With Frank Wren’s tenure now at an end, I felt it time for a comprehensive move-by-move look at his time as General Manager in Atlanta. This will be lengthy, because comprehensive means comprehensive. Let’s start at the beginning. Wren was promoted to GM on October 11, 2007, replacing John Schuerholz, who was moving up the chain to a higher office. The Braves were fresh off a disappointing but not terrible 84-78 season and 3rd place NL East finish. Over Schuerholz’s final 3 seasons, the Braves went 253-233 (.521). Wren inherited what was at the time ranked by Baseball America as the 8th best minor league organization in baseball.
This post covers Wren’s first full season as GM for the Braves.
Note: All WAR totals are presented as (Total WAR / 2008 WAR)
- 10/25/07: Selected P Chris Resop off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. Resop was a sinkerballer reliever with inconsistent bat-missing ability. Atlanta, unlike any other organization that employed him, fancied Resop a future starter. Of his 20 career professional starts, 19 came during his 3 year stay in the Atlanta organization. He would pitch 18 1/3 innings with Atlanta, all in 2008, and was pretty much a non-factor in terms of what he provided and what he cost. (-0.2 WAR/-0.2 WAR)
- 10/29/07: Traded SS Edgar Renteria to Detroit for Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens. This trade is often used in defenses of Frank Wren’s trade-making, but unfortunately it wasn’t really Wren’s deal. Sure, he allowed it to happen, and it was his name on the dotted line, so credit him with having the good sense not to nix it or anything. However, John Schuerholz and Dave Dombrowski conceptualized this trade at the 2007 trade deadline, but agreed to wait until the offseason, when it made more sense for both teams, to pull the trigger. Wren made the trade, but I’m hesitant to credit him for it when his former boss had worked the whole thing out.
(+8.0 WAR / +2.2 WAR)
- 11/16/07: Traded P Oscar Villarreal to Houston for OF Josh Anderson. In 2006, Villarreal tricked some Braves fans with his 3.61 ERA, which outperformed his FIP by well over a run, and an absurd 9-1 record that is part of a long lesson as to why pitcher wins and losses are silly and trivial at best. In ’07, he actually improved, increasing K’s and cutting HRs, but luck normalized and his ERA went to 4.24. However, Villarreal wasn’t exactly a key piece of any bullpen, and he’d implode in Houston, losing strikeouts and issuing more walks and HRs than before. Villarreal was worth -1.1 WAR in 2008, his final MLB season, but he hasn’t given up the dream; he had a 2.54 ERA and 0.16 HR/9 allowed this year in the Mexican League.Josh Anderson was fresh off a 21-game audition in Houston where he batted a pretty ridiculous .358/.413/.403. Houston realized this as ridiculous and promptly dealt him, figuring his value would never be higher. Anderson was a bit of a one-tool player, and that tool was speed. It translated into good batting averages, because Anderson hit the ball on the ground a lot (we’re talking 60% of the time). The Braves were coming off a year where the team leaders in steals were Willie Harris’ 17 and Edgar Renteria’s 11. Harris was about to be a Free Agent, and Renteria was traded several weeks earlier. Anderson was envisioned as a guy, along with Pete Orr, who might give the ’08 Braves some semblance of speed. And if the slash line from Houston stuck, Anderson would be a viable replacement for Andruw Jones. It didn’t and he wasn’t, but he still wasn’t bad, slashing .294/.338/.426 in his one year in Atlanta, playing good defense and doing what he was asked to do. (+1.8 WAR / +1.8 WAR)
- 11/18/07: Signed free agent P Tom Glavine to a 1 year, $8,000,000 deal. By ’07, Glavine was pretty much a shell of his former self. FIP had long given up on him, and finally the ERA had caught up, at 4.45 in his final season in Queens. The K/BB ratio was a pitiful 1.39. However, he gave the ’07 Mets 34 starts, and the Braves had only 3 pitchers top 30 the previous season. Bringing Glavine wasn’t the worst idea in the world. Bringing Glavine back for $8M, at about 8% of your 2008 budget? That was a pretty bad idea. The future HOF-er was below replacement level in ’08, and he walked as many as he struck out en route to a 5.54 ERA. (-0.5 WAR / -0.5 WAR)
