It’s a good thing for the Atlanta Braves and their fans that the off-season didn’t stop half way through January. The moves that GM Frank Wren and the Braves front office made this year could have us refer to the off-season as the tale of two off-seasons. Half of the time it seemed like the Georgia crickets were making more noise than Wren and the Braves. The other half involved genius deal making that showed both intelligence and patience.
Early on the Braves knew they wouldn’t be able to resign Michael Bourn because of the demands of him and his agent, Scott Boras. Also a factor was the requirement of draft pick compensation for the signing. They weren’t able to do more than what they could in good conscience afford for Bourn. To their credit, they did put an offer on the table. It was understood by all parties that Bourn would hold out for more however.
That wasn’t a big deal for Wren. While some of us had our eyes on the Winter Meetings, Wren had his eye on finishing a deal before he even got there. The free agent signing of B.J. Upton to a five year deal was a perfect fit for Upton and for the Braves. In Upton, the Braves actually go a grade higher than Bourn in my opinion, considering age and the prime years upside that Upton brings with him. It was a great move at the perfect time.
Then things quieted down quite a bit. I admit I was skeptical during this period, wondering why Wren didn’t go harder after Shane Victorino and a number of other free agent outfielders. It seemed obvious at the time that they would need to fill the left field void and many, including myself, were worried about the inaction they displayed. The idea of Martin Prado, who doesn’t really have outfield power and run producing numbers, filling a full-time outfield slot wasn’t giving me warm and fuzzies deep down.
As the start of 2013 MLB Spring Training neared, the questions remained. Would there be a move for a big time outfielder? Would Prado continue to play every position he could, drawing adoration of players and fans alike, but not really producing huge numbers? Would Juan Francisco be able to come through at third as a rookie trying to fill the legendary shoes of Chipper Jones? Little did we know at the time that Wren had his ace in the hole and was waiting for the perfect time to play it.
Early in the off-season there were buzzing about the Arizona Diamondbacks wanting to trade Justin Upton. Those of us who love a great story thought how cool it would be if the Braves were able to trade for Upton. It seemed like it would be awesome but with what was being asked in return by the Diamondbacks, just wasn’t likely to happen. Then the Dbacks trade of Upton to the Seattle Mariners fell through after it was nixed by Upton, and everything changed.
Suddenly, no one was willing to give the Diamondbacks what the Mariners were offering and they had to seriously consider either lowering their asking price slightly or keeping Upton. Waiting in the background, presumably in a dark chair petting a black cat or something, was Frank Wren just waiting for the trade everyone wanted to happen to come to him. Within a few weeks, they were able to complete the deal. The Braves had to say goodbye to the beloved Prado but for what they received in return, it was well worth it.
Going into the season the Braves now potentially have one of the most promising and electrifying outfields in the game. They have a young veteran to assist and possibly platoon with Francisco at third base. They have a rotation with a great mixture of veteran leaders, young veterans and young talented future stars that could make a run at being the best in baseball within two or three years. An already solid bullpen was bolstered and one young arm was traded away to make room for more promising arms to come along.
Frank Wren took the Braves from what could have been a team that would struggle for a wildcard spot and, through a couple of crucial brilliant moves, made them into a viable World Series contender. That is an A+ off-season in my book. Great work Wren and all of the Braves organization. This could be a great year because of you.