Enthusiastic crowd greets Atlanta Braves in Dalton (with video)

Enthusiastic crowd greets Atlanta Braves in Dalton (with video)

January 29th, 2013 by Lindsey Young in Sports - Professional

Jackson and Quentin Hawkins watch Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel autograph a baseball Monday at the Braves Country Caravan stop at the Academy Sports + Outdoors store on Shugart Road in Dalton.

Photo by Jay Bailey /Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. -- As the crowd continued to pour inside the recently opened doors of Dalton's Academy Sports + Outdoors store, Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren took notice.

Spring training is still a few weeks away, but the buzz that greeted Wren, ace reliever Craig Kimbrel and the Braves Country Caravan showed that fans are ready to see the new-look Braves. A few days after completing a deal that united brothers B.J. and Justin Upton in the Atlanta outfield, Wren said Monday's turnout reinforced what he already believed.

"There sure seems like there's a lot of excitement with the fans," Wren said. "I was in south Georgia over the weekend and in Rome today, and everybody was very excited about what we've been doing."

What he's done is add pieces to a team that won 94 games without subtracting a significant amount and having about $10 million of budget left over. The retirement of Chipper Jones and the free agency of outfielder Michael Bourn left the Braves with two major holes to fill, and the GM is satisfied with the replacements.

"We felt like we needed to do a few things to improve our club," said Wren, who also added third baseman Chris Johnson in the deal that sent versatile Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and prospects to Arizona. "We lost an icon in Chipper Jones and we wanted to improve the middle of our lineup and our balance. We've been sort of left-handed dominant for a number of years, so we wanted to add some right-handed hitters if we could.

"We're really excited about this latest move of adding Justin Upton, because it's not often you get a 25-year-old middle-of-the-order power hitter coming into his prime. He has a chance to be a really good player for us."

The Braves' acquiring the younger Upton came down to perseverance -- and a little luck. After inquiring about him after signing B.J. Upton, Wren found the asking price -- namely shortstop Andrelton Simmons -- to be too much. Only after Justin Upton refused a trade to Seattle did Wren sense the deal actually could get done.

"We leaned that they were discussing him at the general managers' meetings in November, but we didn't really get a lot of traction on those talks," Wren said. "Simmons' name came up and some others, so it really didn't work for us. We went to winter meetings and didn't make any progress there or after that, so we felt it wasn't going to happen.

"However, we started to see his name pop up more, and after the Seattle trade fell through we re-engaged, and in the last 10 days we saw a deal could be had and we went for it."

Kimbrell, the 24-year-old closer who saved 42 games and struck out 116 batters in 62 2/3 innings, couldn't hide his excitement about the team's offensive potential.

"I feel like we have improved a lot," he said before heading to a table to sign what would be hundreds of autographs. "Frank and the front office have done a great job this offseason. The addition of the Upton brothers gives us one of the best, if not the best, outfields in the major leagues. We have a lot of power and speed, and the guys play great defense. If our pitching does what it did last year, that's a recipe for winning."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6296.