- 11/21/07: Signed P Jairo Asencio as a minor league free agent. Asencio, released by the Pirates organization after a pretty nice 2007 season undone by bad luck (3.11 FIP, 4.57 ERA), would spend 2008 as a pretty nice AA reliever (2.76 ERA, 10.61 K/9). In ’09 he continued his fine work at AAA, even getting 3 big league games under his belt. He’d miss the 2010 season with an injury and then pitch in 6 games with Atlanta in 2011. The talent was always there, but the necessary health never really came back. (0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 11/29/07: Released pinch-runner Pete Orr. With Anderson in town, the Braves apparently had enough room for only one one-dimensional speedy guy, and Anderson could at least hit a little. Orr would sign with the Nationals where he would keep hitting poorly at the MLB level. He is still in professional baseball, having hit .301/.329/.423 this year for Milwaukee’s AAA affiliate. (+0.3 WAR / +0.3 WAR)
- 12/04/07: Traded P Jose Ascanio to the Chicago Cubs for IF Omar Infante and RP Will Ohman. Perhaps the most underrated and forgotten trade of Frank Wren’s tenure was this one, just his second (omitting the Jurrjens deal). Ascanio was an electric minor league relief arm who had pitched (poorly) in 16 innings with the big league club. He’d remain an electric relief arm who would pitch poorly with other big league clubs, picking up exactly 0.0 WAR over the course of his career before he’d turn to the Mexican League, where he dominated hitters this year. Infante at the time had only one year of team control remaining, but he was a valuable bench player in 2008 (0.6 WAR). Ohman filled the Ron Mahay LOOGY vacancy, and he filled it admirably. Ohman threw 58.1 innings in 83 games (lol), striking out over 8 per nine, keeping the ball in the park, and registering a 3.68 ERA and 0.9 WAR. To sum up, the Braves picked up 1.5 WAR for the 2008 season without losing anything of consequence. (+1.5 WAR / +1.6 WAR)
- 12/07/07: Released SP Lance Cormier. Cormier was never good in Atlanta. In 2006, he was healthy enough, which seemed enough for Bobby Cox to use him for 73 2/3 innings. By ’07, Cox had given up as Cormier had given up – home runs by the truckload (16 in just 45 innings). Cormier would rebound a little bit in 2008 with the Orioles, mostly because his HR rate returned to normal, so while the Braves technically lost a little value here, a change of scenery was probably needed for Lance. (-0.5 WAR / -0.5 WAR)
- 12/14/07: Signed OF Reggie Taylor as a minor league free agent. I’ll admit this wasn’t relevant to the big league club. Taylor cost little and only played in AAA. It was notable only because Taylor had played poorly when he had played in the majors, and he hadn’t even played in the minors in over 2 years. A strange and inexplicable signing that went about as well as you’d expect. (0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 12/22/07: Signed C J.C. Boscan as a minor league free agent. Boscan was already getting a reputation as a minor league Henry Blanco, as even in the minors he couldn’t hit but was developing a strong defensive reputation as an organizational guy. He had pretty identical seasons with the Brewers’ AA club in ’06 and the Reds’ AA team in ’07, but with the Reds he had added some walking ability and mixed in better contact skills. That would help him last for a little while in the Braves system. That said, a system guy is all he ever really was intended to be, and he was a fine one. Every team needs someone in AAA in case of injury, someone who can come up and handle the big league staff in a pinch, which Boscan did 11 times. (0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 12/26/07: Signed P Jorge Campillo as a free agent. In 2006-07 with Seattle, Campillo pitched 15 innings of relief, and he was pretty bad at it. In 2008 with the Braves, he pitched 158 2/3 innings, mostly as a starter, and he was pretty good at it. Well, relatively good at it. A 4.00 FIP isn’t anything to go crazy for, but that he gave us a 4.00 FIP over 158 2/3 innings after what his profile was coming from Seattle, that’s a fantastic deal for the Braves. (+2.0 WAR / +2.0 WAR)
