Will Wren be a buyer or seller?
With the three-game losing streak they carried into Tuesday, the Braves found themselves in the same position they were when they began their five-game winning streak on June 28. Still the five-game division deficit they now face seems much more daunting than it did just a week ago, when the fumbling Phillies were coming to Turner Field.
While the first-place Phillies have won four straight since being swept out of Atlanta last week, the Braves have destroyed all of the positive energy they’d created before saying goodbye to their season-best five-game winning streak during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Washington D.C.
Since being six outs away from recording a sixth straight win, the Braves have completed 20 consecutive innings without a lead and provided even more reason to believe that even with their strong starting rotation, they are destined for prolonged mediocrity.
Braves general manager Frank Wren finds himself essentially in the same position he was on this date last year, when his club was six games back. At the time, he said he was going to continue monitoring the pulse of the club before determining whether he was going to move Mark Teixeira.
Wren remained patient until the Braves blew five-run leads on consecutive days in Philadelphia (July 26 and 27) and then opted to deal Teixeira with the handicap of having to find a trade partner that could provide a first baseman in return.
With Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Wren possesses three pitchers, who could each individually provide a greater return than Teixeira, who was traded to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.
Affordable relievers who have the ability to close and durable starters prove to be in more demand than first basemen, who could prove to be just a two-month rental.
But while still waiting for his team to experience its first string of prolonged success, Wren really doesn’t know whether he’ll be a buyer or a top seller when this year’s trade deadline arrives.
Without the ability to add to his payroll, his position as a buyer in search of another bat will certainly be financially hindered.
But with these three pitchers, he could prove to be an attractive seller with the ability to start building for the future.
Until they definitely fall out of the postseason picture, the Braves won’t even attempt to trade Vazquez. Thoughts of moving him to gain funds to add a bat are erased by the reality that the Braves need him in a rotation that won’t include Tim Hudson until at least the final week of August.
And if Wren isn’t blown away with any offers for Vazquez, there isn’t any definite need to trade the 32-year-old right-hander, who is set to make $11.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.
Hudson, who is one year older and coming back from Tommy John surgery, has a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season. Of course any concerns about his health could be trumped by the concerns created by the fact that Vazquez has proven to be one of those inconsistent pitchers, who encounters success on an every-other-year basis.
With both Gonzalez and Soriano being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to ask for significant returns if they reach a point where they decide to trade either or both of these closers.
Instead of simply settling for the best available return like they did with Teixeira, they’ll be content to allow both Gonzalez and Soriano enter the free agent market, with the understanding that they’ll either bring one back or at least be compensated with the draft picks their departures would provide.
There was very little chance that Teixeira was going to accept the arbitration offer that the Braves would have provided had they kept him through the remainder of the 2008 season, with the desire to at least receive draft pick compensation.
Of course had Teixeira accepted an arb offer, the financial ramifications would have been much greater than those provided by the small risk the Braves would take if they reach a point in December, where they have to offer arbitration to either Soriano or Gonzalez.
Wren has already assumed the role of buyer once this year with his June 3 acquisition of Nate McLouth, who is a hitter that many offensively-needy teams would currently covet.
Still while McLouth has proven to be a definite upgrade, the Braves won just 13 of the 30 games they’ve played since he joined their lineup. Of course four of those wins were notched last week, when McLouth was sidelined with a sore left hamstring.
There’s no doubt that McLouth is going to make an impact in Atlanta beyond this year. He’s a legit five-tool player, whose presence in Atlanta would already been much more celebrated had he not arrived just in time to see both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann start to endure simultaneous struggles.
Over his past 21 games, McCann has hit .250 with two homers and seven RBIs. The always-dependable All-Star catcher also has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
As for Jones, over the course of his past 25 games, he has hit .213 with one homer and nine RBIs.
While winning just 10 of their past 25 games, the Braves have received a total of 19 RBIs from McCann and Jones.
There’s no doubt that McCann and Jones will turn things around. But will they do so before Wren is forced to make the decision to enter the trade market as a seller?