• trades

    Frank Wren: The best in the business?

    Braves General Manager, Frank Wren

    By Kent Covington

    As the Braves survey the marketplace for potential trades and roster upgrades, they do so from a position of strength. That strength comes not only from their bounty of bargaining chips—few teams are as well stocked with young talent—but also from the competence of their front office.

    Atlanta Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, is quite simply one of the best in the business.

    Just a few short years into his tenure as Deal-Maker-In-Chief, he already deserves credit for a series of remarkably canny trades. (I’m sure significant credit belongs also to his inner circle of scouts and assistants, but for our purposes, we’ll consider them part of the Frank Wren collective.)

    Among Wren’s trade credits:

    •   Jair Jurrjens , Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria
    •   Omar Infante, Will Ohman for Jose Ascanio
    •   Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan for 4 prospects
    •   Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton and 2 prospects
    •   Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez
    •   Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky for Yunel Escobar
    •   Dan Uggla for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn
    •   Michael Bourn for Jordan Schafer & 3 prospects

    Only one of the trades listed above still draws widespread criticism. That trade is, of course, the ill fated deal that brought Nate McLouth to Atlanta. But ill fated is not the same thing as ill conceived. The McLouth exchange didn’t work out for the Braves. No debating that. But just because a particular trade doesn’t pan out doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision at the time. Many were skeptical that Nate would ever duplicate his ‘08 all-star stats, but there was no reason to anticipate a complete bust. At the time of his trade to Atlanta, McLouth was, after all, fresh off a season in which he was one of the top few players in the game at his position (It’s true. Check the stats.) The Braves needed a center fielder, and Wren swooped in and grabbed McLouth from Pittsburgh before most general managers had any idea he was even available. He deserved kudos for swinging that deal, regardless of the outcome.

    A few have also complained about Wren’s decision to unload talented shortstop, Yunel Escobar, to the Toronto Blue Jays in ‘10, but it’s simply too early to judge that move. The Braves acquired their likely ’12 opening day SS, Tyler Pastornicky, in that deal.

    OF, Michael Bourn--traded to ATL in July 2011

    The success of all other trades listed above speaks for itself.

    Even a couple of Wren’s seemingly less fruitful trades were more beneficial than many realize. Take the Vizcaino/Dunn/Cabrera—for—Vazquez deal for instance. Remember that Mike Dunn was one half (along with Omar Infante) of the package later sent to South Beach for Dan Uggla, while Vizcaino is expected to pitch in a Braves uniform for many years to come.

    And just as impressive as the deals he has brokered… are the trades he did NOT make. Wren has fielded countless calls from fellow GM’s over the past few years asking about Atlanta’s young arms and other top tier prospects. Those conversations were generally very short.

    Even after the promotion of Rookie of the Year candidates, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Johnny Venters, Brandon Beachy and Craig Kimbrel (who won the ROY award this year) over the past couple of years, Atlanta’s farm system remains one of the deepest in baseball.

    This is a credit to Wren’s restraint. He doesn’t panic when division rivals ink superstars to gaudy free agent contracts.  He doesn’t act out of desperation and sell the farm to respond with a short-sighted blockbuster trade. He sticks to the plan. He plays the long game. He’ll make every effort to strengthen the roster immediately, but he won’t mortgage the future to do it. Wren has jealously guarded the team’s young arms and core prospects, preferring instead to deal from the Major League roster.

    The trade that brought 2B, Dan Uggla, to Atlanta is a perfect example. O.Infante and M.Dunn were sent to Florida; no minor league talent included. And while the Braves did exchange minor league talent for OF, Michael Bourn, all players traded to Houston were considered second-tier prospects from Atlanta’s perspective.

    Braves refused to part with RHP phenom, Julio Teheran and other top young arms

    Many critics will be quick to point out the free agent contracts given to Atlanta flameouts, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. It’s true that those signings were, by any measure, miserable flops. However, to the best of my knowledge, no general manager has Ms. Cleo on speed dial. That is to say, no one knows what fortunes lie ahead. GM’s must make the best possible decision with the facts in hand.