- 12/26/07: Signed P Matt DeSalvo as a free agent. Even as a minor leaguer in the Yankee organization, DeSalvo never had much control, twice walking more than he struck out, and he struck out plenty. DeSalvo made a bit of progress with the Braves’ AAA club, but not enough. He’d pitch 2 pretty meaningless innings in 2008 with Atlanta, and that’d be it. (0.0 WAR)
- 1/14/08: Traded P Jamie Richmond and RP Joey Devine to Oakland for OF Mark Kotsay. Richmond had dominated rookie and low-A ball, but struggled upon setting foot in the A’s system. He was out of pro ball by 2010.In Atlanta, Devine never really could shake that 2005 rookie season. You remember – the one where he gave up a grand slam and then gave up the season-ending HR to Chris Burke in the 87th inning of that awful Sunday afternoon playoff game. In Oakland, for 2008 at least, he put it all behind him, turning in an excellent 45-inning relief season with a 0.59 ERA, 9.66 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, and not one HR allowed. He’d miss the next two seasons with injuries, and pitched well enough in 2011 upon his return, but hasn’t pitched since. It’s debatable that Devine would have turned the same corner in Atlanta, but I think it’s more reasonable to suggest he would have. The Braves could have used him and his 1.5 WAR in 2008.Mark Kotsay was given the unenviable task of replacing Andruw Jones in CF. It had been several years since Kotsay brought any real value to the table in Oakland, but that value – as recent as ’05 – could be really helpful to Atlanta if he could replicate it. He couldn’t really, although he did have a better year than he’d given Oakland in ’06 or ’07, batting a respectable .289/.340/.418 / 0.6 WAR with the Braves.
(-0.9 WAR / -0.9 WAR)
- 1/17/08: Traded 2B Chase Fontaine and IF Willy Aybar to Tampa Bay for P Jeff Ridgway. Fontaine, a 2nd round pick from 2006, would never reach the majors.Aybar came over in 2006 from the Dodgers and had a great couple of months, batting .313/.373/.391. In ’07, Aybar was for a while mysteriously absent. The Braves suspended him indefinitely, and later his agent revealed he was seeking help with alcohol and substance abuse addiction. By midseason, he started preparing for a late season call-up, but suffered a stress fracture in his right hand. Unfortunately for the Braves, but admirably for Aybar, he put his problems behind him and was a valuable contributor on the 2008 AL Champion Rays, spending 3 seasons in Tampa totaling 0.9 WAR (but 1.2 in ’08).Ridgway spent most of 2008 with a bad AAA ERA that didn’t quite match up with his good AAA FIP. Then he got called up for 9 2/3 innings, and he had a bad MLB ERA despite a decent enough FIP. Go figure. Luck’s a bitch.
(-1.1 WAR / -1.4 WAR)
- 3/12/08: Signed C Christian Bethancourt as a minor league free agent. Many people forget that GMs are also responsible for bringing in minor league talent. Sure, I suppose they’re aware of it, and in many cases the farm system or scouting director deserves just as much acclaim. However, when looking back at the ‘moves’ a GM made, these moves count too. Bethancourt, signed as a 16 year old, developed slowly but steadily, and now looks like a viable MLB prospect, even if the results (and the defense) aren’t quite there yet. (incomplete, though -0.2 WAR so far)
- 3/26/08: Traded RP Tyler Yates to Pittsburgh for P Todd Redmond. Yates had some bad luck in 2007, with a 3.88 FIP turned by BABIP and a bad strand rate into a 5.18 ERA. Braves fans largely hated seeing Yates come into games, but that was mostly ERA blindness. He struck out over a batter an inning, kept HRs to a minimum, got his share of ground balls, and was generally pretty good at pitching, aside from issuing too many walks. With Pittsburgh the walks would stay, and the strikeouts would go.Redmond hung around in the high minors for a few years as a starter, never quite good enough to demand some big league innings, but never quite bad enough to give up on. Finally the Reds volunteered for the same dance and the Braves traded him for Paul Janish.
