The first-place Braves resume play Thursday with the best record in the National League. General manager Frank Wren spoke recently to the AJC about several topics, including the reasons for the team’s first-half success, what has to go right in the second half to end the four-year playoff drought and what moves the team might make at the trade deadline.
Q. From your standpoint, what have been the keys to the Braves’ first-half success?
A. I think the keys have been the contributions of just about everyone. We haven't been dependent on one or two or three guys carrying us. Look at who has big hits to win games, and it's virtually everyone on the roster. I think that's been our key. We have a group of guys that have great makeup. We have a clubhouse that's unbelievable from a standpoint of guys wanting to win and guys caring about each other and the team -- and making decisions based on what's best for the team and not themselves. I think when you have that, a lot of unselfish things happen.
Q. Would that makeup be different than you’ve had the last several years?
A. I don't know that it's a huge difference other than we have some guys that are good team guys that we've added to the roster this offseason. It's brought a little different feeling in the clubhouse, and we saw it in spring training. From very early on in camp it was a different feeling.
Q. In assembling a roster you make certain calculated risks. Which ones have worked out the best?
A. I don't think there is any question that Troy Glaus is the biggest calculated risk we took. The other guys, whether it's Tim Hudson or Billy Wagner, had returned to form. They came back to play in the month of September, and we felt very good about them from a standpoint of health and performance. Coming back from the surgeries they came back from, generally players are even better the following year. We didn't feel like either one of those were real big risks. We did feel like Troy Glaus was a calculated risk, but he was 100 percent healthy; he hadn't had a chance to come back and play an extended period of time to prove that to anyone. He was healthy and having a normal offseason. We felt that was a good gamble to take.
Q. Depth, both pitching and position wise, has been a key with the injuries you have had in the first half (Jair Jurrjens, Matt Diaz, Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth). Is that something you set out to improve during the offseason?
A. We felt like we had a good bench last year with guys like [Matt] Diaz and [Omar] Infante. A year ago, not at this time, but Martin Prado was a guy that gave us depth because he could play multiple positions when he was not playing regularly. In the [Javier] Vazquez deal we got Melky Cabrera, who can play all outfield positions, and he's a switch-hitter. We like the fact that he gives us that versatility and allows Bobby [Cox] to do a lot of different things with him.
We had Omar Infante, who was just recognized as an All-Star. We have long felt he was the best super-utility guy in the National League. It’s great that he’s being recognized as such. We also had the best backup catcher in David Ross. Look at the home runs per at-bat he hit last year filling in for Brian [McCann], and he gives you a special combination of power and defense that allows Bobby to have a little more flexibility and give Brian a rest. It’s tough to catch every day, especially in our heat.
Eric Hinske has been a valuable guy and has brought that new intensity and feeling that we have in the clubhouse. Not only did he get off to a great start as an extra player, but once Bobby started using him more regularly, he continued to give us a lift offensively.
Q. How much does winning this season for Bobby [Cox] make a difference? Can that really be a factor?
A. I know guys talked about it this winter. They talked about it this spring, and they continue to talk about it. It's something that we would all love to see happen. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. We still have to go out and play with the same intensity in the second half as we did in the first half. I think there is a motivating factor there for sure.
Q. You said that other teams called during the nine-game slide early in the season. Why did you decide to stay the course and not make a move?
A. That early in the season, teams are just calling because they knew we had some depth, and I think they were looking to see if there was anything we wanted to shake up. It was not necessarily that we were going to give up at that point, but people look at that as a time when maybe a team wants to shake things up. It was more that type of thing. Our point being, I think we were all taken by surprise [by the losing streak]. We felt with our starting pitching we wouldn't have a slide like that. We would be in a position to win some of those games. I think our guys built off that time when we were about as low as we could get. Since then we've played excellent baseball.
Q. What are your keys to the second half?
A. Every general manager will tell you the same thing, it's staying healthy. We've got a good lineup, we have pitching and balance and a strong bullpen. We need to continue to pitch well and, if we get some guys healthy, I think our club has a chance to be better in the second half. Getting Jason Heyward back, getting Nate McLouth back. We just got Matt Diaz back, and you see what impact he made in the last two series. Those two things can be real keys for us.
Q. If you are in a similar position, as you are now, at the trade deadline, is there a kind of move that would make sense?
A. I think it's a little premature for us to know exactly what move would make the most sense for us. We are waiting to get these guys healthy, and once we get them healthy, then we will have a better sense where our biggest need is. We've got a sense of that now, but as we get guys healthy and more productive, we might see something else.
Q. You don’t want to say what your sense is now?
A. No right now. We could use a bat but, like I said, that may be filled internally. Give our injured guys a chance to get back in the lineup and produce, and then we'll see where that greatest need lies. It may not be at the non-waiver trade deadline. It might be at the postseason deadline on Aug. 31. It may be awhile before we have those answers. We will be monitoring it all.
About the Author