Frank Wren Lied to Us

Tommy-Lee-Jones

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?

“The market went that way”. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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:

 

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.

 

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Frank Wren, Winter Meetings

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    We’ve said it before. Last year we had a good team, but the real key to our success last year, in my mind, was the problems that other teams were having – teams that normally are much more competitive, ie Phillies, Nats. If they are making moves, and improving, and as you clearly indicate – we are not – then we cannot expect 2014 to have the same success.

    I’ve heard some say we essentially have the same team, and we won 96 games last year, so we should be fine. NO! We have the same team yes, more or less, but the Nats and Phillies will be MUCH improved, while we will not. The Braves won’t just magically produce without doing something, ANYTHING to try to improve. I don’t mean to sound like a total doomsooth, but I can almost guarantee you disappointment in 2014 if something definitive is not done to improve the current roster.

    • Benjamin Chase

      While I don’t expect the same results, i don’t want to overthrow 2015 and beyond for a run in 2014. There are pieces here to be a top-tier team for a very long time on a budget, as long as the Braves get guys extended early and are willing to make the unpopular move in trading guys who won’t sign team-friendly extensions for more high-end pieces (see: Wil Myers for James Shields). This team could win 89 or 98 as comprised simply because the amount of youth on the team allows for tremendous volatility in results, but if we as fans are patient with the lumps the youngsters may take, this team could be something special for a long time. Those of us who were around for the 80s understand the different direction that the organization took when Bobby Cox returned in 1985. Young players took their lumps at the major league level and veteran players, even fan favorite Dale Murphy, were moved for younger, needed pieces. That culminated in 1991 and played on for the next 15 years. I’ve felt in the last few years a similar movement, specifically once Schuerholz moved out of the GM chair. Perhaps 2013 was the 1991 for this group and they’ll defy odds and simply get better year by year, or this could be a one-year anomaly, but jumping the shark for one player for one season makes little sense.

      • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

        I feel you’re giving FW more credit than he deserves. I’m not even talking about “jumping the shark” for one player… I’m talking about the Braves not doing anything at all to improve, when there’s clearly room for it. It makes little sense, also, to sit back on your laurels and assume the team you have will be your future, or that that team will even be successful. The goal is a series, and current culture, IMO, is simply not adequate to meet the changing MLB landscape.

        On a second read of your post Ben, I see your point, especially the Braves’ need to be willing to make some trades that are unpopular, to shore up what is in fact a good team, but a team that could be better. That much I agree with… I’m just not sure FW has that wisdom.

        • Benjamin Chase

          I just know when you mention names like Kimbrel/Heyward in trade talk, you get railed by the fans, yet those kind of moves could bring back the piece or pieces that would alter the direction of the club for a decade.

          • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

            One more year… next off-season could be interesting for both those guys if they opt out of extension offers. Unfortunate, but also realistic.

      • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

        Frank is making statements now like “Well, we won 96 games last year and never were clicking on all cylinders.” From this, it sounds like he simply expects everybody/everything to be better. There’s a problem with that: we’re down 2 cylinders before starting the car – Huddy and Heap.

        To drive this metaphor further into the ground, it that were my car (and it almost was on Sunday!), I’d take it to the shop for repairs. Sounds like Wren merely wants to add paint and fuzzy dice.

        • Sealift67

          Loved Huddy, but he is 38 and post surgical, post
          fracture. Is he worth 2y/23mil? Is he less of a risk than
          a F Garcia. This team emerged largely on letting

          Glavine, Smoltz, Avery develop on the mound. Too many
          Lowe’s, Kamazaki’s, or for that matter Len Barker’s
          in the past.

          • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

            Not necessarily saying a Hudson resign was the answer… but so far there haven’t been any answers at all.

          • fireboss

            “Is he (Huddy) less of a risk than a F Garcia” Yes he is. Garcia is all smoke and mirrors. His first half ERA has been a run better since 2010. He’s the kind of guy who can ruin timing and confuse a hitter the first time around the league but they figure him out and beat him up.

          • Sealift67

            I mention Garcia metaphorically re an older pitcher
            who can give the team some starts, use his savvy
            and not cost much relatively. Wren is more likely I
            believe to audition a rehab job than sign an expensive
            aging veteran against other teams’ bids.

        • Benjamin Chase

          We were down 2 cylinders virtually all 2013 – our two most expensive ones no less. I’m not saying there SHOULD be nothing done, but I don’t have a problem with seeing the trade market develop and saying that it is not the right market to make a move THIS offseason. Hold the resources and perhaps 2014-2015 offseason brings the chance to make a huge move, akin to signing Maddux in 1993.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Interviews with Frank Wren and Grant McAuley (remove the spaces to use this link after you copy it):

    https://soundcloud . com/gmcauley/1-on-1-with-braves-gm-frank
    Nothing new… I’d just make the same rants.