(0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 3/28/08: Selected UT Ruben Gotay off waivers from the NY Mets. Gotay had been pretty good at his job in ’07, so I remember some excitement over this waiver pick-up. Unfortunately the ’07 goodness was BABIP-fueled, and he never found the magic with the Braves as a Willie Harris replacement, batting .235/.322/.343 in 117 plate appearances. (0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 4/01/08: Signed P Vladimir Nunez as a free agent. Nunez was a big deal as a prospect in the Arizona system, but was dealt to the Marlins after just 5.1 desert innings. He saved 20 games for the 2002 Marlins, but by ’07 was attempting a comeback with the White Sox after several seasons lost to injury. He didn’t get to the majors in Chicago, but he did in Atlanta, 33.2 innings over 2 years with the Braves, with all but one of those innings coming in 2008. He was even kind of helpful, despite weak K/BB totals, thanks to his not allowing a single HR and stranding 73% of those that reached base. (+0.2 WAR / +0.2 WAR)
Longterm gains/losses: +10.6 WAR
2008 gains/losses: +5.6 WAR
Summary: Wren’s biggest move was simply not undoing the Detroit trade Schuerholz had already worked out. Flipping Oscar Villarreal for Josh Anderson wasn’t heralded and it didn’t move the needle in obvious and major ways, but it was a good deal, trading an unhelpful player for a helpful one. Wren sent a reliever with no control and no real future to the Cubs for two players who would be contributors for the 2008 season, and signed Jorge Campillo, who went from nothing to big league starter. Best of all, Wren avoided any deals that were really bad. The worst things he did were give too much money to a beloved star returning home (but on a short deal, which is survivable), give up on a reliever who may or may not have needed a change in scenery to have his big break out, and trade a useful utility infielder whose time with the club was marked by drug and alcohol problems. When those are the bad deals, you’ve had a good offseason.
A look at the transactions during the season, with team record and games behind at the time of the deals:
- 4/19/08 (8-9, -2.5) : Signed OF Jason Perry as a minor league free agent. Perry was a hitting machine at AA (.314/.423/.708) and decent enough at AAA (.246/.347/.430), so the Braves gave him 17 plate appearances at the end of the year. He did nothing with them. (-0.2 WAR/-0.2 WAR)
- 5/02/08 (13-15, -3.0): Signed OF Reid Gorecki as a minor league free agent. Gorecki would spend ’08 hitting at AA, and hitting well (.292/.377/.454). He’d hit again in ’09, eventually getting 27 plate appearances with Atlanta, where, like Perry before him, he’d do nothing with them. That ’09 stint remains his only MLB action. (-0.3 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 5/5/08 (15-15, -2.0): Traded a PTNBL (Nelson Payano) to Seattle for PH Greg Norton. Norton had some bench experience, and he’d be a decent bench player for the ’08 Braves, hitting .246/.361/.427. Payano, like so many traded Braves minor league arms of the last twenty five years, immediately looked different upon arrival at his new system, and he never reached the majors. (+0.3 WAR / +0.3 WAR)
- 5/29/08 (29-25, -2.0): C Bryan Pena selected off waivers by the Royals. Letting Pena go seemed like the best thing for him and the Braves at the time. He always struck you as someone who maybe might hit a little if he ever got the chance to play, but behind Brian McCann that just wasn’t going to happen. Aside from a little in ’09, he never did hit much, and he’s still in the league thanks to competent though not exciting defensive abilities. (0.0 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 6/13/08 (33-35, -7.5): Signed RP Jorge Julio as a free agent. Julio saved 13 games at AAA for the Braves, and Julio even pitched very well in limited action with the big league club, with a minuscule 0.73 ERA in 12.1 innings. (+0.2 WAR / +0.2 WAR)
