As the weather turned this week, it was impossible not to think of warmer days.
For Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, the harshness of the winter has been balanced by a series of shrewd moves that leave his team locked into the present and with a possibility of a monster future on the horizon.
Wren and the Braves attacked the looming free agency concerns amid their youthful roster and locked down answers — and opened at least one question — for the foreseeable future. It was almost like Wren’s post-Christmas Honey-Do list was as clear as the instructions on his shampoo.
• Pick up the dry cleaning;
• Get the AC checked;
• Sign young stars to long-term deal.
Check, check and big-fat checks that totaled roughly $200 million.
But Wren spent his $200 million as frugally as a man can spend that much money, getting a lead-off guy, a No. 3 hitter, a potential No. 1 starter and a closer — all in their 20s mind you — for his dough. The Yankees spent a total of $175 million for an imported No. 3 starter, but we all know how pricey New York can be.
Wren got slugging first baseman and clubhouse linchpin Freddie Freeman to agree to an eight-year deal that will pay him a very affordable $125 million. That’s about $12 million per year, which is outlandish on its face — someone making $12 million a year needs to be curing diseases or making sure Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are doing Bill Gates- and Warren Buffet-type things — but amazingly affordable considering Dan Uggla makes more than that and Uggla just struck out again. And again.
Wren also massaged the process, getting outfielder Jason Heyward to agree to a two-year extension, which buys the Braves enough time to see if Heyward is going to deliver on his extreme gifts and be the guy that hit .333 in the final 38 games of 2013 or if he’s simply Jeff Francuoer 2014.
Add in signing Julio Tehran and his potential top of the rotation stuff to a six-year deal and closer Craig Kimbrel to a five-year extension, and Wren’s work has been impressive and almost complete. Signing immensely gifted shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a long-term deal would be the cherry on this offseason sundae that will the gift that gives for years to come.
Wren’s model — signing young and talented players to long-term deals before they hit the choppy waters and bidding waves of the open market — is sound and similar to some of the small-market clubs. But this tsunami of spending rings a subtle but discernibly different chord.
Wren is filling the Braves roster with young and talented pieces in preparation for the proposed move to the Braves new stadium. New ballparks draw people. New ballparks with teams that win draw lots and lots of people.
The days of the Braves spending top-dollar died when Ted Turner sold the team. Now owned by Liberty Media, the Braves payroll last year was around $90 million, very comparable to what the team spent in 2000, and dropping from top-three in baseball to middle of pact.
Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez each received extensions Wednesday, proving that good work gets rewarded on and off the field and the Braves are committed to finding talent and signing for the long term.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org at follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp. Listen to Jay and Times Free Press sports writer David Paschall on Press Row from 3-6 p.m. Mondays through Friday on ESPN 105.1 FM and at timesfreepress.com.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...