  • cothjrr24

    I think one of the things that have really caught him off guard is the amount of money the arb-eligibles are projected to make, shrinking his budget to >10 million for moves in ’14 and absolutely no money for ’15.
    The Braves could open up payroll by selling high on some players, taking the Rays model, but there’s a problem with that: the Rays don’t have any fans. Trading popular players, such as Kimbrel and Medlen, at peak value, would devastate the average fan. When it’s said and done, Wren has to keep the fanbase in heart when making decisions. And that, combined with pricing of free agents/high-demand for SP on the trade market, has made this offseason especially difficult.
    My opinion? The strength of the organization has shifted from minor-league pitching depth to major-league pitching depth. If the Braves want to continue to be successful and competitive for years to come, the philosophy, just like the strength has, will have to shift. Kimbrel might be the most popular Brave from a fan perspective, but he is, no doubt, our most valuable trading chip. If the Braves want to fill needs, they’ll have to get used to pissing off part of their fanbase.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      I completely agree.

    • Sealift67

      With starters often going 6-7 innings, bullpens have become
      the special teams units, essential. Allows the starter to pour it
      out, builds entire team’s confidence and alters opposition
      strategy. Just my opinion, Kimbrel outweighs in value a decent
      starting pitcher.

      • fireboss

        Decent= 3,4,5 yea 2- depends on the 2, True power arm top of the rotation guy = no

      • cothjrr24

        I respectfully disagree.

    • fireboss

      If MLB Trade Rumors can accurately project arb values – and they can – no GM should NEVER be blindsided by them. If he is he’s in the wrong job.

      • cothjrr24

        The number that has taken all by surprise, even the biggest arb-gurus, is the estimated arb-salary of Craig Kimbrel. Reason being: there’s no one comparable to Craig Kimbrel. The difference in 10 million and 15 million is quite a lot and many were projecting Kimbrel’s ’14 salary between 3 and 4 million, not 7 or 8 like it is now. That, and the fact that the Braves ended up offering a contract to Venters makes quite a bit of difference in money for an “ace”.
        I’m not suggesting that Wren was blindsided yesterday, but has had to change his tune since mid-October, of which the earliest article about an “ace” was published.

        • fireboss

          Kimbrel has done what no one else has and his closest comparable was Papelbon and $6.25M Since Kimbrel smashed every number Papelbon put up it’s reasonable to expect even without a model at least $7M. The GM gets paid and pays people so he won;t be blindsided by the number.

          This isn’t the first time Wren has pointed fans to the right then turned hard left. BJ Upton for example.

  • Carlos Collazo

    Ummm… you guys are going way overboard with the Frank Wren hate. Let’s calm it down a bit.

    In all of those quotes you mentioned, Wren didn’t lie about anything. Just because he wasn’t will to pay that much money for Tim Hudson (thank the lord for that by the way) doesn’t mean he didn’t want him back. Of course he did. Hudson got overpaid by another team.

    You underlined that Wren acknowledges that the team needs an ace, but you ignore the possibility of that ace coming from one of the pitchers currently on the Braves roster. Mike Minor and Julio Teheran both have the potential to become aces. Heck even Beachy could (it’s a long shot but he’s pitched like it in limited time).

    I don’t know how you think trading for Samardzija is just a depth move. The guy’s a pretty solid pitcher with the potential to get even better.

    Lastly, the Braves had a better season than every team you mentioned above–with the exception of the Cardinals (who run a fairly similar front office IMO)–with a substantially lower payroll.

    1. Dodgers — $216 million
    2. Giants — $142 million
    3. St. Louis — $116 million
    4. Nationals — $112 million
    5. Braves — $89 million

    Plenty of people thought the Nationals were going to be amazing because of their 2012 off season and look how well that worked out for them.

    Have a little faith people. Wren’s done a great job.

  • Braves24

    What? Wren said that it would be nice to have an ace, but realize how much it will cost. Seems to me you (along with a lot of people who think we need “veteran presence” or an ace) are ignoring that our top three starters are , 28, 25, and 22 and they don’t have the ability to take the next step forward. This applies to the whole team considering they are incredibly young. This is way overblown imo. Braves don’t need an ace to win. Would they like one? Yes. Need? No. Big difference.

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    To answer all of the earlier objections in one comment…
    1. We have 3 guys on the roster who are definitely 200-inning capable. Beachy and Wood probably are not; they have never approached that number. We need an ‘innings-eater’ for that.
    2. No one on the staff is older than 28. Medlen has the most experience… only 512 ML innings (Minor 507). Huddy had 2800+. There is a lot to be said for veteran leadership.
    3. Did Wren lie? *Technically* no… but he communicated the direction that he was going for in October, and every one of those goals with respect to pitching have now changed. He has not been able to deliver on those prior goals. Is it a hard task to do? Yeah… of course. But is that his job? Yes, as well.
    4. Do we need an ace? I’ve argued this until I’m blue in the keyboard, but the answer is ‘yes’ – because you need a ‘go to’ guy to match up with the other aces and #1s around among your competitors. ALL OF OUR RIVAL TEAMS have gotten noticeably better this off-season. The Braves have gotten noticeably worse. That’s a repeat of the above story, but it’s a point that seems to be getting missed, for some reason.
    5. At the very least, you’ve got to supply the ‘missing innings’ that Hudson carried. See #1 about that.

    _Right_now_ this is a non-playoff team, as currently constituted, UNLESS (a) pitching holds up over the season; (b) the offense recovers (BJUpton, Uggla). I don’t like those odds right now given what happened in 2013.

    Overall, I actually support Wren’s work… but doing nothing while other run over the Braves this month is exasperating. And the overall point of this piece is that his goals for the off-season (from October) are NOT matching up with the results. That’s the lie.