- 6/19/08 (36-38, -5.5): Traded C Sal Fasano to Cleveland for a PTBNL. Fasano never played with the Braves, but he did get some backup work for the Indians, and wasn’t all that bad. I’m not sure the Braves ever got the PTBNL. (-0.1 WAR / -0.1 WAR)
- 7/08/08 (43-48, -5.0): Signed RP Julian Tavarez as a free agent. Tavarez was better at throwing strikes with Atlanta than at his previous stops that year, and he maintained his good K numbers, but he gave up a few too many homers and relied a bit much on his strand rate. (-0.1 WAR / -0.1 WAR)
- 7/22/08 (47-53, -7.0): Signed P Brandon Beachy as a minor league free agent. For all the misses Frank Wren had in the June draft, which I’ll detail further below, finding a freely available talent such as Beachy makes up for a good bit of it. Despite the injury issues, the Braves have gotten 267.2 quality MLB innings from Beachy, and that’s a slam dunk result from a minor league free agent. (+4.8 WAR / 0.0 WAR)
- 7/29/08 (49-57, -8.5): Traded 1B Mark Teixeira to the Angels for 1B Casey Kotchman and P Stephen Marek.Teixeira, an impending free agent, was outstanding for the Angels (3.4 WAR), and earned them a supplemental draft pick which was eventually used on Mike Trout. Granted, it’s somewhat well known by now that the Angels only drafted Trout with that pick because they had the previous choice as well, and had the Tex trade never occurred, LA would’ve taken the superstar with their regular choice. So to suggest Atlanta missed out on Mike Trout is not exactly accurate. That said, the 25th pick in a draft is a valuable one, and the Braves gave it up by making this trade.Kotchman struggled upon arriving in Atlanta, due to some variance in performance and some personal issues. In ’09, he rebounded a bit but not enough to justify his starting spot, and the Braves dealt Kotchman to Boston at 2009’s trade deadline after just 0.7 WAR contributed here. Marek never reached Atlanta despite decent enough minor league showings in ’10 and ’11.
(-2.7 WAR (plus a #25 overall pick / -3.6 WAR)
- 8/27/08 (58-75, -15.5): Signed RP Elmer Dessens as a free agent. In 4 innings, he walked twice as many as he struck out, allowed a HR, and was about as bad as you can be in 4 innings. (-0.2 WAR / -0.2 WAR)
- 8/27/08 (58-75, -15.5): Traded OF Mark Kotsay to Boston for OF Luis Sumoza. Sumoza was considered a nice little haul for the Braves at the time, and why not? He was batting .301/.366/.549 in low A as a 20-year old. In ’09 he regressed to the tune of .271/.316/.364, then 2010 was worse, and then 2011 was not a professional season in which he appeared. The only upside to this deal is that Kotsay was pretty un-good in Boston. (+0.2 WAR / +0.2 WAR)
Longterm value added/lost by in-season moves: +1.9 WAR
2008 value added/lost by in-season moves: -3.5 WAR
2008 Season wrap-up: The team went a disappointing 72-90, and would have been an estimated 75-87 without dumping Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline. Without Wren’s offseason moves, the team would likely have been worse, nearing 100 losses. The offense was league-average at 4.6 runs per game, led by MVP-caliber Chipper Jones, All-Star caliber Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira, and helpful players like Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, and Martin Prado.
Where the 2008 Braves faltered was in run prevention. Offseason addition Jurrjens was the ace of the staff, and Tim Hudson was competent until suffering an elbow injury. Campillo, as we mentioned earlier, was an out-of-nowhere third best on staff. 8 other men started games for the Braves that year: John Smoltz, still brilliant for his 5 healthy starts, Mike Hampton, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr, Jeff Bennett, Tom Glavine, and Chuck James, who imploded with a 9.10 ERA.
It’s a shame because the bullpen had its moments. It wasn’t stellar, but Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, Will Ohman, and Mike Gonzalez were pretty helpful. Blaine Boyer, Manny Acosta, and Julian Tavarez were not.