    Heading into the 2009 season, Atlanta had cash to spend, but limited free agent options. Kenshin Kawakami was a measured gamble at a point in time when I would argue it made sense to roll the dice. And while 23 million over 3 years is an unthinkable fortune to us common folk, it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster contract by modern MLB standards. The risk was tolerable. And it’s worth noting that Kawakami actually earned his keep through the first year of that deal.

    As for Derek Lowe… Who could have predicted that one of the most consistent starters in baseball would suddenly become the poster boy for maddening inconsistency? Again, the Braves had money to spend, and they desperately needed a reliable veteran anchor atop the rotation. Lowe seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Sensible move at the time. Sometimes even the best of bets fall flat.

    Speaking of free agents, while financial constraints have limited the Braves to addressing needs solely by way of trade over the past three seasons, that should change next winter. With several of Atlanta’s largest contracts expiring at the conclusion of the ‘12 season, Wren and Co. may be legitimate players in the free agent market come this time next year.

    But of course, the Braves don’t want to wait for next year. They want to compete THIS season. And rest assured, the front office is busy. I understand the impatience of many Atlanta fans. In fact, I share it. But don’t mistake inactivity for inaction. Wren is the assertive type, and he will turn over every rock to try and find a deal(s) that makes sense.

    The Braves have made it clear that any significant upgrade this winter will likely come by way of trade. And really… how many big trades have there been so far? Most of the headlines have been grabbed by free agent signings. The trade market should heat up soon, and Wren will be right in the middle of it, bartering hard.

    It’s comforting to know that the Braves’ front office won’t swallow a bad deal, just so they can say they made one. But I suspect that, one way or the other, this team and this general manager will find a way to upgrade before the winter comes to an end.

    Have faith. These folks know what they’re doing.

    Even with a modest mid-market payroll, Frank Wren has the Braves back in the playoff picture while simultaneously positioning this team to contend for many years to come. I don’t think Braves fans could ask for much more than that.

    PS:  The Fried Baseball podcast will return in early 2012 with an entirely new feel. More guests, more interviews and more insanity. See ya then!

     

     

    Braves have added one of baseball’s fastest men. They also got Michael Bourn.

    by Kent Covington

    On April 21, 1993 at (then) Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Atlanta Braves Manager, Bobby Cox handed a lineup card to home plate umpire, Harry Wendelstedt, with the names Deion Sanders and Otis Nixon scribbled atop the batting order. Sanders would go 1-for-5 that day with 2 stolen bases. Nixon went 0-for-4 with an RBI.

    That would be the last time fans would ever see two men that fast in a Braves lineup at the same time.

    Eighteen years later, however, you might just see it again.

    In a move that has been the talk of the town around Atlanta, the Braves completed a deal on Sunday to acquire the Major League stolen base leader, Michael Bourn, from the Houston Astros.  But two days earlier, with far less fanfare, they added another premier base stealer to the roster when they promoted outfielder, Jose Constanza, from AAA Gwinnett.

    Constanza, who was signed by the Braves as a minor league free agent prior to the 2011 season, has waited a long time for this opportunity. He signed with the Cleveland Indians organization in 2003 as a non-drafted free agent, and throughout his 6 years in the Indians system, he anxiously awaited a big league call up that never came.  Now, at age 27 (approximately 50 years-old in baseball years), he’s finally getting his shot. And the numbers seem to suggest it’s well earned.  

    Prior to his August 29th promotion, Constanza was hitting .312 for the “G-Braves”, with a .361 on-base percentage and 23 stolen bases. Despite batting left-handed, he also handled southpaws well, batting .300 against them.

    Last year, Contstanza finished with the International League’s (AAA) second-best batting average (.319). He also boasted a .373 on-base percentage and 34 steals in 40 attempts in 114 games. In 2009, he led the AA Eastern League in stolen bases (49), while batting .282 over 130 games. 

