Frank Wren to Fenway? Why this could actually work

Many baseball writers — from Bob Nightengale of USA Today to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston — are reporting that the leading candidate to become general manager of the Boston Red Sox is …

Frank Wren.

Of whom you’ve heard.

Here we note the obvious: Eleven months ago, the Atlanta Braves fired Wren as GM in as callous a manner as anyone could remember. They used the loaded word “terminated,” and at no time in the post-firing press conference did president John Schuerholz employ the boilerplate “we thank Frank for his service and wish the best for him and his family.”

Under new (general) management, the Braves have spent the intervening 11 months divesting themselves of almost everyone who worked with Wren — with the exception of John Coppolella, now the assistant GM and the deputy to newly installed president of baseball operations John Hart, and Fredi Gonzalez, whom Wren hired to succeed Bobby Cox. Of the 25 men on the roster for Wednesday’s game in San Diego, only four had played for the big-league Braves — Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons and Arodys Vizcaino — while Wren was in power, and Vizcaino bears an asterisk. Wren had traded him to the Cubs; the two Johns reacquired him last fall.

The new Braves clearly hated the way Wren did things, but here it must be said: Wren’s teams made the playoffs in 2010, 2012 and 2013; they won 94 games in 2012 and 96 games and the National League East in 2013. From Opening Day 2010 through Sept. 17, 2014 — five days before his “termination” — Wren’s Braves had won more games than any other NL team.

Wren wasn’t fired because of wins and losses. He was fired in part because he whiffed egregiously on Dan Uggla’s contract extension and especially on the free-agent signing of B.J. (now Melvin Jr.) Upton, but mostly he was fired because he ran the organization but made almost no allies. Nobody disputed that he was smart and hard-working. He just wasn’t very good with people.

In Boston, that could be less an issue. (Not that the Red Sox front office isn’t populated with actual people.) Difference is, Wren wouldn’t be the face of the franchise there. Dave Dombrowski, just hired as president of baseball operations, is and will be. This is in keeping with the new model of front offices: Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman and Brian Sabean aren’t the titular GMs with the Cubs, the Dodgers and the Giants, but everyone knows they’re in charge.

Wren and Dombrowski go way back. Wren was Dombrowski’s director of scouting when the latter was GM in Montreal. Wren was assistant GM (and later vice president) when Dombrowski was the Marlins’ general manager; the two were in place when Florida won the 1997 World Series. They’re of a similar age, and they’ve stayed close over the years.

The most striking aspect of a possible Dombrowski/Wren pairing in Boston would be stylistic: Neither is the biggest fan of advanced analytics, and the Red Sox were among the first organizations to embrace sabermetrics. Epstein and his successor Ben Cherington are true believers, and Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, remains on the Sox masthead as a senior adviser for baseball operations.

Wren once told me a story that involved Dombrowski. Early in the 2012 season, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney was listed with a greater WAR value than Miguel Cabrera, who was the cornerstone of Dombrowski’s Tigers and would win the Triple Crown. Seeing this bit of data, Dombrowski summoned his numbers guy and said something to the effect than any valuation appraising Darwin Barney as superior to Miguel Cabrera wasn’t worth the paper on which it was printed out.

(I should also note that Gonzalez told me almost exactly the same story, although he attributed the incredulity to Jim Leyland, then the Tigers’ manager.)

Given the dispatch with which the Braves have moved to distance themselves from Wren and all his doings, you’d have thought it tough for him to get yet another GM job. (Remember, he’d been canned in 1999 after one season in Baltimore.) But Wren, who had few pals among Braves, has a pal in Dombrowski, who’d be his boss.

My biggest complaint about Wren wasn’t so much what he did but how fast he did it. He needed someone above him to say, “Slow down.” Schuerholz might have been that someone here, but he’d stepped away from most of the baseball stuff. Assuming Dombrowski is that someone in Boston, there’s no reason Frank Wren can’t do a good job — even for a franchise that’s scrutinized like no other.

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