When all is said and done, Frank Wren’s seven-year tenure as Braves general manager might be remembered most for a few regrettable contracts he handed out.
Wren, who was fired on Monday, made several highly successful trades, waiver claims and under-the-radar free agent signings over the years.
However, his biggest-ticket moves turned out to be major, high-profile disappointments: He signed center fielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract that was the largest free-agent deal in team history; gave Dan Uggla a five-year, $62 million contract extension before the second baseman had ever played an inning for Atlanta; and signed Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million contract after the Braves were spurned by other free-agent pitchers.
The Braves paid $10 million of the $15 million owed Lowe for the last year of his contract as part of the trade that sent him to Cleveland. They ate about $19 million of Uggla’s contract when they released him this summer with 1 ½ seasons left on the deal. Upton has been one of baseball’s worst hitters for two seasons with the Braves, and they are expected to make every effort to dump him this winter even if they have to eat much of the approximate $46 million he’ll be owed.
Wren also signed pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to a three-year, $23 million deal. The Braves got an 8-22 record from him in two seasons before banishing him to Double-A after Kawakami refused a trade to a Japanese team.
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“I think there’s some obvious things that you wish had turned out differently,” Wren said Monday afternoon. “You always feel that way. You don’t have that ability to see into the future when you’re making decisions, but it wasn’t because you didn’t put every bit of effort into making the organization a winning organization.”
Nearly seven years after John Schuerholz named his longtime former assistant as his GM successor, it was Schuerholz, now team president, who met with Wren and assistant GM Bruce Manno on Monday and fired them.
“We’ve had a very good relationship for 15 years,” Wren said. “I’m sure it was difficult for both parties.”
Also Monday, Schuerholz fired Wren’s brother Jeff, a Braves scout and special assistant to the GM.
Wren, 56, was fired after one season as Orioles general manager I 1999. That was sandwiched between eight-year stints as assistant GM with the Marlins under Dave Dombrowski through 1998, and with the Braves under Schuerholz until taking over when Schuerholz became team president in October 2007.
“It was an honor to be the general manager of the Braves for seven years,” Wren said. “I think we had some success; not as much as we’d like. Probably the thing I’m most proud of is that for the last six full seasons, up until today our fans had only watched three games that weren’t meaningful, in the last week of ’09…. The fans have been supportive and great, and I wish the franchise nothing but the best.”
The Braves were eliminated from the wild-card race in the final week of the 2009 season, then won a wild-card berth in 2010, Bobby Cox’s final season as manager. They blew a huge September lead in the wild-card race in September 2011 and were eliminated on the final day of the season. They won a wild-card berth in 2012 and won the NL East title in 2013.
Wren, an Ohio native, was a former Montreal Expos minor league outfielder who reached the Double-A level before his career was ended by injury. He went on to coach in the Expos minor league system before becoming a scout and working his way up to director of Latin American scouting.
His three sons include Kyle, 23, a Braves center-field prospect who was Player of the Year at high-Single A Lynchburg this season. He split the season between Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi and batted .290 with a .350 on-base percentage in 132 games, with eight triples and 46 stolen bases in 60 attempts.