Guerry Clegg commentary: This has been a bad offseason for Braves, GM Frank Wren

January 28, 2014 

It already had been an offseason which saw the Atlanta Braves lose two of their most popular players, and unquestionably their top two clubhouse leaders. They couldn't justify paying Brian McCann fair market value when he was blocking Evan Gattis from the every day lineup. And they seemed to underestimate the market value for Tim Hudson.

But the last week has brought even more distressing news.

First we learn that reliever Eric O'Flaherty signed a two-year contract with the Oakland Athletics. Then we hear about a bizarre story that newly acquired Ryan Doumit, primarily a catcher, no longer wants to catch after suffering a concussion last season.

The Braves' management and Doumit's agent shot down that rumor. But the timing, coming right after losing O'Flaherty, raises some questions about the Braves' leadership, general manager Frank Wren in particular.

It's one thing that the Braves deemed McCann too expensive to keep given his declining skills. But to lose Hudson, presumably in the final two years of his career, because they were out-bid by the San Francisco Giants is another matter. Wren seemed surprised that Huddy could command more than the $14 million qualifying offer they made him.

But getting outbid for O'Flaherty really raises red flags. That's especially true given the fact that they will be paying Doumit as much as O'Flaherty will make with the Athletics, roughly $3.5 million.

Put it in this perspective. When healthy, O'Flaherty would give them 70 appearances -- all in late innings, usually with the game on the line. He's one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Doumit might -- just might -- play in 70 games as the third-string catcher, back up first baseman and spare left fielder.

The less Doumit catches, the less valuable he is. The more he catches, the less Evan Gattis or Gerald Laird will play.

It's not that Doumit won't provide value. But again, for roughly the same amount of money, O'Flaherty would have strengthened an already stout bullpen.

Earlier this winter, the Braves signed Gavin Floyd, who won't be available until at least May, to a $4 million contract. Even if he's healthy, Floyd might not crack the starting rotation, which should be Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood or David Hale. They also brought back Freddie Garcia for about one-third the price of Floyd.

There's also this: They failed to reach contract agreements with their three best young players, closer Craig Kimbrel, first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Jason Heyward. So now they're going to arbitration, a process which has proved to be detrimental toward player-management relations. Heyward's case is particularly puzzling. They are a mere $300,000 apart. The Braves offered $5.2 million; Heyward asked for $5.5 million.

In the cases of Freeman and Kimbrel, the Braves offered $500,000 less -- $4.5 million and $6.55 million, respectively -- than the players were projected to receive based on production and market value.

Rest assured, the agents for these young players will remember this when their clients become free agents in a few years. And rest assured, other players and their agents are taking note.

We can't blame this on the absentee corporate ownership. This is all on the general manager who deemed Dan Uggla a worthy investment at $13 million a year and has the club on the hook for another $62 million over the next four years for BJ Upton. This is all on Wren, whose resume includes signing Derek Lowe for $60 million and Kenshin Kawakami for $22 million and letting Hudson go to the Giants.

That's a curious way to win over a fan base already upset about uprooting the team from Turner Field.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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