The Atlanta Braves spent a decade and a half writing the most successful chapter in franchise history.
It took Frank Wren one Wednesday to turn the page.
It’s about time.
The Braves general manager made a flurry of moves this week, sending a struggling rookie to Triple-A on Tuesday, then following up the next day by trading three prospects for a new center fielder, calling up the organization’s top prospect and cutting ties with a legend.
Every move was designed to make the team better now and in the future, especially the release of Tom Glavine in favor of up-and-comer Tommy Hanson.
It’s a sad way for a future Hall of Famer to leave, but a glorious past is no excuse for a mediocre present. In other words, the Braves didn’t owe Glavine any more than what he got: the option to retire a Brave or take his release.
Because the 300-game winner did everything right, on and off the field, it would’ve been a kind gesture for the Braves to eat the $1 million they owed Glavine if he made the active roster this year and trot him out to the mound for a few starts. But baseball’s a business built on wins, not gestures. Glavine accepted that when he took more money to go to Atlanta’s primary division rival, the New York Mets, in 2003.
Make no mistake; the Braves are a mediocre team right now, hovering around .500. Wren’s the man charged with making them better, and no one’s going to let him hang around the front office longer than his performance warrants.
And even amidst all the divergent opinions on the Braves’ wild week, few, if any, are making the argument that Glavine gives the 2009 Braves a better chance to win than does Hanson.
That’s why Wren deserves applause for this week’s moves. For the first time in recent memory, the Braves are making aggressive moves with an eye not only to the present, but the future, as well.
I wrote a week ago that the Braves shouldn’t mortgage their future for the chance to chase a Wild Card berth this season. And even though they sent three reputable prospects to Pittsburgh for Nate McLouth, the Braves will likely come out ahead in this deal.
McLouth’s contract is one reason why — he’s under club control (at an affordable rate) for this season and the next three.
What the Braves gave up in the deal is another.
Gorkys Hernandez is a highly regarded prospect: a speedster, who’s good with the glove in center field and who’s hitting better than .300 in Double-A this year. Charlie Morton is tearing up Triple-A, and Jeff Locke is a former second-round draft pick, a left-handed starter who hits 96 mph with his fastball.
That’s a lot to trade away (it’d have to be to get McLouth).
Hernandez was behind Jordan Schafer in the farm system, and the Braves got another capable outfielder in McLouth.
Morton, 25, is old for a prospect, and flopped in the bigs last year.
Locke has been a disappointment thus far, racking up a 5.52 ERA through 10 starts in high-A ball this year.
And none are proven big-league commodities.
On the other hand, you know what you’re getting with McLouth: a borderline All-Star just entering his prime (he’s 27), whose home run, RBI and stolen base totals exceed everybody on the Braves roster.
Not that he’ll be enough to push the Braves into the 2009 postseason. It’ll take some outstanding pitching — even better than they’ve gotten so far, and much better from the bullpen — for Atlanta to even squeak out a Wild Card bid.
But this week’s transactions weren’t of the now-or-never variety. More like now, or maybe sometime in the near future — less an attempt at the continuation of an era that’s passed, and more a bridge to a new chapter.
Sometimes icons become casualties in the process. Glavine’s seen it happen. In 1990, he was in his third full season in the majors when the Braves dealt fan favorite Dale Murphy to Philadelphia for three guys who never made an impact in Atlanta.
Now Glavine’s on the other side of his career.
His contributions to franchise won’t be forgotten, but they’re part of the past — a chapter in team history that’s finished now as the Braves wisely begin anew.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor at The Times. His column appears Fridays.