12/9/2013 7:18 P.M. ET
Wren: Braves likely focused on filling support roles
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While some fans are still holding out hope for completing a trade that would bring David Price or Jeff Samardzija to Atlanta, Braves general manager Frank Wren seems more focused on making less-sexy acquisitions that could strengthen the depth of his roster.
"I don't see, necessarily, a front-line move," Wren said. "I see more support moves, where you are adding a bench bat that can give you power off the bench. Or adding to our bullpen or adding to the depth of our rotation. I see it more likely to make those moves than the big front-line moves."
While Wren might not make a big splash during this week's Winter Meetings, he and his staff members will still spend the next few days evaluating ways to improve a roster that will look quite similar to the one the Braves utilized while recording 96 wins and cruising toward a National League East title this past season.
As the Braves attempt to win a second consecutive division title, they will be challenged by the Nationals, who improved their strong starting rotation with last week's acquisition of Doug Fister. But instead of allowing himself to be unnerved by what the division rivals are doing, Wren has remained confident that he already has the pieces in place to build off of the team's success in 2013.
The only new regular in Atlanta's projected lineup will be Evan Gattis, who will replace Brian McCann as the starting catcher and benefit from the 89 starts he combined to make behind the plate and in the outfield last season.
Tim Hudson's decision to sign with the Giants left the Braves without a veteran presence in their starting rotation. But with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and either Alex Wood or David Hale, Wren believes he has five capable starters.
When Wren looks at his projected relief corps, he finds essentially the same cast that produced a franchise-record bullpen ERA in 2013.
"We like our team," Wren said. "We're going to be young again. We like that mix. There are three or four areas we would like to fortify and improve and add depth. If Spring Training was starting tomorrow, we would like our team and feel that we would do well. But there is always room to improve."
This seems to be one of those rare years in which it would be appropriate to say that the Braves have more wants than needs. There is no doubt the club could benefit from the addition of an ace. But given the scarcity of talent available on the free-agent and trade markets, this is not the optimal year to be in the market for a front-line starting pitcher.
Price stands as the only available starting pitcher who fits the description of ace. But the Braves do not seem interested in providing the kind of significant return the Rays are seeking in exchange for Price.
While the Cubs might have a lower asking price for Samardzija, it does not appear the Braves are interested in paying the price it would take to acquire the right-hander, who has compiled a 4.32 ERA in 66 career starts.
"Sure, we'd all love to have [an established ace]," Wren said. "They're really hard to get. The number one way you get one is to draft and develop them yourself. We have a number of young kids who we feel have that ability. Over the course of time, we'd love to develop them and get them in our rotation."
The Braves have little concern about their bullpen, which could once again feature dominant closer Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro and Luis Vazquez, a Minor League free-agent acquisition who has drawn rave reviews from scouts who have seen him pitching in the Dominican Winter League.
Wren said he expressed some interest in having Eric O'Flaherty return to Atlanta next year. O'Flaherty was Kimbrel's top setup man before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in May. The left-handed reliever, who will likely not pitch before the second half of May, is also drawing interest from the Nationals and Yankees.
Along with continuing to monitor O'Flaherty's situation, the Braves will spend the next few weeks evaluating the fluctuations on the trade and free-agent markets.
While last year's Winter Meetings elapsed, the Braves did not feel good about the possibility of acquiring Justin Upton from the D-backs. But with the landscape altered six weeks later, Wren completed the trade that provided the Braves two players -- Upton and Chris Johnson -- who were instrumental to the Braves' success in 2013.
"You just have to be patient," Wren said. "In the situation we're in, we can be more patient, because we don't have that absolute dire need that has to be filled by Opening Day."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.