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Griff says...Frank Wren Rights and Wrongs

I’m prepared for all the shots that will come from commenters on this article. One thing you can say about Frank Wren for sure is that he produces more furious debate than almost any other Braves topic. It seems to stem from his hit or miss transactions as you will see below when you review some of them. He has a penchant for doing controversial deals with PR implications. That’s why a Wren discussion is like a political debate.

Let me begin by saying I have not been a fan of Wren’s and have frequently been critical of him. While preparing to write this article I asked myself, why? Certainly I can list a few less than favorite transactions but I have to say candidly it comes more from my perception and impression of him. In my opinion, he comes off aloof, lacks baseball knowledge depth, has a pseudo optimistic attitude about him, seems superficial to me, somewhat ingenuine, and a bit too smooth and cool. Essentially, I guess I’m just annoyed with his persona.

Before he became GM he was Assistant to Schuerholz for almost eight years. Perhaps I was hoping or expecting that he would just be another John and everything would continue as it had been. He is not Schuerholz, not only in style but in substance. Schuerholz had a knack for getting deals done that surprised you and on paper and even later, it seemed that the Braves clearly won the deal. Often times I found myself wondering why the opposing GM would do such a deal. In contrast, I find myself wondering the same on some of Wren’s deals as if I were watching from the opposition’s point of view.

Contrary to statements from a recent commenter (heckler) on one of my blog postings, there is no way to judge what Wren does except by the actual transaction and subsequent result. Everything else is opinion. So let’s be clear that everything I am saying here is just my opinion. It would seem that should be obvious for a blog writer, but since my commenter felt his statements were facts not opinions, I thought I would try to make it clear to everyone.

There is not enough time or room for me to evaluate every transaction Wren has made over the last couple years as there are dozens of them. Some are minor and some are substantial. So, I’m going to point out just the ones that are noteworthy and that I have an opinion about. To be sure, it is often difficult to come up with any real assessment of whether a trade was good or bad until years later. But this article can’t wait that long. I’m going to examine certain transactions, make a comment, and grade Wren on the transaction. Then at the end of the article I will give him an overall grade.

• Acquired Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez from Detroit for Edgar Renteria. Fabulous trade. JJ is a potential Cy Young candidate, Hernandez has potential and was the key player shipped to Pittsburgh in the McLouth acquisition. Renteria has faded into the sunset with Detroit and the Giants. Grade - A+

• Acquired Omar Infante and Will Ohman from the Cubs for Jose Ascanio. Infante is one of the premier bench/utility players in the league, Ohman and Ascanio did okay for awhile, then were traded. Grade – A

• Acquired Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek from the Angels for Mark Teixeira. Ouch! Wren made his usual statement that there just weren’t a lot of takers available. It seems he says that whenever he can’t make a good deal. Grade – F

• Acquired Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan from the White Sox for Lillibridge, Tyler Flowers, et al. Vazquez had a career year and along with Logan, was packaged to New York this year in a different deal. Flowers still has plus big league potential. Because Vazquez was stellar...Grade – A

• Signed Kenshin Kawakami for 3 yrs, 23 million. I like KK but we overpaid for a 5 pitcher. KK did okay last year and may be better this year and will get help with Saito on board. Both should feel more comfortable. Maybe it was political. Grade – B minus

• Signed Derek Lowe for four years, $60 million. Lowe had a poor finish and off year overall but will likely bounce back in 2010. But how do we deal him if not, and how effective can he be for that money? He’s probably already the 3 or 4 pitcher in our rotation regardless of where Cox places him. He was totally overpaid and this deal overburdened the Braves for years even if he performs. You could say at the time Wren felt he had to do the Lowe and KK deals or end up with no rotation at all. But…Grade – C minus

• Signed Garrett Anderson for 1 year, $2.5 million. Cox liked him so that’s all I will say. But we could have had Abreu or Dunn as both were available at the time. I still say if we had signed Dunn we would have solved our power problem for two years while waiting for Freeman to come up. This was totally a stop gap measure that didn’t pan out from my viewpoint. Grade – C minus

• Released Tom Glavine. The right move done the wrong way at the wrong time. This was atrocious PR and resulted in many negative comments from Glavine, Smoltz and Chipper. Yes it got Hanson up sooner but it was a total lesson in disaster on how not to release a veteran, Hall of Fame player. Hanson should have made the team out of ST anyway and we could have had the four more wins we needed to make the playoffs. We were just trying to postpone his arbitration years. Grade – D

