You can truly say that these Braves are Frank Wren's team. He starts with some established pieces Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and a corps of pitchers and filled in around them. And you might say that he laid the pitching cornerstone almost the moment he moved up the ladder, out of John Schuerholz's shadow into the title of general manager.
That would have been in October 2007, and right off he made a trade vastly underrated in the passage of time. He moved Edgar Renteria, the shortstop, to Detroit in exchange for Jair Jurrjens, the Curacoan pitcher, and an outfielder long forgotten. What Jurrjens has become is a starter to build around. He and Tommy Hanson, off the farm. Though not all of Wren's moves have been madly applauded.
Derek Lowe comes to mind here, a free spirited breathe of fresh air, but a payroll burden. Wren plucked him out of free agency and over-spent $60 million for four years untradeable and it has come back to haunt him.
About the same time he signed the Japanese pitcher, Kenshin Kawakami, for another bundle, said to be about $23 million. Already he had on hand Javier Vasquez from the White Sox, in exchange for four young hands they would never miss. That and the deal for Jurrgens were two stars in Wren's crown. Lowe was not, though the big guy did win 15 games with an inflated earned run average.
So he had to unload Vasquez's heavy salary, and it's never popular when you trade away your best pitcher. Nor when you decide you can't afford to keep Adam LaRoche, who had become a major league power guy. What Wren did here was improvise. He signed a third baseman, Troy Glaus to play first, and Mr. Glaus is a man of power, though he has never played first base. Looking pretty good, for the last time I saw his spring training figures he was batting l.000 eight for eight.
There's other bright news from Lake Buena Vista. Bobby Cox has discovered another outfield sensation, somewhat along the lines of Jeff Francoeur, a local if you accept McDonough as local. Jason Heyward I'll say it now will open the season in rightfield. He has been busting out car windows and leaving large dents in the parking lot in Florida. Tall, powerful, speedy, athletic. They have this sound effects recording that rings out over the public address following home runs at the spring camp. They don't have to turn that thing on any more. Heyward supplies his own crashing effects.
So you have an outfield of Heyward, Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz and one of the many major league Cabreras Melky, in the outfield. You have Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar and the trademark Jones Chipper and Glaus on the infield. I never dare risk my reputation dealing with bullpens, but I always feel certain with Peter Moylan, and my jury is still out on Billy Wagner.
I leave the rest to Cox, whom, you may have heard, is retiring, but not until the season is done.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures likes Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.