GM Wren narrowing focus on trade market
Braves could use boost in oufield without messing up chemistry
ATLANTA -- Over the course of the past three weeks, the Braves have welcomed Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens and Matt Diaz back from the disabled list. Combined with the acquisition of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, these boosts have given Braves general manager Frank Wren every reason to believe that his roster has already gained some significant upgrades.
But with the July 31 Trade Deadline approaching, Wren still finds himself evaluating ways to improve a club that owns the National League East's best record and possesses the tremendous confidence that has steadily built since the middle of May.
"You don't want to disrupt a good thing in a lot of ways," Wren said. "But at the same time, we've got to put the most talented club on the field. If there is somebody out there who improves our club dramatically, we have to be open to it."
While going a Major League-best 41-20 since the start of play on May 10, the Braves have ridden the consistency provided by a pitching staff that Chipper Jones believes is deeper than any of the others the club has possessed since he arrived in Atlanta.
Jurrjens' ability to provide nothing but optimism in the three starts he's made since returning from the DL has given Wren even less reason to look for arms on the trade market. Likewise, while hitting .414 in the seven games he has started since being activated, Diaz has at least given the Braves less reason to believe they definitely need to trade for another outfielder.
With Heyward's healthy left thumb once again enabling him to take aggressive, violent swings from the plate, the Braves can be confident about the production they'll receive from their corner outfield positions.
But when Nate McLouth is activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, Wren will have just a little more than a week to determine whether he needs to acquire a player who could provide consistency at the center-field position down the stretch.
When McLouth was sidelined on June 9 with a concussion, he was hitting just .176 with a .295 on-base percentage. In the seven rehab games he played for Triple-A Gwinnett, the former All-Star outfielder recorded eight hits (seven singles and one homer) in 31 at-bats.
"I think we have to be open," Wren said. "We still have to be in that mode of evaluating and seeing what opportunities there are. At the same time, we need to figure out what's the biggest thing we need.
"I just don't know yet. That's not being evasive. I just think we need to let this play out a little bit."
As Wren narrows his focus on the trade market, he and his scouts are evaluating players who could improve his club while playing either left field or center field. Some of the players they have evaluated include Kansas City's David DeJesus, Florida's Cody Ross, Milwaukee's Corey Hart and Washington's Josh Willingham.
Some members of the Braves organization believe Hart would be a good addition and others equate him to Jeff Francoeur. This, combined with the fact that they'd have to provide an attractive return package, lessens the likelihood that he will end up in Atlanta.
The Royals are also looking for a significant return for DeJesus, who would give the Braves the consistency that they need in center field. Atlanta might not have to give up as much to get Ross if they quickly determine it needs to improve the options at the center-field position for the season's final 2 1/2 months.
"It's a tough call, because we are where we are because of what we've got here," Jones said. "But I'm always of the belief, the more, the merrier."
While Diaz has provided reason for encouragement, he still has to deal with the label of being a guy who finds most of his success against left-handed pitchers. Since the start of the 2009 season, he has hit .374 against left-handers and .248 against right-handers.
If Eric Hinske was still hitting like he did when he batted .358 during his final 19 games in May, the Braves might be comfortable platooning him in left field with Diaz. But while hitting just .224 over his past 35 games, Hinske has given the Braves reason to look for another left-handed hitter who might provided more consistency while sharing time with Diaz.
Wren's decision to trade shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays in exchange for Gonzalez proved to be a very popular swap within the clubhouse. But if Wren were to make a move that affected either Diaz or Hinske, he would be challenging the clubhouse chemistry that he has worked so hard to create with the moves he has made over the past couple of years.
"We've played really well and we've got a real good nucleus of core players, and our semi-regulars are pretty good," Wren said. "So you don't want to break that up. But at the same time, I think when you look at the big picture, we want to have the best team we can possibly have going down the stretch."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.