First the bad news.
In the realm of team-crippling contracts, right now Frank Wren appears to be leading the Majors. Certainly other teams are locked into bad contracts. Some might even approach the folly of the Oafbatross and BJ deals.
Let’s look at a few.
The Dodgers are on the hook for $214 million for three so-so outfielders — Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier — through the year 2019. Crawford and Ethier are signed through 2017 and Kemp through 2019. But the Dodgers have oceans of money, so they might be able to overcome these large mistakes. They traded for Crawford, of course, but took on his contract at a time when it was pretty clear he was no longer a superstar.
The Yankees owe A-Fraud $86 million. They owe a creaky C.C. Sabathia $50 million AFTER this season. And, of course, their deals with McCann and Ellsbury are somewhat ridiculous. But they’re the Yankees. That’s what they do. They might not be good for a while, and these deals don’t help. So Brian Cashman might rival Wren in really bad, big contracts.
Then you have the Angels, with Pujols and Hamilton, and the Rangers with Fielder. Those are all terrible contracts. Yet unlike BJ and Uggla, those players have been and remain at least fairly productive. Those contracts probably will not, by themselves, hamstring those clubs to the extent the Uggla and BJ deals hurt the Braves. Of course, Wren has lavished big dollars on other non-performing assets: Lowe and Kawakami, most notably, though at $23 million Kawakami’s deal was nowhere near the scope of BJ and Uggla’s combined $135 million.
As CB has pointed out, the extension for Chris Johnson, while modest, looks more and more questionable by the day. Andrelton, Freddie, Kimbrel, and Julio are all as rock solid as long-term investments can be in baseball. I hope he can lock up Minor. AS CB has also noted, most GMs with the money to spend would have locked up those young players. Wren did it, and he deserves credit for that. But they were not shockingly innovative strokes.
Signing Santana was a solid move. It was one the Braves had to make, but it was far from a certainty. So credit Wren for doing it and perhaps convincing Liberty Media to fork over the money.
A verdict on big-ticket free agents and contract extensions? Because of Uggla, BJ, Lowe and Kawakami — none of whom gave the Braves even two decent seasons — Wren’s overall grade in signing prominent free agents and long-term contracts as Braves GM: D.
He has fared better on the trade front, in the draft and in lower-profile free agent signings.
First trades. The good:
- Jose Ascanio to the Cubs for Infante and Will Ohman.
- Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. Renteria was near the end of an excellent career, including exemplary service to the Bravos.
- Jon Gilmore, Tyler Flowers, Brent Lillibridge, and Santos Rodriguez for Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez. Vazquez had a Cy Young-type season for the Bravos. None of the guys we sent north have done anything of note.
- Casey Kotchman to Boston for Adam LaRoche. Rochey had a nice half season back in Atlanta. Kotchman continued to be the Oberkfell of the other corner.
- Juan Abreu, Schafer, Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens to the Astros for Bourn.
- Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino to the Cubs for Maholm and Reed Johnson.
- Prado, Delgado, Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury for Justin and Chris Johnson.
- Hanson to the Angels for Walden.
- Teixiera for Stephen Marek and Kotchman. Teshowmethemoney was a very good player, but Wren had no leverage at all.
- Francoeur to the Mets for Ryan Church. Meh.
- Vazquez and Logan to the Yankees for Melky, Mike Dunn and Vizcaino. Logan has become a serviceable lefty reliever. Vizcaino later brought R. Johnson and Maholm.
- Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes to the Blue Jays for Pastornicky, Tim Collins and Alex Gonzalez.
- Three stiffs to the Cubs for Derek Lee.
- Anonymous minor leaguer to Seattle for Jack WIlson.
- AML to the Pirates for a later-career Matt Diaz.
- Finally dumped Lowe and most of his salary for someone named Chris Jones.
- Gilmartin to the Twins for Doumit.
- Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez to the Pirates for McLouth. Not a disaster, but Locke had a good half season and Morton looks like he might be a decent middle-back of the rotation starter.
- Dunn and Infante to the Marlins for Uggla. Looked good at the time.
Wren has made very few flat-out bad trades for the Braves, a few very good ones but not many absolute master strokes. Overall trade grade: B.
Lower-profile free agent/waiver signings:
Here is where Wren has done some of his best work, especially signing pitchers. Handy acquisitions have included:
Billy Wagner (hardly under-the-radar but it was for just a season and late in his career), Beachy, O’Flaherty, Harang, Carpenter (struggling but was solid last year), Floyd, Varvaro, Laird, Bethancourt (amateur free agent), David Ross, Hinske and Troy Glaus.
It’s hard to call this a category of its own, but in these modest signings, Wren’s earned a B+.
The drafts under his watch as GM, starting with the 2008 selections, have been solid. Those drafts have so far yielded eight big-league Braves: Kimbrel, Minor, Hale, Simmons, Gattis, LaStella, Wood, and Shae Simmons. Not a bad collection of talent, and that crop compares reasonably well to what a few other clubs have done in the same period.
I looked at what most consider the NL’s two best franchises, the Cardinals and Giants. St. Louis’ last half dozen drafts have produced a stellar crop: Lance Lynn, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Tyler Lyons, Kolten Wong, Seth Maness and Michael Wacha. That’s 10 big leaguers, and some very good ones. Advantage, St. Louis.
But Wren’s drafts compare favorably with other NL clubs I checked. In the NL East, the Mets have but one current major leaguer from all their 2008 to 2013 picks, Matt Harvey. The Nats have just four, and they have selected at or near the top of most of those drafts. Those players are a pair of overall No. 1 picks – Harper and Strasburg — Rendon and Storen.
The Giants have just three players they drafted during that period: Posey and Brandons Crawford and Belt. They also drafted current Met Zack Wheeler and traded him for Carlos Beltran.
As for what’s in the minors now, the picture is less positive. The Braves’ farm system ranks 24th of 30 organizations, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Wren’s draft grade, then, is a B.
All told, that’s a B+, two B’s and a D. Yet that D gets more weight than those other grades.
Take this year’s strikeout prone, defensively suspect team with a relief corps that may or may not prove adequate. I think the quality of a bullpen depends on a healthy dose of luck. Based on last year, this one should be OK. I’ll largely give Wren a pass there.
As for the offense, BJ and Uggla have obviously been gigantic sand bags weighing down the lineup. That is on Wren. The GM also traded for Johnson and Justin, a decent move in isolation. Yet those are two more guys who strike out frequently. So that’s four prolific whiffers, half a batting order excluding the pitcher, whom Wren has directly added to the team. All four are also from adequate-at-best to lousy defensively. Again, that’s directly on Wren’s ledger.
Mix all this up and I’m giving Wren an overall grade of C-. Am I being too charitable? Overly harsh? What do you think?