Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frank Wren's Legacy Lives On In Atlanta.


Every Braves' fan has an opinion on former General Manager, Frank Wren. Some view him as the man responsible for the decline of the franchise, others claim his free agent signings weren't financially sound. Some even believe he wasn't given a fair shot in Atlanta and eventually became the scapegoat for bigger issues with the organization. Regardless of how you feel about Frank Wren, his legacy with the Braves continues to live on. After Wren's firing, Atlanta shifted their focus on "rebuilding." Many publications have credited the Braves as having the top farm system in baseball, but it's built mostly on pitching. However, there's a few high upside bats residing in Triple-A. Most notably, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies.

Ronald Acuna (signed for $100k out of Venezuela in 2014) has exploded onto the scene this season and looks to be the future top prospect for the Braves. This season, he's hitting a robust: .306/.362/.507 and appears to be ready to debut in Atlanta sooner, rather than later. Many fans post online about the emergence of Acuna and compare him to Braves' legend Andruw Jones. I think that's an unfair comparison, but fans seem to crave these comparisons and it puts unfair expectations on the players. Just remember, ESPN once compared Jason Heyward to Ken Griffey Jr. and suddenly, Atlanta fans expected Heyward to hit 50 home runs a season. Acuna looks to have all the tools in the world, but he's still just a 19 year old kid. With the Braves short on impact hitting prospects, Acuna looks to be the real deal.

Ozzie Albies (signed out of Curacao for $350k in 2013) has also impressed this season at Triple-A hitting: .290/.337/.441. He's currently being blocked by Brandon Phillips (yes, 36 year old Brandon Phillips). Unlike other rebuilding teams, the Braves don't seem too eager to allow their young position players a legitimate shot at earning a full-time job at the Major League level (this article is being written before the trade deadline, so this may change over the next week or so). During a telecast on FSN, Chipper Jones said of Albies: “He does have some flaws that we’ve got to fix and it’s up to us as a staff and as an organization to fix that..." It seemed to be that Chipper was getting hinting towards something more with how Albies plays the game and less about his actual talent. The Braves have always been against players who are "flashy" in the field, they once traded Yunel Escobar for his flashy play (Bobby Cox routinely benched Andruw Jones for making it look too easy)..., so it's not surprising to hear of them trying to work with Albies on "fixing" his "flaws." Whatever those "flaws" may be...

So, what does all of this have to do with Frank Wren's lasting legacy with the Braves? Well, Wren was the general manager when the Braves signed Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. I notice a lot of fans seem to want to place blame on Wren for everything wrong with the franchise, but they fail to give the man credit for signing the two prospects (position playing prospects) with arguably the highest upside in the farm system. He also signed Johan Camargo, who is playing very well so far in Atlanta (.317/.341/.472 at the time of this writing).

Back to that whole, "Braves fans blame everything on Frank Wren" stuff... I was searching through Braves fans on twitter and discovered this gem:












That's right, Frank Wren is being blamed by some Braves fans for the team trading away Craig Kimbrel. Wren was fired by the Braves on September 22nd, 2014. Kimbrel was traded on April 5th, 2015. Yet, fans still want to blame Wren for that trade. Some fans even bash the extensions given out by Wren, when in reality, he gave modest deals to Kimbrel, Teheran, Freeman, and Simmons. Also, it's worth noting that in trading Kimbrel to the Padres, the Braves only received Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and Matt Wisler in the deal. If you compare that to what the Yankees received for multiple or Aroldis Chapman, you can tell the Braves definitely sold low on Kimbrel. Yes, they did free up the money owed to Melvin Upton, but they still took on money in acquiring Quentin (who they eventually released.) In the end, the Braves basically only acquired Matt Wisler for their All-Star closer. All in the name of saving money. If only they had held on to Kimbrel until the trade deadline, they could have maximized their return.

Current Braves' GM John Coppolella seems to have a knack for not maximizing value in his trades. Just look at the trades involving Alex Wood, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Justin Upton. Coppy also has a knack for trading any player that was signed by Frank Wren and we routinely hear rumors of the Braves being open to trading Lucas Sims, Julio Teheran, or Ozzie Albies. Essentially, if you have any ties to the former GM, Atlanta might be looking to deal you away. In the end, if Coppy makes a bad trade, most fans will say: "he admitted it was bad!" and all is forgiven. If only Frank Wren had apologized for signing Melvin Upton.... Guess all would be good, right?

In the end, Frank Wren's legacy in Atlanta is difficult to quantify. On one hand, he was responsible for getting the Braves back to the playoffs after a five year drought. He was also in control when the Braves drafted Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood, Evan Gattis, and Andrelton Simmons. I think it's a bit unfair to completely forget the team he took over and how depleted the farm system was at the time of his hiring (John Schuerholz sold the farm to acquire Mark Teixeira). The Braves were contenders throughout Wren's time in Atlanta, but now-a-days, most fans think of Wren as being some fool who wasn't competent enough to keep his job. As someone who follows the Braves closely, I remember fans acting as if he was some genius during his tenure with the Braves. I believe the official saying was, "All I Do Is Wren." and all was good with the world. But once the Braves fired him, the local media ran stories against him pretty much everyday and turned him into one of the biggest scapegoats in Braves' history. While Frank Wren wasn't perfect, he was able to work with tight salary restraints and put together a team that was able to compete every season for a playoff birth.  His legacy in Atlanta continues to this day thanks to the likes of Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Lucas Sims, and Johan Camargo. As the Braves continue to rebuild, you could argue that the foundation that is in place is still in large part due the work of Frank Wren.

Epilogue 

I know most Braves fans will be either angry or offended with this piece, but I think it's fair to look back on a GM who has been chastised for producing a lack of prospects. When you look back, the team produced many young stars during his time in Atlanta. Also, when the top two hitting prospects in the farm system are his signings, it's important to give the man credit for that. While his sample size is small and he may not have the potential upside as Acuna or Albies, you could even argue that Johan Camargo has the look (and tools) to be just as good a player as Dansby Swanson (and he is also a carryover from the Wren era as well.) Also, it's worth noting that the Braves are giving Swanson the "Heyward treatment" and allowing his season long slump to take away his playing time and development as he will now only be a part-time player. That's a far-cry from the guy who was destined to win National League Rookie of the Year just before the season started. Interestingly enough, it seems like Camargo is enjoying his success due in part to a high BABIP, just as Swanson did last season during the start of his Major League career (Camargo .398 vs .383 for Swanson).  So, take from this what you will. I'm sure the same old trolls will continue to mock Frank Wren on twitter as being some incompetent loser who ruined the franchise, while ignoring all the good he did while in Atlanta. The Braves do still have bigger problems to solve, most notably, with the coaching staff. It seems like Wren's ultimate undoing in Atlanta was in part to him wanting to fire Fredi Gonzalez after his refusal to use Craig Kimbrel in a playoff game and his desire to change a lot of the scouting department in Atlanta. The Braves ended up bringing back guys who had been fired and keeping Fredi around for another season and a half. To me, the Braves need to fully embrace change if they want to compete again for a divisional title (or World Series.) Young, fresh thinking people who aren't afraid to go against the book. I doubt they'll go that route, but it would be a breath of fresh air for a franchise that tends to go by the book with every move they make. Until then, it'll be difficult for me to actually embrace this "rebuild." 

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