Don't blame Frank Wren
This is not Frank Wren's fault.
Yes, the Braves have swung and miss on its main two targets for the offseason. Jake Peavy is still in San Diego, while A.J. Burnett is headed to the new Yankee Stadium.
But don't blame the Braves general manager.
It's easy to wonder if the second-year GM did enough in both cases. Did Padres' GM Kevin Towers outsmart him? Probably not. Towers is just plain crazy.
Was he used by Burnett's agent to just get what Burnett wanted all along? Maybe, but what was Wren to do. He wanted Burnett, made a fair offer, and the guy just decided to go somewhere else.
Some have criticized Wren, and that's understandable. It's scary to think that right now Javier Vazquez is the only starting pitcher that has been added to the roster. But we all know more work needs to be done. Wren is simply not finished.
Let's judge his work after he is finished, which may not be done until right before Opening Day. It's not like the Braves are the only team that has not gotten everything done they want to accomplish this offseason.
Wren said early on that he wanted two, and maybe even three, new starting pitchers for the 2009 rotation. He went after the best one, Peavy, on the open market. It would have been a perfect fit. Peavy was a southern boy who had repeatedly talked about his desire to be a Brave.
Wren offered the Padres a package built around Yunel Escobar, arguably one of the best shortstops in the National League. But whatever Wren offered was never enough. He thought he had a deal several times, only to have Kevin Towers come back and want more.
What more was Wren to do? Give Towers anything he wanted? He made a very fair offer, much better than what the Padres were to receive from the Cubs in that trade rumor. But Towers was never satisfied, and the comments he made and his agent, Barry Axelrod, also Peavy's agent, were inappropriate.
After the Braves backed out of the Peavy sweepstakes, Wren's attention turned to Burnett, the second best pitcher on the free agent market behind C.C. Sabathia. Again, it looked like a good fit – on the surface. Burnett looked primed to take over as an ace pitcher after his outstanding season in Toronto, and he was certainly going to be paid like one.
The Braves had the best offer on the table, at least until the Yankees stepped in. Maybe that was all Burnett was waiting for. It makes sense now that we know the situation with his wife (she doesn't fly and wanted A.J. closer to their Maryland home) and the fact that Burnett does not like to hit. Maybe Burnett wanted to go back to the American League all along.
But again, what was Wren to do? That was his main target, and he made a fair offer. It's not like the money was significantly different. It was only several million apart, and with the standard of living in New York higher than Atlanta, it was pretty even. Burnett just didn't want to be here, and as attractive as Wren tried to make it the decision was made once the Yankees decided to step in.
The Braves have swung and missed at free agents before. Remember in 1978 when Pete Rose almost became a Brave, only to go to Philadelphia? Or how about in 1981 when Ted Turner went all out for Reggie Jackson? How about in 1983 when the Braves needed a reliever and offered the moon to Goose Gossage? Those players just picked somewhere else to go, and there wasn't anything you could do about it or anyone you could blame. It just happened.
This is not the same Braves team that lured Greg Maddux to Atlanta sixteen years ago. Remember, Maddux spurred the Yankees, who had offered more money, to sign with Atlanta. That was after the Braves had appeared in two straight World Series and still had a very young starting rotation with two future Hall of Famers.
This Braves franchise is in somewhat of a mess. It hasn't made the playoffs in three seasons. It is stuck in neutral between the Smoltz/Glavine era and the future. And it's waiting for a new wave of talent to make it to the big leagues. This is just not as attractive a team as it was back in the 1990s.
So Wren's job is tougher than what his predecessor, John Schuerholz, had to face. Wren is general managing without momentum, something Schuerholz rarely had to deal with. Sure, Schuerholz had to build something in his first year in charge, but after that and for the next fifteen years Schuerholz had the surge of making a good team better.
Wren has to make a poor team, albeit one that was crushed by injuries last season, a winner again. It's easier said than done. Schuerholz had two future Hall-of-Famers in his 1991 rotation and didn't even know it. Wren doesn't have that same luxury.
And Wren wasn't even looking for two future Hall-of-Famers for his rotation, just two good and dependable arms that could be at the top for the next half-decade. Peavy and Burnett would have been a perfect fit, but circumstances got in the way.
So Wren goes back to the drawing board. He got Javier Vazquez two weeks ago to help ease the pain, but more work needs to be done. The financial resources are still there, so Wren still has the ability to attract quality talent. Let's just hope fate doesn't step in again and ruin his plan B.
Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com.
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