The annual renewal of spring may not be enough to erase the bitterness of 2011—especially since Atlanta’s reaction during the winter hot stove season seemed as cold as Jason Heyward’s bat. But general manager Frank Wren explains what happened last September, why he’s not worried about 2012, and why fans need to forget any Hollywood dreams of a quick fix.
It’s been a slow winter for you guys. Do you feel you’ve done enough to address what went wrong last season? After a difficult September like we had, there’s always a knee-jerk reaction to make wholesale changes to signal that we’re not going to put up with this anymore. But the more we talked internally over the winter—coaches, scouts, manager, players—we all had the same feeling: We had a really bad September, but that’s not indicative of the team we have. If you look back to August 24, we had the third most wins in all of baseball and a commanding lead in the wild card. We had a tough month after that.
What happened? There were a variety of reasons. I think the four days off for the hurricane in New York impacted us. I think we lost our edge. That’s just a gut feeling I have.
A lot of fans were calling for [manager] Fredi Gonzalez’s job. I think Fredi did a really good job last year. He put us in a great position. And I watched up close and personal all the different strategies he used to try and break this team out of that slump. The team just didn’t respond.
What were some of the things he tried? Adjusting the lineup. Adjusting their work schedule. He tried positive reinforcement. He tried getting a little tougher. But it started downhill and we couldn’t stop it.
So how is the same team going to do better? We welcome Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson back to the rotation after missing the second half of last year. We have a dominant bullpen, and some of our young pitchers got some invaluable experience while Jurrjens and Hanson were down.
Is there a concern that you have too much pitching and not enough depth in the field? We need some players to bounce back. Dan Uggla is going to be more settled. Martin Prado, who was our MVP in 2010, was lost to a staph infection in June and never quite bounced back. Brian McCann pulled his oblique muscle in August, and when he came back, he couldn’t find his timing or his groove. If Jason Heyward makes the adjustments he appears to have made this off-season, that’ll be another big add for our offense. That makes us a different, more consistent team, and that was our overall problem last year: a lack of consistency offensively.
And if some players don’t bounce back the way we expect, we’re going to need to make some adjustments. If we had gone out this winter and made a big deal of acquiring players—exhausting our resources, both financially and in terms of talent—we very well might have acquired the wrong need. Our powder is still dry. We haven’t gone out and used our resources yet.
Then you can just pick up the phone like Brad Pitt in “Moneyball.” The movie was entertaining. But there are a few things that I need to debunk from the top: First thing, there is no such thing as a five-minute deal. You don’t pick up a phone and call another general manager and say, “Here is the deal we’re going to do.” There’s a lot of research and strategy that goes into the delivery [of the offer], and the phone calls take place over the course of a few days or months.
There are also rules against walking through the opposing clubs’ cubicles and talking to employees—it’s called tampering.
And, by the way, there is no major league clubhouse that has a Coke machine where you have to put money in.
*EXTENDED VERSION OF THE INTERVIEW THAT RAN IN OUR APRIL 2012 ISSUE
Frank Wren; courtesy of the Atlanta Braves