    Beyond the naked numbers, his ability on the base paths has drawn the praise of his peers. Based on a 2010 survey of minor league players and coaches, Baseball America called Constanza “Class AAA’s fastest base runner”.

    Despite his minor league success, Constanza has been criticized by some observers for his low walk rate.  He accepted only 35 bases on balls last year in 448 plate appearances. And just 25 free passes in 363 PA’s at AAA this season. Without a doubt, “free swinger” isn’t a label you want as a leadoff-type hitter auditioning for a big league job.

    That said, the negatives of his low walk rate are somewhat mitigated by one simple fact… He’s an excellent contact hitter.  He is skilled at keeping the ball on a low plane to make use of his speed, and he’s logged a solid 8/1 at-bat to strikeout ratio this year at Gwinnett. 

    Constanza has indeed proven himself against minor league opposition. The question now is obvious. Will his success translate to the big leagues?  There’s only one way to find out.

    But how long will he be here? Will he truly get the chance to prove he belongs (or doesn’t belong)? 

    Constanza was called up as an emergency replacement for injured outfielder, Nate McLouth. When word of the Bourn trade hit the newswires, many assumed Constanza’s stay in the big leagues would last only as long as it took for Bourn to catch a flight to Atlanta. Not so. Braves Manager, Fredi Gonzalez indicated on Sunday that he plans to take Constanza north with the team, as they travel to D.C. to open a 3-game set against the Nationals.

    Furthermore, Gonzalez hinted that we might even see both Bourn and Constanza in the lineup in Washington. Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders, anyone?

    When McLouth is ready to play, the Braves may still opt to return Constanza to Gwinnet for the time being. If that is the case, however, he seems a safe bet to be among the call-ups when the roster expands in September.

    However the remainder the season plays out for the rookie outfielder, at least for now, one thing is certain. A Braves roster that has been among the slowest in baseball in recent years suddenly features two of the game’s fleetest athletes.  And an offensive scheme limited solely to station-to-station baseball, which for us fans has sometimes only narrowly eclipsed the recreational value of watching paint dry… may suddenly give way to a more explosive offensive attack.  

    I, for one, plan to enjoy the show.

     

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    Braves get OF Michael Bourn from Houston in 5-player deal

    The Atlanta Braves have acquired speedy outfielder, Michael Bourn, from the Houston Astros in return for Jordan Schafer and 3 minor league prospects.

    With this trade, the Braves appear to have accomplished their goal of substantially upgrading their outfield without surrendering any of their most coveted pitching prospects. The Braves will send outfielder, Jordan Schafer, to Houston, along with minor league pitchers Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.

    Atlanta did surrender a quality package of young talent to get Bourn, but held onto their "big 4" pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Arodys Vizcaino).

    Bourn is a 2-time gold glove winner, currently hitting .303, with a .363 on-base percentage and a MLB-best 39 stolen bases.

     

     

    Pence is off the market… who’s left on the Braves’ shopping list?

    by Kent Covington

    With the announcement of a certain outfielder switching uniforms Friday, the field of potential Braves trade targets officially narrowed.

    That’s right… Ryan Langerhans was dealt to the Diamondbacks on Friday.

    Then, after Atlanta lost out on the Langerhans sweepstakes, word came down that all-star outfielder, Hunter Pence, who the Braves reportedly pursued, would be moving from one popcorn machine (Minute Maid Park) to another (Citizens Bank Park).

    Multiple sources reported that the Astros wanted 2 of the Braves’ “big 4” pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor), along with another quality arm.  And sticker shock compelled Braves’ GM, Fran Wren, to pull out of the Hunter Pence auction, clearing the way for the Phillies to close the deal.

    Pence is a fine ball player, and he will make the Phillies a better team. That said, he is not a premier hitter or anything close to a franchise player. Wren could not afford to substantially overpay for his services, and he was correct in refusing to do so. But where does that leave the Braves now?

