Frank Wren took over as Braves general manager Oct. 10, 2007, after eight years as an assistant to venerable GM John Schuerholz, who became team president. It's been an eventful and often-difficult 21 months for Wren, who has been at the center of numerous headline-making moves and situations, some praised and others criticized by fans and media members.
There was his handling of Braves legends John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, and the fruitless pursuits of free agents Rafael Furcal and A.J. Burnett. There was the failed trade negotiations for Jake Peavy, the big-ticket signings of pitchers Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, and trades that brought in Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez and Nate McLouth, and sent away Mark Teixeira.
There has been much activity under Wren, who has shown no reluctance to make tough decisions nor any tendency to stand pat in order to avoid controversy or confrontation.
But it's not been easy, and he's still searching for something to help manager Bobby Cox and the Braves snap a three-year playoff drought. Wren discussed his tenure as GM and the Braves' outlook during a discussion with the AJC's Braves beat writer David O'Brien.
Q: Can you give your assessment of how the first half of the season has gone for the Braves?
A: I think overall, we have to be pleased with the way the pitching staff has come together and the way that the bullpen guys have recovered from last year's injuries. I think with a little more consistency from our offense, we could have had the kind of first half we had hoped for.
Q: How confident are you that this team can still reach the goals that you had for it entering the season? And can we assume the postseason was one of those goals?
A: No question. Every year we point everything toward the postseason, and we're still in the mix. I think there's no question that if we can get on a run, if we can become more consistent offensively, this team can compete.
Q: Does it make it easier or harder to swallow, knowing that the pitching staff you assembled has met or surpassed most expectations?
A: That's a tough one. Because I don't think you're satisfied unless the whole team is working in a way that allows you to win games. We're happy that part is working, that the pitching staff has come along the way we'd hoped. But to have the record you want, you've got to have your whole team working.
Q: Are you surprised that certain position players haven't developed as you anticipated and, in some cases, have taken steps back since last season?
A: That's part of the game. Players have ups and downs; you expect that. I think we had hoped that some guys were turning the corner to allow themselves to be more successful and more consistent. So far in the first half, we haven't seen that.
Q: Yunel Escobar is an undeniably talented player who has gotten in the manager's doghouse a few times for wearing his emotions on his sleeve and making a few mistakes on the field. Can you give fans an idea of how you view his situation, given Yunel's background and your own, in terms of how you've handled others in similar situations?
A: When you're dealing with players, from my experience, especially with Cuban defectors, I've found there's a period of adjustment — to the culture, to our game. And being demonstrative is very much a part of the game of baseball in Cuba. It can be a positive, and it can be a negative in our game.
We just have to continue to work with Yunel, to see the positive aspects of his exuberant style of play and eliminate some of the negative aspects of it. It's going to be an ongoing thing. We don't want him to play with no emotions; that's one of the things we love about him. Just have to channel it in the right direction.
Q: How difficult is it for a GM to exercise patience and watch a season unfold and to know when is the right time to intensify the pursuit of a fix via a trade or other move?
A: Believe me, general managers are just like the guys on the field. You're living and dying with each pitch and each inning. And because you're so competitive, you're always looking for what your team needs. That's why Bobby and I talk just about every day. Bruce [Manno, assistant GM] and I talk all day long about what our team needs and what it can do, and that leads to conversations with general managers with other clubs about what we can do to improve our ballclub. It's a constant process, but it's not about responding to the highs and lows, it's about seeing a trend over the course of months and how you see where your club is going, and making decisions about what you need to do.
Q: Does this team need a fix? If so, do you have the wherewithal and willingness to make a trade and take on significant additional payroll?
A: I think we have to look at every situation individually and consider all aspects, whether it's taking on payroll, looking at the prospects you'd have to give up. ... Looking at our future, we think we have the foundation for a good club now that will only get better as we go forward. Each situation will be analyzed on its own merits and what impact it will have on our club.
I don't see us adding significant payroll. We went out this past winter and added significant payroll. We're looking at all kinds of possibilities. If the right situation were presented, we would evaluate.
Q: What's your stance as far as trading top prospects for a quick-fix player who might be a free agent in a few months or next year? Are you more reluctant to make such a move than the Braves might have been in the past?
A: I just think we're very cognizant of the caliber of young players that we have in our system. I think every club is reluctant to trade its premium young prospects, and we're no different.
Q: Do you envision prospects like outfielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman joining Tommy Hanson in another year or two and helping form a new foundation for the team?
A: I think we have a number of young players, including Heyward and Freeman and others [like] Jordan Schafer, who are getting very close. Heyward and Freeman are in Double-A. From that point, they're within a year or two from the big leagues.
Q: Did working for so long with John Schuerholz and Dave Dombrowski [Wren was Marlins assistant GM under Dombrowski] help you better understand how to deal with frustrations that come with a 162-game season and ignore the demands and criticism from fans and media members?
A: I think both those guys were very patient and looked at the long term, but from a standpoint of when you put a team together, I think you've got to give that team a chance to gel and show what they can do over the course of a season. But at the same time, I think both of them [Schuerholz and Dombrowski] had a really good view and feeling for what a team needed. That's one thing I always marveled at about John, him being able to recognize what a team needed and going to get it.
Q: It seems like you've faced an inordinate number of special-circumstance situations since taking over as GM after the 2007 season. I'm referring to the Smoltz and Glavine matters and also matters involving Jeff Francoeur, and free-agent pursuits that fell through.
A: I think every job has its challenges. We've certainly had our share, but you learn and grow from each of them. Some were very difficult personally, others were circumstances out of our control. I say difficult personally, from personal feelings and having to make decisions you didn't necessarily want to make, but that were best for the organization and team. I think that goes with the territory.
Q: Do you have to have a thick skin to deal with all the criticism, and must you be able to put aside your own feelings and make decisions that could be perceived as cold business decisions?
A: There are times when you have to make a decision with your head rather than your heart. Those are probably the most difficult decisions you make in this job, because obviously it affects people's careers and their future. Those are tough decisions for all of us. We don't take them lightly.
Q: Do you ever wish you'd decided to purse a profession that was a little less stressful?
A: I'm sure there's times when you're thinking, 'I'd rather be doing something else.' But I think those times are very few and far between.
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