)  Traded Gregor Blanco/Jesse Chavez/Tim Collins to KC for Rick Ankiel/Kyle Fansworth
3)  Traded Jeffrey Lorick/Tyrelle Harris/Robinson Lopez to the Cubs for Derrek Lee

Some pretty solid moves that gave the Braves their lone playoff season under Wren.  Gonzalez was excellent defensively but dropped dramatically from his Toronto hitting pace after being acquired.  Pastornicky has contributed at the big league level as Escobar has been OK but not spectacular in Toronto.  Ankiel has the biggest hit in Braves history since Brian McCann's post-season home run off Roger Clemens in the 05 LDS.  Lee hit .287/3/24 in 39 games but hit just .125 with 2 singles and 0 RBI in the post-season.  None of the prospects sent to Chicago are remotely close to sniffing prospect status.

Grade - B+

2011 Season

Draft - Too early to give a real grade on the 2011 draft, but 3 of the top 4 picks (Gilmartin, Graham, Ahmed) have shown promise in their 1+ seasons in the minors.

Grade - TBD

2011 Pre-Season

1)  Trade Omar Infante/Mike Dunn to Florida for Dan Uggla
2)  Signed George Sherrill
3)  Signed Eric Hinske
4)  Traded Kyle Cofield for Scott Linebrink

With Hanson/Jurrjens/Hudson/Beachy appearing to solidify the rotation, the 2011 off-season goals were to acquire a RH power hitter and bolster the bullpen.   Sherrill and Linebrink were decent and ate up some innings, and Hinske had a really good season off the bench.  However, the big move was getting Uggla.

Only Albert Pujols had more NL seasons of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI than Uggla, and his right-handed production was expected to break up the Jones-McCann part of the batting order.  However, Uggla struggled mightily in the 1st half, although his hot 2nd half almost netted the Braves a post-season birth.  2012 has been a debacle as well, with Uggla struggling to put the ball in play.  Still a good trade, but Uggla has not performed up to his big contract at all...

Grade - B

2011 In-Season

1)  Traded Juan Abreu/Jordan Schafer/Bret Oberholtzer/Paul Clemens to Houston for Michael Bourn
2)  Traded for Matt Diaz
3)  Traded for Jack Wilson

Big move here was for Bourn, and while he was good, the team still collapsed in October.  Diaz helped the team against lefties and Wilson played good defense, but the collapse is what will be remembered.  Schafer has not shown much improvement and the 3 other pitchers in the deal have 6-8 ERA's in Houston's minor league system

Grade - B+

2012 Season

Draft - Again, too early to call but 1st round pick Lucas Sims has already been promoted and 2nd round pick Alex Wood is off to a really good start at Class A Rome.

Grade - TBD

2012 Pre-Season

1)  Traded Derek Lowe to Cleveland for Chris Jones
2)  Traded JJ Hoover to Cincinnati for Juan Francisco

The Lowe move had to be made, even if he got off to a fast start.  Francisco gave the team depth behind Chipper, although Hoover has been pretty good in the Cincy bullpen.  Most positions seemed to be locked up, although the bullpen took a hit with the Vizcaino injury. 

Grade - B

2012 In-Season

1)  Signed Ben Sheets
2)  Traded Todd Redmond to Cincinnati for Paul Janish

Ok, here is where Frank can make his mark as Braves GM.  The Sheets move so far has been a grand slam and Janish is just what the team needed until Andrelton gets healthy.  Now, if the Dempster deal goes through, I think this team is the NL East champions.  If it doesn't, Wren needs to do something to upgrade the rotation.  Medlen is set as a reliever and with O'Flaherty and Kimbrel, the team appears set.

The offense could use some pop, but that needs to come from Dan Uggla, no space to acquire anything but depth there.  The upgrade needed is in the starting rotation as youngsters Delgado/Minor/Teheran have really struggled with consistency.  An arm like Dempster could more than off-set the loss of Beachy.

Grade - TBD

Another big off-season looms as well, as Chipper comes off the books with retirement opening some salary room, McCann is entering his final year, an option on Hudson will be considered, and Bourn is a free agent.  Also, are these young arms ready for spots in the rotation?

But for now, lets worry about 2012.  There is still a post-season birth and potential WS ring out there for the taking, and what better year to make a run that Chip's last?

Wren has been a solid B overall, with the Lowe/Kawakami moves keeping him from being an A, lets make a move and win it all in 2012, and I'll be the 1st to call his tenure an A+...

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