Braves not pushing panic button
Pitching staff's work, NL East foes keeping race close
ATLANTA -- Two months into the season, the Braves are still waiting for the arrival of pitching prospect Tommy Hanson and the solution to their outfield woes, which seemingly grow with every Jordan Schafer strikeout.
While Hanson's much-anticipated arrival is just a call away, Braves general manager Frank Wren doesn't have the luxury of fixing his oft-anemic offense by simply pushing a few buttons on his cell phone.
Fortunately, with assistance from the Mets and Phillies so far this season in the standings, Wren doesn't necessarily find himself in a position where he must push the panic button. Even on the heels of a 2-5 road trip that erased valuable momentum, the Braves hit June just four games back in the National League East race.
"I think there's a sense of satisfaction in the fact that we like our pitching staff and a sense of urgency that we need to get going from an offensive perspective," Wren said. "If we can get it all going at the same time, we'll have a real good team."
Considering the Braves rank last in the National League in stolen bases (11) and 14th in slugging percentage (.394), maybe they should feel good about the fact that they've achieved a .500 record without any clear indication of power or speed.
But when you account for the fact that the starting rotation has posted the NL's fourth-best ERA (3.93), the Braves find reason to believe that they've actually underachieved during the season's first 50 games.
"I think our offense has to be better to be where we want to be," Wren said.
When Wren committed more than $100 million to upgrade his rotation with the offseason acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami, he provided clear indication that his club wasn't in a transition phase that would simply bridge the gap to a future that shines bright with the presence of Hanson's gifted right arm.
In the process, Wren placed less emphasis on improving an outfield mix that has proven to be a glaring weakness for a second straight season. While signing Tom Glavine instead of making a push for Bobby Abreu, the Braves put a lot of faith in Jeff Francoeur's ability to rebound from his forgettable 2008 season.
Instead of a rebound, Francoeur has essentially experienced a repeat. His .615 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) only looks good when compared to the .600 mark posted by Schafer, whose rookie struggles are evidenced through his 63 strikeouts -- second in the National League.
There are just two qualified NL outfielders -- San Diego's Brian Giles and Arizona's Chris Young -- with lower OPS marks than Francoeur and Schafer.
When left fielder Garret Anderson took Diamondbacks right-hander Max Scherzer deep on Sunday, it marked the first homer hit by a Braves outfielder since May 1. While hitting .333 with a .424 slugging percentage in his past 17 games, Anderson has at least provided some indication this outfield mix has a pulse.
But while the platoon mix of Anderson and Matt Diaz might provide satisfactory results in left field, the Braves still have definite concerns about their other two outfield positions.
With Gregor Blanco showing some recent improvement with Triple-A Gwinnett, the Braves at least have the internal option of putting him in center and allowing Schafer to right himself in the Minors.
This simple solution isn't available in right field.
Because his trade value is minimal at best, the Braves can only hope that Francoeur improves the .219 batting average and .482 OPS that he's produced during his past 27 games. Their option of sending him to the Minors would hinge on the possibility of gaining a right fielder through a trade market that is currently stagnant.
"It's not going to be easy," Wren said in reference to landing an outfielder via trade. "We've been talking to clubs for a while, and most of them are reluctant to make a move right now. There are a number of clubs looking for offense with a power bat. None of us can shake one loose."
Obviously if Wren were to dangle Hanson, there would likely be some power bats that come into the picture. But there's absolutely no desire to trade the big right-hander, who has posted a 1.49 ERA and limited opponents to a .169 batting average in 11 starts with Gwinnett.
Instead, the Braves may have to appease other clubs by offering Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes, who have seen their futures in Atlanta blurred by the emergence of Kris Medlen and Hanson.
When the Braves promoted Medlen instead of Hanson two weeks ago, they said that their decision was based on the possibility that the available spot in the rotation might prove to be temporary.
Still, there was definite reason to wonder if they simply wanted to avoid the possibility of Hanson qualifying as a Super-Two player. By doing so, he would have gained an extra arbitration-eligible season and consequently proven to be more expensive during the controlled years leading up to his first eligible season on the free-agent market.
But with the Super-Two element now out of the equation, the Braves have yet to target Hanson's Major League debut and likely won't do so until Tom Glavine makes at least one more Minor League rehab start and provides better indication about his ability to be a productive member of the starting rotation.
"I think when we feel like we have a need, we'll call him up," Wren said. "Tommy [Hanson] is very close to being ready."
While Hanson possesses the potential to serve as a difference maker on the mound, his presence won't negate the fact the Braves have an immediate need to locate an outfield solution that at least allows them to enter July with the same kind of remaining optimism that currently exists.
"As you can see with what happened over the past four weeks, you have a different feeling at the end of every week," Wren said. "There are a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. But right now, we feel like we've got a pretty good feel for our team. We just have to determine what is best for it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.