The Atlanta Braves made their annual Caravan pilgrimage stop Monday, albeit this year they by-passed Chattanooga in favor of the new Academy Sports store in Dalton. All-star relieve Craig Kimbrel, newly reacquired outfielder Jordan Schafer, minor league Pitcher of the Year Gus Schlosser and third base coach Brian Snitker were all on board, but the buzz centered around general manager Frank Wren, who orchestrated last week's blockbuster seven-player trade that acquired all-star outfielder Justin Upton.
In a whirlwind of interviews, The Chattanoogan.com's David Jenkins was able to obtain this exclusive interview with Wren.
DJ: First of all, what is the timetable with Brandon Beachy?
FW: Brandon is doing remarkably well. He's just starting to throw. I think we'll see him continue his rehab through spring training and will begin ramping up his mound work as we get to the beginning of the season. We're hoping that late June, early July we'll have him in injury rehab. It's a 12-13 month injury for return and so far he's doing very well.
DJ: In terms of getting him back into the groove, is what the Braves did with (Kris) Medlen any sort of a template on how you might work him back in?
FW: Not necessarily. Medlen's injury was twofold in that he'd never throw more than 120 innings in a season in any role. That's why we had the innings restriction primarily; it's wasn't so much the Tommy John (surgery) as the overall increase in innings which he'd never experienced. Brandon has been built up, so I don't forsee any innings restrictions whatsoever in building him up.
DJ: Let's talk about the trade, which is what everybody's talking about. I saw one report that said talks in the initial phase took place in November?
FW: We learned in the general managers' meetings in Palm Spring they were willing to talk about it, but we didn't get a lot of traction in our talks until earlier this month.
DJ: Is that when Prado replaced (Andrelton) Simmons' as the main piece?
FW: Not really. Simmons' name was brought up really early on, but we dismissed that. But we didn't really get any names solidified in the deal until about two weeks ago. And as we started to re-engage with them, we realized that to get any kind of deal done with them, Martin had to be in it. Then we started building the package from there.
DJ: One thing I wasn't really clear about, is that it sounded as if (Martin) was reluctant on his part to discuss a contract extension, which might have be it more of a problematic thing to trade him. If he were going to test the free agent market, it would certain affect his value to you.
FW: It's documented that we approached him in December about a long-term contract, and it didn't appear that we were very close on that. And that's a factor, one of those factors you always weigh. How many more years do you have him? And having him just one more year with the potential to get a player you think is a potential star, that always enters it.
DJ: Was there an understanding between the Braves and Justin that you were acquiring him to be the left fielder?
FW: Oh yes, he understood that. He knew we were coming in with Heyward as our right fielder and his brother in center, so he knew coming over here that he was our left fielder. And we're quite excited about that – just a year ago, he was rated higher that Jason among right fielders. So left field should be an easy switch for him.
DJ: With these long-term contracts being acquired, there's very little for you to sort out this spring in regards to the 25-man roster, is there?
FW: We're probably going to be looking at one of the extra outfielders, a bench piece in the infield and sorting out third base, watching Francisco and Johnson and see how they battle out for playing time at third. In that regard, there's not a lot open. Another bullpen piece, deciding on the fifth starter and Julio Teheran has the leg up on that. If he pitches like he did in the Dominican when we were down there, we're going to be real happy with him in the fifth spot.
DJ: When did (Chris) Johnson enter the discussion about the trade, and enter your third base picture?
FW: It was kind of simultaneous. We were adding names to the deal, and he would be expendable because they would play Martin at third. And so, it made sense for us because the other option was a left-handed hitter. So including Johnson made sense for both of us.
DJ: I've read where there are concerns that he hasn't been up to par defensively throughout his career.
FW: We're well aware of his attributes offensively and defensively. But he's a young player, and we want to see how it all plays out. We know what we have in Francisco, and we're looking forward to learning more about Johnson and putting it all together.
DJ: A guy who's been overlooked in all of the trade discussion is the man you acquired from the Angels, Jordan Walden. Where does he slide into the bullpen mix? Is he your (Chad) Durbin this year?
FW: Obviously, the eighth and ninth innings have been locked down for us the last couple of years with Venters, O'Flaherty and Craig (Kimbrel). He's a guy who fits into that mix. He had 32 saves two years ago in Anaheim, so he's not afraid to be in a late-inning situation and he gives us another power-armed reliever and gives us great depth to help our bullpen going forward.
DJ: Last question. Of all the players coming in, minor and major league, what player are you most looking forward to seeing?
FW: It would be hard for me not to say the Upton brothers. It's dynamic story, plus they have a chance to add so much to our team. I'm really looking forward to seeing them in a Braves uniform and seeing the outfield work together.
Wren also said Monday that Justin Upton's introductory news conference could be as early as this afternoon, but that B.J. would not be attending because he was scheduled to be on today's leg of the Braves caravan.
e-mail David Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org