Frank Wren might be a bad guy, but Braves fans should count that among their blessings.
Maybe he’s the kind of heartless Scrooge that many Braves fans have made him out to be — stealing from the Salvation Army and shunning homeless puppies.
Maybe so, but right now it’s the general manager’s emotionless negotiations and Midas touch in trades that has Atlanta in playoff contention for the first time since 2005.
Longtime Braves fans have fond memories of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in their 1990s prime, pitching the Braves to unprecedented success. Fans are supposed to feel warm and fuzzy about those things.
But sentiment clouds one’s ability to reason, and general managers need to be cold and calculating.
That hasn’t been a problem for Wren. When he wouldn’t pay Smoltz and cut Glavine, a large (or at least vocal) portion of the fan base was ready to sell season tickets, boycott Peachtree TV and take up cricket.
Funny how a winning streak changes things.
Since the All-Star break, the Braves have the National League’s best record (17-9) and are just three games behind in the Wild Card chase.
Anybody still longing for a couple of 40-something pitchers?
Glavine and Smoltz are headed for the baseball boneyard. Glavine has gone unsigned after the Braves were unimpressed with his minor-league starts and released him. Smoltz was designated for assignment after posting a 2-5 record and an 8.32 ERA in eight starts for Boston. He’s refused to be sent down to the minors or move to the bullpen, and now the club has until Sunday to trade or release him.
Their de facto replacements in Atlanta (Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson) are a big reason why the local sports fans are staying with the boys of summer instead of turning full attention to the coming Saturday afternoons of fall.
Lowe won his 12th game Wednesday night as the Braves stretched their winning streak to five. He’s started a league-high 25 games and pitched 150 innings. Wren might have overpaid for him, but that kind of durability has value.
Hanson, 12 starts into his major league career, has been as good as advertised (7-2, 3.05 ERA). For reference, Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in his first 12 starts, while Glavine finished his first big-league season 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. And those two guys turned out to be future Hall of Famers.
Other Wren additions to the 2009 club include:
Javier Vazquez: The staff ace. He leads the team in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched.
Nate McClouth: His offensive numbers are average (.259, 6 HRs) with the Braves, but he gives the team its only real threat on the basepaths and a defensive anchor in centerfield.
Adam LaRoche: A puzzling move at the trade deadline is working out the way Wren said it would. A historically better hitter in the second half of the season, LaRoche is batting .371 with three home runs in 10 games with the Braves.
Garrett Anderson: A fill-in after Wren "missed" on Ken Griffey Jr., Anderson started slow but has raised his average 30 points to .286 in the last two months.
Speaking of Junior, throw him on the boneyard bus with Smoltz and Glavine. All three are well-loved, but that’s not sufficient reason to let them eat a roster spot and salary-cap space. Seattle, where Griffey made so many memories in his heyday, sided with emotionality over rationality and signed the aging slugger after a deal with the Braves fell through. Their reward? Twelve home runs and a .226 batting average.
But at least the fans feel like their organization cares.
If that’s what they want in Seattle, let them have it. Nice guys finish third in the AL West. Demanding fans would rather win with Scrooge.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. His columns appear on Friday.