Though the Braves won 94 games a year ago and captured one of the National League's Wild Card spots in the playoffs, general manager Frank Wren faced a difficult task last offseason. He had to find a replacement for Chipper Jones, the franchise's iconic third baseman of 19 years.
The Braves had several free agents they would have to replace as well, including center fielder Michael Bourn, but replacing Jones' potent bat would be the defining decision of Wren's offseason.
Wren moved decisively, signing B.J. Upton to fill the void in center field and, a month later, executing a seven-player trade with the D-backs to acquire Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for five players, including Martin Prado.
"We were excited even knowing we gave up good talent," Wren said. "Martin Prado was a very popular player here, and knowing we gave up some young pitchers that had a chance to develop into something. It was a good baseball trade."
The offseason moves complemented the Braves' already strong core, which was largely composed of homegrown players. Despite the loss of Jones, the Braves improved on last season's win total and captured their first National League East title since 2005.
As the Braves move into the playoffs again, Wren said he was pleased with the results of the offseason.
"We were able to get some really vital pieces," Wren said. "The club's gone out and won an Eastern division title, so we have to be proud of way team has performed."
Here's a closer look at how the Braves' roster was built.
As has been the case for the Braves for much of the last two decades, the development of homegrown players has been critical to the club's success. Of the 25 players on the Braves' Division Series roster (see chart), 12 are homegrown, with 10 of those players coming from the First-Year Player Draft.
|Brian McCann||Draft||2002 (2nd)|
|Luis Avilan||Int'l sign||2005|
|Kris Medlen||Draft||2006 (10th)|
|Jason Heyward||Draft||2007 (1st)|
|Freddie Freeman||Draft||2007 (2nd)|
|Julio Teheran||Int'l sign||2007|
|Craig Kimbrel||Draft||2008 (3rd)|
|Mike Minor||Draft||2009 (1st)|
|David Hale||Draft||2009 (3rd)|
|Andrelton Simmons||Draft||2010 (2nd)|
|Evan Gattis||Draft||2010 (23rd)|
|Alex Wood||Draft||2012 (2nd)|
Not only have the Braves successfully shepherded their own Draft picks to the Major Leagues, they have gotten the most from their top picks. Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons and Alex Wood were all selected in the first three rounds of the Draft.
Wren said since taking over as general manager in 2007, he has tried to maintain the Braves' focus on developing their own players.
"I think that's a primary secret to our success for a long time, predating me to when John [Schuerholz] was general manager," he said. "That's a big part of how this franchise chooses to build its roster."
The Braves have also gotten key contributions from Julio Teheran and Luis Avilan, who signed with the club as teenagers from Latin America. Teheran, a native of Colombia, was one of the best pitchers in the international free agent class of 2007 and has now taken his place in the Braves' rotation.
Wren praised the work of the Braves' scouts and player development team, both with the homegrown players on their roster and those who were used in trades.
"We've always been proud of the job our scouts have done, pro as well as amateur," Wren said. "It allows us to utilize our assets in player development. Maybe we don't have a spot for them in Atlanta, but they give us trade tools to acquire other needs and build depth that way."
A big part of Wren's overhaul of the Braves' roster in the last year has happened with trades. Of the 25 players on the NLDS roster, 10 were acquired through trades or waiver claims, all within the past 15 months.
Acquired via trade or waivers
|Jordan Schafer *||2012||Astros|
|David Carpenter *||2012||Red Sox|
|Elliot Johnson *||2013||Royals|
|Freddy Garcia **||2013||Orioles|
January's blockbuster trade with the D-backs that brought Upton and Johnson to Atlanta had the greatest impact. In one move, Wren acquired hitter for the middle of the order and Jones' replacement at third base in exchange for Prado, Randall Delgado and prospects Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.
"It gave us more depth and made our team stronger overall," Wren said. "I think both clubs are happy with the way it turned out."
Replacing Jones was not just about finding another third baseman; the Braves had to find another hitter to fill the void left by Jones' retirement. Wren also wanted to take the opportunity to bring more balance to a lineup that had a lot of left-handed hitters. That helped make the right-handed Upton more attractive, and Wren said they quickly targeted the former D-back when they heard he was available.
Wren was pleased to get Johnson in the deal. He said the Braves viewed Johnson as a "perfect complement" because he would be able to team with Juan Francisco at third base and back up Freeman at first base. As the season went on, however, Wren said it became clear that Johnson was deserving of more playing time, allowing him to trade Francisco to Milwaukee in June.
"[Johnson's] exceeded expectations," Wren said. "He's had a terrific year."
In addition to the big deals, the Braves have also mined the waiver wire for talent more often than any other playoff team. Right-hander David Carpenter, outfielder Jordan Schafer and utility man Elliot Johnson were acquired for nothing more than the $20,000 cost of a waiver claim.
The Braves have not been among the more active players in the free-agent market in recent years, content to instead build their roster in other ways. Wren said he preferred to shop for bench players on the free-agent market, which he did last offseason, signing backup catcher Gerald Laird to a two-year deal.
Acquired via free agency
|Jose Constanza||MiLB FA||2010|
"We try to limit the free-agent acquisitions to supplement our needs," he said.
Still, the Braves made a splash last winter when they signed B.J. Upton for five years and $75.25 million. He has struggled offensively this season and hit just .184 with nine home runs.
"Some guys don't perform as well as you'd hope, but sometimes you have to be patient," Wren said.