The trade deadline passed without a major move, as expected.
The trade deadline passed with only a minor move, as expected.
The trade deadline passed again like a rescue boat floating past Frank Wren, as he stood on the shore and said, “Naw, we’re good here. Unless maybe you can spare some Saltines for my people? That should hold us through October.”
He had better hope so. Because the team that Wren took over in 2007, this team that he rebuilt in his vision, to his liking, is still looking for its first playoff series win in his seven years.
There are names above Wren’s in the Braves’ executive branch: owner Liberty Media, chairman Terry McGuirk, president John Schuerholz. But Wren ultimately decides who stays and who goes, which trades to spin and which ones to pass on, which players to let go in free agency and which one to give a $75 million contract to.
The trade deadline passed Thursday and the Braves didn’t do anything of significance, either because they couldn’t or they didn’t want to (probably a little of both). If they don’t make the playoffs, or if they get there and again exit meekly, that’s on Wren and nobody else.
Wren has his defenders. That’s to be expected. He assumed control of the baseball operation at a time when the Braves were going through a transition, in pitching and the everyday lineup. He was tasked with the toxic cleanup after the Mark Teixeira trade. Wren has excelled in low-profile trades and seemingly obscure free-agent signings. The latest, greatest example of this: Aaron Harang.
Thursday’s acquisition of utility man Emilio Bonifacio and reliever James Russell for a catching prospect (Victor Caratini) is a classic Wren trade-deadline roster tweak. He gets a needed left-hander for the struggling bullpen and a player who can start, come off the bench, bat leadoff and play multiple positions. Bonifacio is good. But let’s hold off on the bubbly. As a general rule, difference-makers don’t play for seven teams in eight years and aren’t released by Kansas City.
To this point, however, Wren has failed in two significant areas: picking the proper whopper investment (chronologically: Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe, Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton) and building a winning team that can compete in the postseason.
Maybe the Braves will put things together. Maybe the fact they’ve been a sub-.500 team (41-43) since the first three weeks of the season (17-7) will devolve into some lame trivia note beaten to death by a bitter sports columnist and they’ll go on to win a division, a pennant, a World Series and small nations.
But right now it doesn’t look that way. Aside from unproductive at-bats (21st in hitting in the majors and 22nd in on-base percentage) that leads to a low-yielding offense (24th in scoring), the Braves operated in a strange clubhouse. Chemistry seems questionable, veteran leadership absent. Franchise centerpiece Freddie Freeman is quiet guy. The roster is devoid of take-charge personalities.
Many abandoned all hopes for the Braves when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost for the season in spring training. But starting pitching hasn’t been the problem. Even with Medlen and Beachy, the lineup problems would still exist.
Granted, ownership would not have had to spend $14.1 million on Ervin Santana, but that’s no guarantee that money would’ve been used to strengthen other areas of the team. The roster has several long-term, difficult-to-move contracts. Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are signed only through next season, but Wren hasn’t shown an inclination to move either.
The Braves certainly are capable of pulling things together. But if they don’t, it’s important to understand the importance of this season. Decisions have to be made this winter on Heyward and Upton, who would be entering their last year before free agency (and odds are against either re-signing here). There’s also a decision to be made on Evan Gattis, if we assume the team is ready to turn over catching duties to prospect Christian Bethancourt. Those calls will help form the core of this team.
Should those decisions be left up to Wren if the Braves don’t do something of significance in October? The jury is out.
I understand manager Fredi Gonzalez is a polarizing topic. I’m not suggesting here that Gonzalez should be immune to criticism. But in my opinion, the biggest issues related to this team, whether it was Gonzalez or Bobby Cox in the dugout, have related to roster building, not managing.
This is Frank Wren’s show. This is Frank Wren’s team. Over the next two months, we’ll learn more about just how right or wrong he has been.