There is a scene from The Fugitive (1993) in which Deputy FBI Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) really starts believing in the innocence of Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford). From his desk in the FBI office, he turns to one of his Deputies and says “Henry, Dr. Nichols lied to me. Go find him.”
Frank Wren lied to us.
October 18, 2013. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman quoting Frank:
“The disappointment with the way the season ended really started with Tim Hudson‘s injury,” Wren said. “Tim Hudson was starting to throw the ball really well. Our team was starting to play really well. He was just kind of an irreplaceable piece at that point, because there was not starting pitching available at the [non-waiver Trade Deadline] that could make a significant difference.”
“From that point on, we were searching for starting pitching. We went on and played well. But that didn’t mask our feeling about starting pitching. We still felt, as the season wore on and September rolled around, we were going to need that veteran experience and that ability.”
“There are a lot of ups and downs with young pitchers trying to get over the hump at the big league level,” Wren said. “Having the depth and wisdom of a veteran pitcher like Huddy helps that process.”
October 15, 2013. David O’Brien quoting Frank in the AJC:
Q: You could have used an ace down the stretch, is that something you would look to add from outside?
A: Unfortunately, aces or top-of-the-rotation starting pitching is the most rare commodity, whether it’s the trade market or free-agent market. And you look at this year’s free-agent market, there really isn’t one of those guys. Whether there’s going to be one in the trade market, I don’t know. But we recognize that that’s an area of need.
November 18, 2013. Regarding that one frontline pitcher we had… he signed elsewhere. Starting to see cracks in that previous story. Mark Bowman again:
Braves general manager Frank Wren said that he would have liked to have Hudson return to provide a veteran presence to the club’s rotation, which currently does not have a member that has made more than 85 career starts. …
The Braves made Hudson an initial one-year offer that, with incentives, was believed to be worth less than $7 million. Wren made a stronger push over the past couple of weeks. But he was never going to make an offer that came close to rivaling the one made by San Francisco. [Hudson signed at 2 years, $23 million - we weren't that close]
Now fast-forward less than two months, to December 9, 2013. Exactly ZERO games have been played since then. David O’Brien again:
“But in the case of our club, I don’t see necessarily a frontline move. I see more support moves, where you’re adding a bat that can give you power off the bench, or adding to our bullpen, or adding to the depth of our rotation. I see more of those kind of moves than a big frontline move.”
What Happened Here?
I’m not going to bother to relink all of the opinions we’ve given on this site over the past two months about this subject. Let’s just say that a whole lot of virtual ink has been spilled. If you’ve been following my own writing at all, you know I’m in a camp that believes that the Braves must get better at the front of the rotation to be able to compete better at playoff time with the likes of St. Louis, the Dodgers, the Giants, and even the Nationals. ALL of these clubs have demonstrably gotten better so far this off season. Easily. Definitely.
The Braves? Demonstrably worse, as two of their few true veterans – Tim Hudson and Brian McCann – have departed for greener pastures. You could even include Reed Johnson in that list, as his option for 2014 was declined. At this point, the projected active roster has just two players above 30 years old: Dan Uggla and Gerald Laird.
Is there a Ploy Here? A Smokescreen?
That’s always possible with Frank… but after his statements in mid-October, this sudden turn-around is telling. And it tells me that Wren:
- (a) Has been caught completely off guard at the state of the market for free agent starting pitching. The price of admission is way too high.
- (b) Is preparing fans for essentially nothing: no market developing to move Dan Uggla and his incredible shrinking batting average; no active conversations with Andrew Friedman (Tampa Bay GM) or any one else about a trade for one of the available starting pitchers.
Heck, even our lowest expectations are suddenly being dashed:
The odds of Samardzija ending up in ATL seem pretty slim.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) December 9, 2013
Yes, even a “lesser” pitcher – who you might think would be necessary to add the “depth” quoted above – isn’t looking likely, either. But then I don’t know what to believe anymore.
Could Things Change?
Sure. It’s possible. As I’m typing this comes word that the Phillies will listen to offers on Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels… but don’t expect them to eat any money to anyone wanting to take those contracts off their hands, either. So that pretty much leaves out Atlanta.
There’s still other speculation about the way that the David Price talks are going (from here and other sources in combination) that (a) Seattle won’t part with their top guys to get Price; and (b) the Diamondbacks won’t part with their top guys to get Price; and (c) therefore the Dodgers might have a shot at Price, even with their lesser offerings. Gag me… I can’t even imagine an LA rotation of Kershaw, Grienke, Price, Beckett, and Ryu… along with Dan Haren who is likely to be much better back on the West Coast. It’s bad enough that Washington ditched Haren and stole Doug Fister from Detroit (to go with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman). In the meantime adding Tim Hudson to the Giants’ lineup gives them a formidable front five as well.
But given these developments, the Braves could definitely play in those waters for Price as well – if they want to. There are other available trade options as well… not as good, but some of which would at least provide the kind of innings-eating depth with a veteran influence that has been the focus (maybe) since losing Huddy back in July. But as of this moment, it’s looking like the Braves’ rotation consists of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood… with David Hale and possibly J.R. Graham waiting in the wings since two of those guys haven’t even approached a 200 inning season before. Solid? Yes. Matches up well with the Giants/Dodgers/Cardinals/Nationals? No.
But this dramatic change in Wren’s statements has to be called out for what it is. Either he has lied to us or he totally whiffed on how his expectations for the markets this off-season. Either way, that portends a disappointing campaign for 2014… if he doesn’t rally… and soon.
I don’t want to have to send Sam Gerard after him.