• Acquired Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh for Morton, Locke and Gorkys Hernandez. I liked Hernandez and hated to see him go. Locke is still a work in progress and Morton was nothing special. McLouth is overrated from my viewpoint but we had to do something because of Schafer’s problem. Could have stayed internal but Wren thought this was a steal. McLouth hasn’t stolen much so far. If McLouth has a good year in 2010 and becomes part of a good trade later this year, then I like it. Let’s just say so far I’m not a McLouth fan. Grade – B

• Acquired Ryan Church from the Mets for Jeff Francoeur. A wash initially but maybe Frenchy will be okay and certainly not worse than Church. Often overlooked is that for the entirety of 2009 Frenchy’s numbers were 280/15/76. Those are more than decent numbers and would rank him pretty high on our team last year, just not what we were looking for from Frenchy based on his early career performance. Overall it was a good move for Frenchy. I’m not saying we should have kept Frenchy, but …Grade – C

• Acquired Adam LaRoche from Pittsburgh for Casey Kotchman. Kotchman was shipped to Boston where he was a bench player, showed little ever, then was traded this year again. LaRoche had a phenomenal second half but we couldn’t keep him because he wanted too much. That was not smart on his part, over-estimating his market value. Grade – A

• Acquired Eric O’Flaherty off waivers from Seattle. An absolute steal as Eric had a great year and is an important piece of the bullpen for this year. Grade – A+

• Failed to sign Smoltz who went to the Red Sox after some grumbling. Again, the right move done the wrong way. Not graceful in the handling. More bad publicity. You can say publicity is not important but it affects future player transactions if they get a negative view of management, as well as fan support and attendance. Grade – D

• Agreed to terms with Scott Proctor. No downside, all upside. I’m not sold on Proctor as his career numbers are not very special. Remains to be seen. Cox likes him. Grade – B

• Agreed to 3 year contract with Hudson at a home town discount. This had good publicity as Hudson is extremely active in the community and well-liked. Supposedly he is back to normal or better. Keep in mind he has never had a stellar year with the Braves as he did with the A’s. This one remains to be seen and could be either an A+ grade or D grade if it is a disaster because once we signed Huddy we had to do something with either Lowe or Vazquez. So it is really this deal that caused us to trade Vazquez, outside of any poor negotiating that may have occurred by Wren while trying to move Lowe. If not for this deal our starting rotation might have been Vazquez, JJ, Hanson, Lowe and KK. Think about that awhile. I don’t think we can actually grade this one yet, so…Grade ?

• Traded Soriano to Tampa Bay for Jesse Chavez. I was not a Soriano fan anyway and it appeared Wren got caught guessing wrong when Soriano accepted arbitration. Of course he said he was prepared but when he accepted the first offer that came along less than a week later, my feeling is he felt he was caught with his pants down and immediately bought the first belt he could find. So far everyone has a lot of praise for Chavez and his repertoire. If he becomes a key bullpen piece this year, it was a good deal. We did get rid of salary which was needed because we have a lot of bucks tied up in our bullpen. Soriano had good numbers but still worried me whenever he entered the game. Grade – B

• Agreed to terms with Billy Wagner, then shortly Takashi Saito on one year deals from the Red Sox. Gonzalez made me nervous anyway because he was inconsistent and unpredictable. You can’t have that in a closer or setup man. We lost draft pick compensation but I love Wagner and predict he will be a critical factor in our re-entry to the playoffs. Not sure about Saito but we have other arms available. Grade – A

• Failed to sign Jake Peavy. I felt this deal fell through because Wren could not create the right package and offer. This is an instance where I have criticized him in the past for not having any creativity. Our rotation ended up great so the importance was diminished. I’m not saying I wanted to lose Hanson or Escobar in the trade, but this deal for me showed Wren’s lack of closing skills. I believe he could have left them out of the package and come up with sufficient talent to get the deal done. Grade - C

• Failed to sign AJ Burnett. We were drastically outbid and nothing we could do about it. Probably turned out for the best. Grade – No grade. Not his fault.