    From a field of about 10 rumored Braves trade targets, we can now scratch 3 off the list. Pence to Philly, Carlos Beltran to San Fran and Jonny Gomes to Washington.

    Among the outfielders who we know to have drawn the Braves’ interest… that leaves:

    •    Michael Bourn (Houston — pictured above)
    •    Carlos Quentin (Chicago-AL)
    •    B.J. Upton (Tampa)
    •    Marlon Byrd (Chicago-NL)
    •    Josh Willingham (Oakland)
    •    Coco Crisp (Oakland)
    •    Ryan Ludwick (San Diego)

    Atlanta is rumored to have especially robust interest in Bourn, Quentin and Upton.  It’s unclear whether the White Sox are earnestly entertaining offers for Quentin, so he may or may not be a viable option.  As for Bourn… we know Houston wanted 2 of the Braves’ top young arms for Hunter Pence. If they’re willing to settle for a package built around ONE of those arms in exchange for Bourn, a deal could be completed soon.  I believe the same could be said of Upton. Atlanta may be willing to part with one of their blue chip pitching prospects (most likely either Minor or Delgado) to get him, but it’s quite unlikely that they would surrender more than one.

    Any offer the Braves may make for Willingham, Byrd, Crisp or Ludwick is NOT likely to include any of their “big-4” pitching prospects. However, Atlanta does have a number of other quality arms, which could be used to reel in a less ambitious trade target.

    For the record, BravesWire.com officially endorses Michael Bourn as the next Atlanta Braves Center Fielder (though, we can’t get the campaign buttons and yard signs completed before the deadline). Bourn is one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters. Despite batting left-handed, he hits southpaws well (.284 average vs LHP). His on-base percentage stands at a solid .364, and he leads all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases (39).

    While Atlanta’s current starting Center Fielder, Jordan Schafer (on 15-day DL), has introduced dynamic speed to the top of the order, he has yet to prove an ability to hit consistently at the big league level.  And the Braves’ opening day Center Fielder, Nate McLouth, has continued to underwhelm this year.  With that in mind, Bourn would represent a tremendous upgrade to the top of this lineup, and could certainly have a big impact on the postseason aspirations of the Wild Card leading Braves. 

    If the price is right, Bourn would be our man, followed – in order – by Upton, Quentin, Willingham, Byrd and Crisp.  We cannot get behind any deal for a struggling Ludwick, unless it’s paired with a trade for one of the other aforementioned players.

    So there you have it. Will the Braves make a substantial move over the weekend?  If so, will it be one of the players discussed herein… or someone else entirely?  Only time will tell, but I will be surprised if they don’t swing a deal for a bat that can make a difference. The Braves don’t have Philly’s checkbook, so they MUST develop talent from within. This requires Wren to guard their young talent rather jealously. However, the Braves do feel they have a chance to compete for a World Series championship right away. So as the clock counts down to Sunday’s non-waiver trade deadline, I’m convinced a deal will go down. It’s just a matter of who and when.

    Stay tuned, Braves fans.  If and when a move is made, we’ll be on top of it.

    Braves trade targets… One of these things is not like the others

    by Kent Covington

    One of these things is not like the others.  One of these things just doesn’t belong.  

    Atlanta is rumored to have interest in Carlos Quentin, Hunter Pence, B.J. Upton, Josh Willingham, perhaps Michael Bourn (despite the fact that he’s a left-handed hitter) or Ryan Ludwick. OK, boys and girls…

    Can you tell which thing is not like the others by the time I finish this song?

    Quinten represents another right-handed middle-of-order bat. Pence offers a productive RH bat & good wheels, along with the ability to play any OF position. Willingham has been a consistent run producer for years, and he boasts a nifty .918 OPS vs LHP over the past 3 seasons. Upton can provide speed, power and defense anywhere in the outfield. Bourn is one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters.

    Ryan Ludwick brings a solid glove and… ummm… well, he also provides, uh… never mind.

