Wren begins hunt for veteran arms

Wren begins hunt for veteran arms

ATLANTA -- With his initial season as the Braves general manager complete, Frank Wren can officially begin looking toward a future that he can only hope proves less frustrating than the past six injury-marred months.

Whether it was a cruel initiation welcoming him back to the fraternity of general managers or simply a case of prolonged misfortune, Wren spent these past six months realizing a regular flurry of worst-case scenarios.

Three of the four former 20-game winners positioned in his projected starting rotation underwent season-ending surgeries and the young outfielder once regarded as the cornerstone of the club's future was humbled by unforeseen struggles.

While often cruel, the baseball season always provides a conclusion that immediately creates optimism for the following year. How optimistic the Braves are when they report for Spring Training depends on what Wren is able to accomplish during what will arguably be the most influential offseason the franchise has experienced since John Schuerholz came to Atlanta following the 1990 season.

"We need some veteran stability at the front of our rotation," Wren said, while speaking to a small group of media members in an otherwise vacant home clubhouse at Turner Field on Monday afternoon.

While providing a blueprint of what he's looking to accomplish over the next few months, Wren confirmed that he'll be looking to land two veteran starting pitchers via trade or free agency. He'll also attempt to utilize one of these two avenues to locate a power-hitting outfielder.

As for Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Mike Hampton, Wren said he'd like to bring each of these three pitchers back. But because of the uncertainty that surrounds them, he considers each of them as potential roster additions, who wouldn't count as one of the two starting pitchers he's looking to acquire.

There obviously weren't any surprises in these revelations, but Wren's revelation that the payroll will increase provides some reason for optimism among Braves fans. Even an extra $5 million could prove vital while competing in a seemingly top-heavy free-agent market, as it relates to starting pitchers and outfielders.

While Wren wouldn't specifically state where the 2009 payroll would rest, it's believed that he'll have approximately $45 million to spend this offseason. With the desire to get two starting pitchers and a proven outfielder, the Braves will have to allocate those available funds in a wise manner.

In other words, before getting into a bidding war for CC Sabathia, they'll have to evaluate where they stand from a financial standpoint with their other needs.

"In the free-agent marketplace, that's really not a lot of money when you consider what the top guys go for," Wren said. "But we feel we can fill our needs with that amount."

During the annual roster reconstruction phase, Wren's preference is to avoid the free-agent market. But he may need to land somebody like Derek Lowe via free agency and gain the other starting pitcher and outfielder via a trade market that he believes he can easily navigate with the available resources in his organization.

"We have the financial resources necessary and we have the prospects," Wren said. "So we can go either way [by filling needs via trade or free agency]. Not every other club can say that."

"I think the addition of one bat would make a significant difference and we need some players to rebound. I hate to keep using Jeff Francoeur when talking about this, but we need him to come back and hit like he did in previous seasons."
-- Frank Wren

Providing a sense that this season didn't force him to develop a "win at all costs" mind-set, Wren essentially made it clear that he won't be dangling top prospects like Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Gorkys Hernandez or Freddie Freeman on the trade market.

"We feel like we have a young wave of talent coming and we won't trade from that wave of talent," Wren said. "That's not the way that you win. You may win one year doing that."

Last year, Wren proved masterful on the trade market. He gained both Jair Jurrjens and Hernandez in exchange for Edgar Renteria, who went to Detroit and suddenly became old. The Will Ohman/Omar Infante-for-Jose Ascanio trade proved so lopsided that some have wondered if the Cubs actually thought they were getting Manny Acosta.

Once the calendar turned, Wren provided Joey Devine a much-needed change of scenery by sending him to Oakland in exchange for Mark Kotsay. Then during the final week of Spring Training, he sent Tyler Yates to the Pirates in exchange for Todd Redmond, who then proceeded to be named the Southern League's Pitcher of the Year.

"We're ready to do things," Wren said. "We just need to find a dance partner."

While Wren wouldn't be opposed to making a trade in the very near future, he cautioned that he may need the entire offseason to complete his roster reconstruction plans. In fact, he provided the obvious reminder that he won't have to set his 25-man roster until Opening Day.

It will likely be January or February before Smoltz or Glavine know whether they'll be able to pitch again. Wren has told both of them that they'd be welcomed back if they bounce back from their season-ending surgeries and prove they can still compete.

As for Hampton, his situation is a little different, simply because he already proved his health while pitching effectively over the past two months. Wren told the 36-year-old southpaw that he wants him back next year and on Sunday, Hampton said he owes some loyalty to the Braves because of the patience they showed when he missed all or significant portions of each of the past four seasons.

But Wren made it clear that he'll be looking to gain two starters with the mind-set that the returns of Hampton, Smoltz or Glavine would simply serve as a bonus.

"If they can come back and pitch next year, it might mean moving one of the young [starters] back to [Triple-A] Gwinnett," Wren said.

Offensively, Wren enters the offseason with fewer concerns. Kelly Johnson seemingly solidified his status as the starting second baseman and Martin Prado, who also is capable of playing second base, seemed to gain more organizational support with his impressive finish.

While one of these two players could be traded, it seems more likely that the Braves will utilize somebody like Brandon Jones or Brent Lillibridge in a package to acquire a starting pitcher or outfielder. Both Jones and Lillibridge were included in the Trade Deadline deal that would have brought Jason Bay to Atlanta.

"I think the addition of one bat would make a significant difference and we need some players to rebound," Wren said. "I hate to keep using Jeff Francoeur when talking about this, but we need him to come back and hit like he did in previous seasons."

As for Braves fans, they just want their team to come back next year and perform like they did back during those previous years, when they annually competed in October.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.