Frank Wren is Reason For Hope in 2010
If the loss to the lowly Padres in extra innings Tuesday night left the Braves dazed and wobbly, Wednesday’s blow, for all intents and purposes, knocked them out. I think it’s time we, too, got a whiff of the smelling salts and faced reality: the Braves are not going to the playoffs. And you know what? I think I am okay with it. Why? Two words: Frank Wren.
That’s right, the Atlanta Braves’ diligent deal maker, who resembles more a slick 80’s movie villain with a warehouse of suspicious shipments, than the avuncular general manager that was his predecessor, is the biggest reason why I look forward to 2010. In his short tenure, Wren has shown nothing if not a limited amount of something this organization can no longer afford: patience. He cut ties with two future hall of fame pitchers, one of which had achieved near god like status in Atlanta (the one who didn’t sign with division rival NY Mets) and did so knowing he would be drawing the ire of the entire city, including his own manager. The press conferenece following Tom Glavine’s departure left Bobby Cox looking like he’d been up all night with a dying family member. But, despite the tearful good-byes, nearly all of Wren’s moves proved prescient.
Wren’s ability to make decisions dispassionately, more than anything else, is what kept the Braves chances for a playoff berth alive this long. Does anyone think for one fleeting moment that this team would be 6 games over .500 with Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur playing every day, and John Smoltz and Tom Glavine pitching every 5th? I wonder what team Bobby Cox, the stalwart player’s manager, would have fielded if the roles were reversed? Cox has been criticized for showing indefatigable patience with a veritable blogger’s most wanted list of struggling players in recent years–guys like Andruw Jones, Chris Woodward, Corky Miller, Jeff Bennett, Jeff Francoeur, Greg Norton. Seemingly indifferent to their stats, Cox tends to pencil in his guys with the unwavering conviction that they’re about to turn it all around. And apparently, ineffectiveness isn’t the only pardonable offense. Weeks ago, Nate Mclouth (a guy Wren seemingly stole like a wolf from the Pirates hen house) who led the team in home runs at the time, laid down a failed bunt for the third out with runners in scoring position in a tie ball game. The move was so befuddling it even drew criticism from ESPN’s John Kruk. Fast forward to Tuesday night, when Matt Diaz, in a tie ball game, did the exact same thing. It’s hard to imagine Cox putting the bunt sign on in that situation, but perhaps he should have placed an embargo on it with RISP and 2 outs after the first mishap. Especially when your team is notoriously poor at bunting and your hottest hitter is at the plate. It would be like John Oats suddenly deciding to sing lead vocals on Maneater during the opening show of their farewell tour: their manager would have stormed into their dressing rooms and screamed “Are you guys insane? Stick to what you do best!” It should be noted that Cox’s mere reputation has likely sealed the deals that brought many a marquee player to the Braves organization the last decade and a half. But a happy family doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning product.
The personel moves Wren makes over the winter may prove this season, itself, to be a farewell tour for some revered Braves but such measures are likely necessary if this franchise is to get back to top form in the coming years. Dedication to winning is more important than dedication to any one player.
Or manager, for that matter.
What seems to be lost on many is that this is a business–one that pays handsomely. Baseball’s version of severance packages would make even Goldman Sachs blush. Smoltz was paid millions of dollars both last year and this year to pitch but a handful of games. And you won’t be seeing Tom Glavine in a bread line anytime soon. Frank Wren, Atlanta’s dark knight, doesn’t concern himself with nice guy images or hurt feelings; he simply wants the right goods shipped to his warehouse.
Let’s hope he stays in business for a few sequels.