Wren searching for upgrades as season nears
Roster mostly set, but depth still a concern
VIERA, Fla. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren has spent the past month evaluating his club as it progressed through the Grapefruit League season. Now, like his peers, he will spend the final days leading up to the regular season evaluating potential ways to improve his club.
"You're always trying to get a little better," Wren said. "So we're having discussions about some areas that could possibly make us a little better."
With their Opening Day game against the Mets less than a week away, the Braves are still looking at ways to strengthen their bench and add depth to a bullpen that became a little thinner than expected when it was learned Arodys Vizcaino needed to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Before Chipper Jones learned he needed to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the Braves knew they may need to improve their bench and gain some insurance in the event that the soon-to-be 40-year-old Jones would struggle to play on a consistent basis. His absence forces Martin Prado to move to third base and open the left field position for Eric Hinske or Matt Diaz.
The Braves are currently looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder or third baseman that could help fortify the depth that would be weakened when Hinske or Diaz are in the lineup.
Nationals veteran outfielder Xavier Nady has drawn some interest from the Braves. The veteran underwent Tommy John surgery for a second time in 2009 and missed the final months of last year with a broken hand. Nady signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals and was not considered an option for an Opening Day roster spot before impressing manager Davey Johnson with a round of batting practice earlier this week.
But Nady stands as just one of the many players being evaluated by Wren, who might also feel a greater need to find a reliever now that Cory Gearrin has struggled through his past two appearances. Gearrin and left-hander Yohan Flande are the only remaining candidates to fill the final two available spots in Atlanta's bullpen.
"We're tinkering and looking and evaluating," Wren said. "But I think 22 spots on the club are solidified. Now we're just looking to see if there is something out there that can improve us."
Along with potentially adding players, the Braves are also still debating whether Tyler Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons should begin the season as their starting shortstop. Simmons altered the original plans when he showed some promise with his bat as Pastornicky struggled to deal with the pressure he felt during the early weeks of the exhibition season.
But as Simmons has recorded just three hits in his past 26 at-bats, there has been much less reason for the team to allow him to make the jump from the Class A to the Majors just because he is the superior defender. The 22-year-old infielder has shown signs that he could benefit from the opportunity to at least test himself against Double-A pitchers.
Meanwhile, Pastornicky has registered nine hits in his last 20 at-bats and seemingly become more comfortable in the field. He admits he was dealing with a lot of pressure as he prepares for his first experience at the Major League level and the opportunity to be a starting shortstop.
If the Braves begin the year with Pastornicky in Atlanta, Simmons would have the chance to gain some more development and be better prepared if he were to get the call to the Majors later this summer.
"We've seen some ups and downs, but overall we're starting to see it smooth out some," Wren said when asked about the shortstop competition.
The Braves have been encouraged to see Jack Wilson's previously-strained right calf has not been a problem since he returned to action. Wilson will begin the year as a backup infielder who will be able to provide guidance to either Simmons or Pastornicky.
With Jones expected to miss at least the first week of the season while recovering from knee surgery, utility infielder Drew Sutton could gain an Opening Day roster spot. The last roster spot for a position player could be filled by either Jordan Parraz, Jose Constanza or Luis Durango.
Jason Heyward has weakened the candidacies of Constanza and Durango while proving he is the club's best option to play center field whenever Michael Bourn needs a break. But like Parraz, both Durango and Constanza are speedy outfielders who can play the corner outfield positions.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.