After seven years as assistant general manager, Frank Wren stepped up to general manager when John Schuerholz became president of the Atlanta Braves in October. Wren, once general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, has already been busy. The 49-year-old has presided over a major shuffling of the team roster in his four months on the job, making five trades, and re-signing former Atlanta favorites Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez.
Staff correspondent Guy Curtright caught up with Wren recently at Turner Field in this installment of "Getting to Know..." to talk about the coming season, his feelings about taking over for the ultra-successful Schuerholz and what's ahead with the Braves' Class AAA team coming to Gwinnett County in 2009. As was the case with his predecessor, Wren was mum when it came to contract talk, although signing Jeff Francoeur to a long-term contract is obviously an eventual goal of the team.
GC: You really hit your new job running. Did you expect to be able to do so much so quickly?
FW: You really don't know. You put a plan in place and you hope you can check every box. I think we've been able to accomplish most everything we wanted to do this winter and mostly with the players we wanted to accomplish it with. You usually can put pieces together to fill your holes, but not always with the players you wanted. But we were able to get Tom Glavine for our rotation and Will Ohman as our left-hander in the bullpen. They were on our October wish list and so was Mark Kotsay for center field. We're happy with the way the offseason has gone.
GC: Are you eager to get to spring training and see how everything meshes?
FW: No question. But I'm not worried about the chemistry or anything like that. This is a solid group. Still, this is an anxious time. You want to get going.
GC: John Schuerholz's decision to step away as general manager and become team president caught many around baseball by surprise. Did you know it was coming?
FW: Not at all. It was a complete shock. He'd given no indication at all that 2007 was his last year and we'd spent a lot of time together in September. I was stunned. He didn't give a clue. I'd certainly never want to play poker with him.
GC: Being able to keep everything under wraps was one of the things that made John Schuerholz such a successful general manager. What have you learned from him?
FW: The experience has been invaluable. I learned so much. Can I point to five specific things? No. I can point to 100 small things. I've been so fortunate to be around two Hall of Famers the last seven or eight years. John is going to be in the Hall of Fame as a general manager and Bobby Cox as a manager. Not many people get that kind of an opportunity, working with two Hall of Famers.
GC: This could be Bobby Cox's last season as manager, but no one is betting on that. What is your feeling? Could this be the end?
FW: I really don't know. That is a difficult one to answer. Bobby still seems enthused and excited about his job. All I know is that we've got one of the best that's ever managed in our dugout and that's certainly comforting for the general manager.
GC: The Braves locked up catcher Brian McCann with a long-term contract last spring. Are you trying to do the same thing with right fielder Jeff Francoeur this year?
FW: One of those things I learned from John Schuerholz is to keep those kind of conversations and thoughts private. Jeff knows how we feel about him. We want him to be here for a long time. I'll leave it at that.
GC: In addition to the player moves this offseason, the Braves also made news with the announcement that your Class AAA team is moving from Richmond to Gwinnett County in 2009. How significant is that to you?
FW: It's huge. The close proximity creates all kinds of opportunities for us. We're going to feel more connected. We're going to be able to run up there and see a game whenever we want. It's going to give us a better sense of our players and it's going to give our players a better sense of us. I think that it's going to have so many positive aspects. Logistically, we'll be able to get a player to Turner Field in minutes if we need him. Plus, Gwinnett will give us a great new facility for our players and kind of round out our farm system.
GC: You were a minor league player, coach and general manager. At that time, did you ever expect the attendance boom we have now in the minors and all the great new ballparks?
FW: No, not at all. In the 1980s, there were just a couple of little pockets of real hotbed minor league cities. I think people knew that it was possible, but you had to catch it just right. All of a sudden, it just clicked. Now with the new ballparks and the in-game entertainment, it is a great family activity. Teams are drawing big crowds and are real successes. We think Gwinnett is going to be one of those success stories.
GC: Fans in Gwinnett County are already thinking about the Braves prospects they will get to see play in the coming years. The organization seems loaded with talented players at the lower levels. Who might the fans be seeing in the years to come and when?
FW: I hate to put a timetable on a kid. It's easy to talk about Jason Heyward, an outfielder from Henry County who was our top draft pick last year. He has a lot of talent. In two or three years, he might be in Gwinnett. But I don't think it's fair to hang a timetable on him. He's just 18.
GC: Francouer and McCann skipped Class AAA and came directly to Atlanta from Class AA. Will that be less likely to happen now with the Richmond team moving to Gwinnett?
FW: I think it will change the way we perceive AAA and the way we utilize AAA. There will be so many opportunities to see the players in Gwinnett and watch them develop. Plus, we'll have the new stadium for them. We're well stocked in prospects at the lower levels and the first group will be in AA this year. In 2009, some of them will be at Gwinnett. We won't have to sign as many minor league free agents because we'll have more players ready for AAA.
GC: After some lean years, Richmond won the International League championship last season. Is the goal in AAA to win or develop players for the big league team?
FW: First and foremost, we are about development. Can you develop without winning? Absolutely. Is it easier to develop as a winner? No question. Our philosophy is to try to do both and we've been pretty successful at that. Our teams are usually competitive and that's not because we stock them with older players. It's because we have good young talent. At most every level, we're usually a year or two younger than the other teams. We want to win at each level, but that's not the main focus.
GC: Will the fans in Gwinnett see you at games a lot?
FW: In April and May and most of June, I'll visit all our minor league teams when the (Atlanta) Braves are out of town. After that, I'll usually travel with the team. But fans can expect to see me in Gwinnett once or twice a week. Other members of our staff will be there more regularly.
GC: How has the division of duties between you and John Schuerholz worked out? A lot of people thought that he would have a hard time stepping back now that he is president instead of GM.
FW: I thought the same thing. But he told me from the start that he wouldn't be looking over my shoulder and he hasn't. Actually, it's been kind of funny at times. He's been invited to baseball meetings, and hasn't come. His first love is obviously baseball and putting teams together, but he's stayed away from that and hasn't really even given his opinion when asked. But it's not a turf thing. I'd be foolish not to try to take advantage of all his knowledge and draw on it.
GC: So right now John is devoting his time to the business aspects of being team president, which I guess would be a busy job in itself?
FW: I think he's been concerned about getting the stadium deal done in Gwinnett and getting the new SunTrust Club up and going at Turner Field. That's his thing now. Once we get to spring training, I'm sure he'll get more involved in baseball again. But I think the transition has been as smooth as it possibly could be.