Inbox: Has Wren's retooling been fruitful?
Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers Braves fans' questions
How would you rate general manager Frank Wren's offseason? I think he's done a fantastic job of filling needs and positioning the Braves for another playoff run.
-- Brent W., Kailua, Hawaii
The mission of this offseason was to build upon the strides made over the past two seasons and make a slight repair to the turbulent offseason that preceded the 2009 campaign. Well, even with Kenshin Kawakami still around to provide a reminder of the panic experienced two winters ago, Wren certainly has every reason to feel good about what he's done the past couple of months.
Erasing the need for a powerful right-handed bat with the acquisition of Dan Uggla certainly has the makings of being beneficial. More importantly, Wren made sure Uggla would be more than a one-year rental. Those who are concerned about the fact that the veteran second baseman was given a five-year deal must realize this relationship was going to last either one or five seasons.
There weren't going to be any two or three-year deals available. As Wren said last week, Uggla was going to get a four-year contract as a free agent next year. The Braves simply acted in a proactive manner and provided this one year early.
Like every other acquisition that has ever been made, this certainly wasn't perfect. There are concerns about Uggla's defense and the fact that this move unseated Martin Prado from second base. But before dwelling too long on this, it should be remembered that Prado could easily find himself back in the infield next year if this indeed proves to be Chipper Jones' final season.
In addition, with his power potential, Uggla can certainly compensate for whatever defensive flaws he might have. Albert Pujols is the only right-handed National League player with more homers over the past five seasons. The Braves now simply hope their new second baseman maintains his pop for another five years.
Along with adding power to the lineup, Wren seemingly proved successful in his bid to add leadership to his bullpen mix. Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill have both experienced recent struggles. But they both seem capable of proving effective in defined middle-relief roles. More importantly, they are quite capable of providing the kind of direction that Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters need.
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With a little more than a month left before the start of Spring Training, the Braves might not make any more roster moves. But when Wren indicated last week that Jordan Schafer would be his backup outfielder if the season started today, he simply confirmed that he is still working to complete this offseason's work with the acquisition of someone who could prove versatile enough to serve as center fielder Nate McLouth's backup.
With all the money owed Kawakami, will he at least be given a shot at Spring Training?
-- Alan J., Huntsville, Ala.
In all honesty, I thought Kawakami's relationship with the Braves would have expired before the end of October. But that was before I learned Kawakami had no interest in returning to Japan to pitch for clubs who had a genuine interest in having him as part of their starting rotation.
Now I wouldn't be surprised if the Braves end up going through the first couple days or weeks of Spring Training before finding a pitching-hungry Major League club that is willing to pay what Wren would deem a respectable portion of the $6.77 million still owed to Kawakami.
Wren said last week that some Major League clubs have offered to pay more than $2 million of Kawakami's salary. Well if this is true and continues to be true, there might soon be a time when it's prudent to move on and allow the accounting department to make a $4 million loss look like a $2 million gain.
Will Jason Heyward protect Uggla or will Uggla protect Heyward?
-- Bob S., Lancaster, Pa.
As things currently stand, it appears the Braves are preparing to begin the season with Heyward batting in the sixth spot. If Jones is healthy, he'll be sitting in the third spot in front of either Brian McCann or Uggla, who could see their positioning determined by whether the opposing team is starting a right-handed or left-handed pitcher.
If Heyward produces like he did during last season's first six weeks or again during a three-week stretch that began in late August, we'll once again hear cries for him to unseat Jones from the third spot in the order. The odds of him doing so obviously will be heavily influenced by the kind of production the veteran third baseman provides while returning from knee surgery.
If Jones is able to produce something similar to the .520 slugging percentage he tallied from June 15-Aug. 10 last year, then he might still be capable of being most effective in that third spot. There's no doubt he still draws the utmost respect from opposing pitchers and managers.
Despite the struggles he's encountered, Jones has compiled a .415 on-base percentage over the past three seasons. That ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the Majors and second-highest NL mark during this span.
Dale Murphy missed out on the Hall of Fame again. Do you think the "Steroid Era" will help The Murph's chances of getting into the Hall?
-- Dano K., Greensboro, N.C.
Two years ago, we waited to see what kind of effect the Mitchell Report might have on "clean" players like Murphy. Well as last week's results proved, not a whole lot has changed for Murphy, who will likely officially bid adieu to his Hall of Fame hopes when he expires his eligibility to be on the ballot at the end of the 2013 voting process.
About a month after the Mitchell Report was released on Dec. 13, 2007, Murphy was included on 13.8 percent of the ballots -- a four-percent increase compared to one year earlier. But in the three votes that have followed, he has never gained more support than he did last week, when he was named on 12.6 percent of the ballots.
Murphy was obviously one of the game's greatest players from 1982-87. But this six-season stretch still wasn't great enough to compensate for struggles he encountered during the other seasons that encompassed this career.
Like Murphy during the 1980s, Ryan Howard has spent the past six years proving to be one of the game's most-feared hitters. Defensively, there is no comparison between Howard and Murphy. But right now their Hall of Fame credentials seem quite similar.
Murphy flourished during the dominant six-season stretch and then hit .238 with a .715 OPS in the four seasons that followed. If Howard were to produce these kinds of numbers over the next four seasons, would you consider him to be a Hall of Famer?
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.