2008 Rule IV Amateur Draft
#40 overall: Brett DeVall, HS LHP – DeVall was on the path to the majors, but TJ surgery derailed him, the Braves released him in 2011, and he never played in the minors again. (0.0 WAR)
#64 overall: Tyler Stovall, HS LHP – Stovall was unable to ever harness a semblance of control on the mound, and last year walked on at Auburn as a punter. (0.0 WAR)
#70 overall: Zeke Spruill, HS RHP – Spruill developed slowly, but develop he did, and after being sent to Arizona in the 2013 Upton/Prado trade, he has pitched 34 innings for the D-Backs. In 2014’s limited action, he was even pretty effective. (0.0 WAR)
#96 overall: Craig Kimbrel, JC RHP – Yes, Frank Wren drafted Craig Kimbrel. At a draft spot that usually averages about 2.0 WAR, the Braves have already gotten 11.4. A fantastic draft choice. What about Kimbrel needs to be said at this point? He’s a historic talent. (+11.4 WAR)
#130 overall: Braeden Schlehuber, JC C – Schlehuber is still in the system, believe it or not, having just wrapped up his second season in AA. He hit .230/.308/.318. (Incomplete)
#160 overall: Jacob Thompson, College RHP – As Thompson got more exposure to the minors, his control eroded to the point where he was cut loose after 2011 and has not pitched in the minors since. (0.0 WAR)
#190 overall: Adam Milligan, JC OF – Milligan was a mostly frustrating minor leaguer, if only because of two stretches where he teased some real future ability. His ’09 single-A breakthrough (.345/.393/.589) was followed by an awful and awfully short 2010 (.200/.277/.376 in 94 PA). But he bounced back in ’11 (.291/.345/.557), but he couldn’t stay consistent and struck out 1/3 of the time, and the Braves released him after 2012. (0.0 WAR)
#220 overall: Paul Clemens, JC RHP – Clemens would turn into something of a pitching prospect, and was eventually traded in the Michael Bourn deal to Houston, where he reached the majors in 2013-14 and has been decidedly unimpressive. (0.0 WAR)
#250 overall: Brett Oberholtzer, JC LHP – Oberholtzer was sent to Houston in the same deal, where he has slowly developed into a helpful if unexciting big league starter. (0.0 WAR)
#310 overall: JJ Hoover, JC RHP – A starter in the Braves system, Hoover would be traded to Cincinnati where he spent 2012 and 2013 as a pretty decent reliever before becoming HR-prone in 2014. (0.0 WAR)
#820 overall: Anthony Rendon, HS SS – Yes, the Braves drafted Rendon, and then didn’t sign him. It’s common, but it’s still frustrating to know Atlanta had a shot at the MVP candidate playing a position of need (2B) for a division rival. Ouch. (0.0 WAR)
Total draft value: +11.4 WAR, all Kimbrel.
Summary: Kimbrel makes this draft palatable, but when you consider that of the 4 players signed by Atlanta that reached the majors, only Kimbrel did so with the Braves, and only two of the first seven made the majors at all, it was an unimpressive first effort for Frank Wren. And to add insult to injury, the best position player the Braves drafted wasn’t even signed, and wound up becoming a star for a team that beat Wren’s Braves in his final season. Not signing Anthony Rendon, from a certain perspective, kind of cost Frank Wren his job.
Year One in Review
Frank Wren’s first Braves team was his worst. Yes, passionate 2014 fan, the 2008 team was worse at 72-90. The pitching was bad, the offense was just ok, and the bullpen just sort of held its own. However, this was not a team of Frank Wren’s creation. The moves he made in the offseason made the team better, and throughout the season he continued to make moves that helped the Braves’ long-term vision. After a 2007 season in which Schuerholz dealt away the best pieces of the farm system for one last shot at glory, there were rebuilding positives to be seen. Unfortunately some of that was undone by a draft class that failed to sign its best position player and produced only one player who ever played in Atlanta (even if he was a superstar). It was further undone by the decision to trade Mark Teixeira to the Angels for such a pedestrian return package. It was an uneven first year, marked by enough small moves to outweigh the bigger, worse ones, but Wren’s misses on the high-profile moves (the Tex trade, the Glavine deal) would be a trait that would rear its ugly head again further down the line.