• Failed to sign Rafael Furcal. Either this was Furcal’s agent’s fault, Furcal’s fault, Wren’s fault, or a combination. Created much ill will and bad publicity and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. But I wasn’t excited about getting Furcal back anyway because I believe he is highly overrated since he left Atlanta. Grade – N/A

• Agreed to terms with Peter Moylan. I really like Moylan and the fact that his agent is Boras says something about this deal. Grade – A

• Agreed to terms with Troy Glaus on a one year contract. Great upside for a low cost. I actually think this will pay off. No one was talking about Glaus at the time so this came in under the radar. Maybe you could say you can’t grade this one yet but it had little downside, so…Grade – B Plus

• Agreed to terms with Eric Hinske on a one year contract. Excellent move not only for his ability and versatility and money paid, but his experience, clubhouse and bench value. Grade – A

• Numerous subtle minor league moves to restock and provide potential backup for key injuries. This includes Mitch Jones, JR House, Brent Clevlen, JC Boscan, Joe Thurston, and Mariano Gomez. Smart moves with little to pay. Grade - A

• Acquired Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino from the Yankees for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. Are you serious? This directly reflected Wren’s inability to make a deal for Lowe in spite of saying many times that he had several suitors and that he was confident they could move him. Dunn may be a bullpen arm next year and Vizcaino may be a high level starter several years from now, but losing Vazquez really hurt. The only possible way this is a good deal is if Hudson has an ace level year, Cabrera comes as billed, and Vizcaino becomes a 1,2 or 3 starter within 5 years. My grade here is more a reflection of not making a deal for Lowe. You can say no one would pay for him, but then why did Wren express such confidence numerous times that he would be able to deal Lowe? And yes you can say that money was freed up in this deal which led to the Glaus signing but there was enough money left anyway. At the moment…Grade – F

• Acquired Edward Salcedo, 18 year old international shortstop prospect. No one knows much about him but he is considered one of the top international players. On that basis alone, this is a great signing as he can essentially replace the top 10 draft pick we lost in an earlier offseason trade transaction. Some say he reminds them of Hanley Ramirez or even A-Rod. He probably projects as a third baseman eventually as he is 6’3” and a strong hitter already. Not sure Wren really gets credit for this but as a GM I guess he is responsible so…Grade - A

If I left out or overlooked any moves you wish to discuss, feel free. I have to say that Wren was directly responsible for rebuilding a great pitching rotation last year after all the horrible mishaps from the year before. In that sense alone the results of his deals were remarkable. However, my feeling is that others could have done the transactions differently and better. Much of our pitching success last year goes to a career year by Vazquez, JJ and Hanson and Wren had nothing to do with that.

It would be quite an exercise to further give each transaction a weighted value to be fair, so I won’t get into that.

Surprisingly, my assessment as I review all these transactions is to give Wren an overall Grade of B Plus. Not great but pretty good. Certainly I hate the deals that were F’s, and that is where his controversies were created. But I like a lot of the deals.

So there it is. Believe me I did not grade him relatively high to satisfy the ego of my earlier heckler who over-reacted to a couple of my negative Wren comments that were directed at specific deals. It is perfectly fair to criticize a bad move as long as you give credit for good ones and criticize in an unbiased manner.

My next blog will be on Thursday. The topic will be The Emerging Importance of Speed. Griff says…later.


  1. I feel like the Frenchy trade desreves to be graded higher. Wren said multiple times that if Frenchy were to have stayed on the Braves through the whole season there was a good chance he was going to be released during the off-season. So instead of facing the criticism for that (which there would have been a lot of) he took the first deal he could get and then did what he was going to do with Frenchy to Church and now we have room for Heyward. So personally I would give him a B+ for that trade, gotta give him credit for trying not to anger the fans as much.

  2. Danny - I disagree on Frenchy. He's a young, athletic outfielder with an incredible arm. There was a market for him. We got nothing in return for him as evidenced by Ryan Church's absence from this year's team.

    I felt like we bid against ourselves for Lowe. Who else was going to offer a 35 year-old, contact pitcher $15 million per year for 4 years? That move was an act of desperation after we missed out on Burnett.

  3. what i dont understand is the vasquez deal...i understand braves didnt have cap room...how do u let go of a winning pithcer...who according to chipper and other rumors he wanted an extension after this season...i personally think frank needs to have better closing deals