MLB: GM restocks Braves roster for new manager Gonzalez
ATLANTA (AP) – Faster than Bobby Cox could clean out his office, Atlanta GM Frank Wren already has restocked the Braves’ roster for new manager Fredi Gonzalez.
The small, blue nameplate outside the manager’s office at Turner Field still says “Bobby Cox.” Gonzalez says he has assured the newly retired Cox there’s no rush to clear out his belongings. The focus this winter has been on adding players’ nameplates for the clubhouse.
Wren has hustled to address the team’s top offseason concerns.
Dan Uggla was acquired from Florida to add a power-hitting right-handed bat to the lineup, and Wren added two veterans – left-hander George Sherrill and right-hander Scott Linebrink – to a bullpen which lost closer Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito.
“We’ll continue to look and see if there’s other areas to improve the club,” Wren said Friday after returning from winter meetings. “But I think, really, all of our big pieces are done.”
The general manager also claimed Joe Mather off waivers from the Cardinals to serve in a utility role. Eric Hinske was re-signed for another year in his role as a top pinch-hitter and utility player. Hinske is insurance at first base for rookie starter Freddie Freeman.
Also, right-handed reliever Scott Proctor was re-signed.
There’s a longer list of departed players.
Wagner retired, while Saito and reliever Kyle Farnsworth were not re-signed.
To clear room for Freeman, the Braves did not attempt to re-sign first basemen Derrek Lee and Troy Glaus. Outfielders Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera and Rick Ankiel also are gone. All-Star infielder Omar Infante and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn were sent to the Marlins for Uggla.
Wren still hopes to trade right-hander Kenshin Kawakami and negotiate an extension for Uggla, whose contract expires after the 2011 World Series.
Uggla, 30, turned down the Marlins’ last offer of $48 million over four years. He could earn $10 million or more in salary arbitration in 2011. Based on the $126 million, seven-year contract awarded to Jayson Werth by the Washington Nationals, Uggla could have new bargaining strength in his talks with the Braves.
Wren said Werth’s contract doesn’t set a new benchmark for Uggla, at least from the Braves’ view.
“It does not,” Wren said. “Every team has their own economics that they have to deal with. There’s 30 teams and we all have different revenues, we all have different expenses. We’re all working individually with what we can do.”
Wren said it is too early to know if big contracts given to Werth, Carl Crawford and others this winter will make it more difficult for the Braves to keep Uggla for more than one season.
“I don’t know. When we get into our negotiations, we’ll find out,” Wren said. “We’ll find out what the expectations are and who the comparables are and we’ll see how that factors in.
“From our perspective, we know where we want to go with the contract and we’ll let those negotiations take place.”
Terry Bross, Uggla’s agent, has said he’s willing to discuss a multiyear contract with the Braves.
Uggla, a two-time All-Star, hit .287 with 33 homers and 105 RBIs last season. He has hit more than 30 homers in four straight seasons and will combine with Alex Gonzalez to give the Braves two middle infielders with power.
The Braves’ lineup also features Martin Prado, the NL All-Star starter at second base last season who is moving to left field, All-Star catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Jason Heyward, who as a rookie was voted to start in the All-Star game. An injury kept Heyward from playing in the game, but he returned to finish at .277 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs.
Heyward, the runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, is the only sure thing in the outfield. Prado could play third base if Chipper Jones, 38, cannot return from knee surgery. Nate McLouth will have the first chance in center field, but he hit only .190 last season.
The Braves are encouraged by Jones’ progress, but there could be a shortage of outfielders if Prado is needed at third base. The team could add an outfielder before spring training.
Wren acted quickly to replenish the bullpen. A pair of 2010 rookies, Jonny Venters (1.95 ERA, 93 strikeouts in 83 innings) and Craig Kimbrel (0.44 ERA, 40 Ks in 20 2-3 innings), could share the closer’s role.
Gonzalez said Sherrill, who was an All-Star with Baltimore in 2008, when he had 31 saves, will be more than a specialist brought in to face one left-hander.
“I’m not looking at him as a strictly left-handed, situational guy,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking at him as a guy who can help the bullpen.”
No tweaking is necessary in the rotation, which returns Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.
AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.