Braves eye market, in-house fixes to improve
Wren looks for rebound by Upton as search for ace moves into offseason
ATLANTA -- Less than 24 hours after the Braves' 2012 season concluded with a loss to the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card game, general manager Frank Wren publicly addressed the desire to acquire at least one right-handed-hitting outfielder and to possibly improve his bullpen depth.
One week after this season concluded with a loss to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series, Wren's offseason objective is not nearly as clear as it was a year ago. While it would be beneficial to add an ace, the unenviable challenge of landing one will prove even greater given that this year's free-agent crop will not include one of these rare beasts.
"Unfortunately, aces or top-of-the-rotation starting pitching is the most rare commodity on either the trade market or free-agent market," Wren said. "When you look at this year's free-agent market, there really isn't one of those guys. Whether there will be one on the trade market, I don't know. We recognize that will be an area of need."
While spending a portion of this week with his coaches, scouts and top staff members, Wren will discuss the potential of landing Tampa Bay's David Price or any other starting pitcher who might become available on the trade market. At the same time, there will be time to evaluate how this year's events will influence plans for next year.
In essence, the Braves spent much of this season's second half looking to land a starting pitcher. Their search was accelerated when Tim Hudson sustained a season-ending fractured ankle July 24, exactly one week before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Thoughts of landing Jake Peavy vanished when it was apparent there was not a match with the White Sox, who ended up dealing the veteran right-hander to Boston.
Wren's search to add a starting pitcher extended through August, when he never found a solution with a waiver-wire deal. This unsuccessful attempt proved to be more costly when September arrived and it became apparent that Brandon Beachy's right elbow discomfort would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
"We made some attempts at waiver deals and so forth," Wren said. "But there was both good and bad. We had the best record in baseball, so we were the last team to be able to claim a guy. So we were getting blocked on a lot of our claims. There just wasn't that pool of quality pitchers that could improve our club."
All indications are that Beachy will be ready by the start of Spring Training to join a rotation that will include Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen. Alex Wood has provided indication he could be successful as a starter or a reliever at the big league level.
If the Braves are able to land a legit frontline starting pitcher via trade, the odds of Hudson returning for next season would seemingly decrease. But as things currently stand, Wren has provided every indication he will be looking to re-sign the 38-year-old right-hander, who is expected to be cleared to begin some normal offseason conditioning activities in November.
"I think [Hudson] is progressing," Wren said. "But we also know what kind of competitor he is and what he is made of. So those are all real positives."
The Braves have a pretty good idea about how their lineup will look next year in regard to position players. Evan Gattis or Christian Bethancourt could assume the role of starting catcher once Brian McCann makes his expected exit via free agency.
The two biggest question marks are in center field and at second base, positions that proved problematic as B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla endured their struggles this past season. There is certainly a chance the Braves will attempt to make a trade with the understanding they would have to eat more than half of the money still owed to either the 29-year-old Upton (four years, $59.8 million) or 33-year-old Uggla (two years, $26 million).
Looking at age, salary and time length of decline, Uggla appears more likely to be moved. Many viewed the veteran second baseman's exclusion from the NLDS roster as a sign his days in Atlanta were done. But there is certainly no guarantee the Braves will find a team willing to pay much for Uggla, who hit .179 with 22 homers a .671 OPS while battling vision problems this year.
"He started using the contacts [in June], and it seemed to get better for a short time," Wren said. "Then it seemed like it started deteriorating, and he had a tough time in August. We talked about having the [LASIK] surgery to ultimately correct it to where he would have time left to make progress in September. But there really wasn't a lot of progress. That led us to make the decision we made [to leave him off the NLDS roster]. For Dan's sake and our sake, we hope he can make some adjustments."
Less than a year removed from giving Upton a franchise-record, five-year, $75.25 million contract, Wren still has hope Upton will rebound from the struggles he endured while hitting .184 with nine homers and a .559 OPS this season.
"What I hope happened to B.J. and what I am theorizing is that he fell into the same trap that so many free agents fall into, in that they try to do too much or try to justify [the salary] and win over the fan base," Wren said. "It's a deep hole that just keeps getting deeper and deeper the harder you try. We've seen dozens and dozens of players go through it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.