28. How did Frank Wren grade out in 2009?

Let's look back on the moves made by the Atlanta general manager.

Last winter was a peculiar offseason for Braves general manager Frank Wren. He started with the plan to trade for Jake Peavy and sign A.J. Burnett. And when things didn't work out that way, he had to make adjustments.

Adjustments is probably the keyword for Wren in his second season in charge of constructing the roster. He kept on making adjustments until his team improved fourteen games from the previous season to finish 86-76 in 2009.

When Peavy got moody and didn't want to come to Atlanta, Wren traded instead for Chicago White Sox right-hander Javier Vazquez. The Braves had wanted Vazquez for some time, and he turned out to be a pretty solid consolation prize.

Wren traded catcher Tyler Flowers, infielder Brent Lillibridge, minor league infielder Jon Gilmore, and minor league pitcher Santos Rodriguez for Vazquez and Boone Logan.

Vazquez was terrific, and hopefully the Braves can keep him around for the long-term. Logan did ok, coming up a couple of times to provide help in the Atlanta bullpen.

None of the four players traded to Chicago were really ‘needed.' Flowers was blocked by Brian McCann behind the plate. Flowers made it to the big leagues after an outstanding minor league season (.297 batting average between Birmingham and Charlotte). He's better suited for the American League so he can occasionally be a designated hitter.

Lillibridge had more trouble at the plate in the majors with the White Sox, hitting only .158 in 95 at bats. He was pretty interchangeable, replaced by a number of players in the Atlanta organization.

Gilmore had a good season in the Sally League, hitting .274 with 67 RBI for Kannapolis. His power hasn't come around yet, but the White Sox were very pleased with his progress. He's the prospect that probably hurt the Braves the most by being in the trade, since he is a third baseman and the Braves are in need of an eventual replacement for Chipper Jones.

Rodriguez was good again in the Appy League before being sent to Kannapolis to finish the season. He's got potential, but he was one of many with potential in the lower level of the Braves organization.

So it was a good deal. The Braves got the starting pitcher they needed, at a lot lower price than what Wren would have had to give up for Peavy (Yunel Escobar, Gorkys Hernandez, Blaine Boyer, and Jeff Locke).

When Burnett spurned the Braves for the Yankees, Wren still needed another pitcher. He first gave a three-year deal to Kenshin Kawakami, a right-handed pitcher from Japan.

Kawakami was a decent middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher for the Braves in 2009. He was 7-12 with a 3.86 ERA in 32 games (25 starts).

It could be argued that Wren could have stopped there, but he was a little skeptical of whether or not Tommy Hanson would be ready by opening day. So he didn't stop with Vazquez and Kawakami. Wren signed Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million dollar contract.

It was a lot of money. It still is a lot of money. Wren believed the Braves still needed another veteran starter to compliment Vazquez, Kawakami, and Jair Jurrjens. So he brought in Lowe, who had also talked with the Mets, but got the fourth year from the Braves.

Lowe won 15 games, but his ERA was 4.67. Since Hanson came up in June and took off, and since Tim Hudson returned September 1, it's easy to look back on the Lowe signing and wonder if it was absolutely necessary.

But the Braves are about to be in an enviable position. They have six pitchers for five spots in the rotation, and the trick for Wren will be to use that excess to help the lineup.

Wren's signing of David Ross was solid. Ross was outstanding as Brian McCann's backup catcher, hitting .273 with 7 home runs in 54 games. Wren had to improve that position after the failed Corky Miller experiment in 2008.

The major work for Wren came in the regular season. He thought he had a good lineup, but after the first two months it was obvious he needed to get it some help. The first move was to demote Jordan Schafer on June 1. Schafer had won the center field job in March, but he hit only .204 in 50 games.

Two days later Wren traded for a new center fielder and leadoff man. Nate McLouth was acquired from Pittsburgh for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke. McLouth made an impact, as the lineup was restructured.

Wren traded three players who were pretty much replaceable in the farm system. There was no room for Morton, who needed to be in the big leagues but had no room in Atlanta. Hernandez had fallen in the eyes of the front office, and Locke was simply someone you were not going to let get in the way of making a deal like this.

Later that same week, the first week of June, Wren called up Tommy Hanson. Perhaps the biggest thing you can criticize Wren for is waiting too long to promote Hanson, who had been dominating the International League. Hanson needed a little more time developing, but he was ready after the end of April to come up.

The Braves probably did wait so Hanson could stick around for another season, avoiding the deadline for making him a super two arbitration player. The delay gives the Braves six more full seasons of Hanson, but you have to wonder if he had been up earlier if the Braves would have been more competitive in 2009.

On July 10, Wren traded outfielder Jeff Francoeur to the Mets for Ryan Church. Francoeur needed to get out of Atlanta, but the Mets? That's the one thing people continue to ask about this trade. Why did Wren have to trade Francoeur to the division rival Mets?

Francoeur turned things around in New York, hitting .311 the rest of the season for the Metropolitans. He also hit 10 home runs and drove in 41. Francoeur finished the season with a .280 average (only .250 in his time with Atlanta), 15 home runs, and 76 RBI.

Francoeur needed the change, but again, to the Mets? Wasn't there some other team, outside the National League East, that Wren could have traded Francoeur to? Obviously not, and now, the Mets are going to get a player simply in need of a change of scenery.

Church did nothing with the Braves. He was irrelevant, and he'll probably be non-tendered in a few weeks.

But Wren redeemed himself with the July 31 deal of Casey Kotchman to Boston for Adam LaRoche. Kotchman was killing the Braves lineup, and the team was in need of a power boost. LaRoche turned out to be the perfect fit for the last two months of the season.

LaRoche hit .325 in Atlanta with 12 home runs and 40 RBI in 57 games. Now the Braves have to make another decision on LaRoche, who is a free agent.

The Tom Glavine issue wasn't handled very cleanly, but how else was it supposed to end? The Braves asked Glavine to rehab and come back, only to drop him when Hanson got ready for the big leagues. Ending the Glavine and John Smoltz eras was never going to be easy, and Wren was at the forefront of those decisions.

So Wren revamped a Braves lineup, with four changes from opening day to the end of the season. Adding McLouth and LaRoche helped tremendously, and the move of Martin Prado in at second over Kelly Johnson also helped the lineup.

This winter will be the real challenge. The Braves have a surplus of starting pitching. What Wren does with that surplus will perhaps judge his tenure as general manager, since a bad move could really hurt the Braves.

Wren has been aggressive in his two years in charge. His first deal, for Jair Jurrjens, could possibly go down as one of the best in franchise history. But with the Braves itching to get back to the playoffs, Wren's work in the next nine months will determine whether the team can get back to the postseason.


Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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