    All of the aforementioned players could substantially boost Atlanta’s World Series aspirations.  All of those players, that is… except for Ryan Ludwick.

    Ludwick was one of the game’s top offensive forces in 2008, hitting .299 with 37 HR’s and 113 RBI. Since ’08, however, he’s displayed only momentary flashes of the superstar slugger he once appeared to be.  His current .238 average and .675 OPS are the worst marks of his career (min. 100 at-bats) by a wide margin.

    What’s more, over the past 3 years, Ludwick, despite batting right-handed, has struggled against left-handed pitching, hitting .238 with an OPS around .700 vs southpaws.

    Granted, he would fit right in with an Atlanta offense that is dead last in the NL in hitting vs left-handed pitching (.215).  But I think the point of a deadline trade is to UPGRADE your roster for a postseason run. And simply put, Ludwick does nothing to improve this Atlanta Braves ballclub.

    Quentin, Pence, Upton, Bourn and Willingham are worthy trade targets.

    Ludwick just doesn’t belong.

     

     

     

    Southern Fried Baseball Radio — July 28, 2011

    As Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline nears, Kent Covington opines about who the Braves might target and the importance of not overpaying.

    NOTE: Chicago’s Carlos Quentin was not mentioned in the podcast, but he is another strong trade possibility for the Braves.

    As Wren works the phones, Braves face crucial stretch without McCann

    by Bud Ellis

    On a night where the surreal danced with the ridiculous into the wee hours, one moment may resonate loudest when the story of the 2011 Atlanta Braves is penned.
     
    And no, I’m not referring to Jerry Meals and his now infamous safe call at home plate in the bottom of the 19th inning Wednesday morning at Turner Field.

    Nine innings earlier, when it still was Tuesday night and the Braves were playing the first of what would eventually evolve into 10 extra frames, Atlanta lost its best player and most consistent hitter to an oblique injury that threatens to do more than shelve All-Star catcher Brian McCann for two weeks or more.

    More than Chipper Jones limping with a leg injury, more than Jordan Schafer getting drilled with a pitch on the same hand containing an injured finger, more than the futility of a string of zeros adorning the linescore in a game that nearly lasted seven hours, the sight of McCann gingerly walking off the field overshadowed everything exhilarating and agonizing from Atlanta’s marathon win.

    Memorable as Wednesday’s morning victory was, the bigger picture was substantially gloomier as the sun rose five hours after Meals signaled Julio Lugo safe on Scott Proctor’s fielder’s choice. At .306 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs, McCann isn’t just a MVP candidate. He’s been the rock-steady constant in an Atlanta offense that has been anything but consistent through the season’s first four months.

    A major injury to McCann is every Braves fan’s worst-case scenario. This is his team now, and his team needs a jolt of offense now more than ever. While the original prognosis is 15-to-20 days, in reality an oblique injury can nag and hinder for weeks, if not months, especially when the person suffering the injury finds himself playing the most demanding position on the diamond.

    McCann’s injury came just five days before baseball’s trade deadline, the annual benchmark where teams posture and fans speculate and the Internet and social media sites buzz like at no other time during the year. Already linked to some of the bigger hitters on the market as the deadline creeps near, Atlanta now almost looks destined to shoot for an impact hitter with McCann out until, at the earliest, the second week of August.

    For all its offensive struggles, the fact remains Atlanta left Turner Field in the middle of the night with the fourth-best record in baseball, six games behind Philadelphia in the NL East and 3 ½ games ahead of Arizona in the wild-card standings. A dynamic pitching staff has fueled the Braves’ surge toward postseason contention, but at some point, the offense has to start carrying the load.

    That time is now, with the dog days bearing down and the final third of the season commencing. Regardless of what move general manager Frank Wren makes before Sunday, the moment McCann reached for his side in the top of the 10th inning Tuesday night marks the beginning of the most crucial stretch of the season.

    –30–

    Follow Bud Ellis on Twitter: @bud006