An unfazed Wren remained focussed before striking a better deal
When Ryan Dempster balked at the opportunity to come to Atlanta, Braves general manager Frank Wren did not flinch. Instead, he kept his focus on his team’s needs and ended up completing what appears to be a better deal.
Wren was deservedly displaying a smile when he met with media members just after midnight to reveal he had landed starting pitcher Paul Maholm and veteran backup outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Sure he might have had to part ways with a prized young arm in Arodys Vizcaino.
But in the end he gave up less and got more than he would have had Dempster agreed to be traded to the Braves.
And for the second straight year, Wren and his staff managed to satisfy their needs while working with some definite financial constraints.
Like the Astros paid for the remainder of Michael Bourn’s 2011 salary after he was acquired before last year’s deadline,the Cubs provided the cash necessary to take care of the money owed to Maholm and Johnson for the remainder of this season.
Obviously, this might require giving up a highly-regarded prospect like Vizcaino. But as Chipper Jones nears his final year, the Braves players will appreciate Wren’s dedication to make a move that improves the odds that this year’s team will be a threat down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs.
Had Dempster accepted last week’s trade, the Braves were going to compensate the Cubs with Randall Delgado, a highly-regarded 22-year-old pitcher who already has made 24 Major League starts. Approximately four hours before this trade was completed, a National League scout said he regards Delgado as the best of the Braves’ pitching prospects.
Once Delgado grows more comfortable with his curveball, he has the potential to be an even more valuable part of Atlanta’s starting rotation. With Julio Teheran struggling and leaving many scouts unimpressed with the life of his pitches this year, Delgado’s value to the Braves has risen.
Once Vizcaino, ranked as the Braves’ third-best prospect by MLB.com, recovers from Tommy Johns elbow reconstruction surgery early next year, he has the potential to be Carlos Marmol’s successor as the Cubs’ closer. The hard-throwing right-hander with the impressive curveball is a tremendous talent. But with most within the industry projecting him as a reliever, it seems easier to move him than the other young prospect who could strengthen a rotation for many years to come.
When the Braves approached the Brewers about Zack Greinke, it was apparent that they were not going to get anywhere in the negotiations without guaranteeing that Delgado, Teheran or Mike Minor would be part of a multi-player deal.
While it might have been easier to accept such a price for a difference maker like Greinke, the Braves would have taken some heat had Dempster accepted the trade that would have sent Delgado to Chicago. Though Dempster is in the midst of an impressive season, there is reason to wonder if his hesitancy to accept a trade might have made him any more valuable than the red-hot Maholm, who has posted a 1.02 ERA and limited opponents to a .203 batting average in his past six starts.
Maholm provides the Braves a reliable middle-of-the-rotation asset who will cost just $6.5 million with his option for the 2013 season. The 30-year-old left-handed pitcher grew up a Braves fan and he has posted a 1.69 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field.
Along with Maholm, the Braves received the veteran versatility provided by Johnson, who can serve as a backup at each of the three outfield positions and strengthen what has been a weak bench. Johnson has batted .448 (13-for-29) as a pinch hitter this year and also shown the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He has hit .321 (27-for-84) against lefties and .282 (24-for-85) against right-handers.
Johnson will essentially fill the role that had been filled by Matt Diaz, who is dealing with a right thumb ailment.
With Maholm’s presence, the Braves now have the choice to skip the struggling Tommy Hanson when his next turn comes around. Maholm will either make his first start on Friday (if the Braves choose to give Tim Hudson one extra day of rest) or on Saturday. This would set up the opportunity for Kris Medlen to return on regular rest to start in Hanson’s place on Sunday.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez hinted that this could be a possibility after he had watched Hanson labor through five innings against the Marlins on Monday night. Hanson has issued 14 walks and allowed opponents to hit .309 against him in the 14 innings he has completed since the All-Star break.
Hanson does not appear to be having the shoulder discomfort that plagued him and eventually shut him down after last year’s break. But the Braves might be wise to skip him for at least one turn with the hope that he might regain some arm strength and command.