Braves seeking lefty reliever, outfielder
Affeldt, Mahay, Finley likely too expensive for Atlanta
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- None of the early whispers heard throughout the spacious Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Monday afternoon provided indication that the Braves are close to completing any deals that will fortify their roster.
But as Braves general manager Frank Wren has shown during his first two months on the job, he's not somebody who is willing to patiently await another opportunity. Thus, it shouldn't be too surprising to realize he wants to improve his roster with the addition of a left-handed reliever or center fielder before exiting this week's Winter Meetings.
"There's probably going to be more availability this week than there will be next week," Wren said. "There are so many people here that are prepared to move [players]. If we don't make a move, somebody else will."
Having already remarried Tom Glavine and announced their divorce from Andruw Jones, the Braves aren't at the forefront of any of the discussions of these four-day Meetings, which began on Monday. Most people simply want to know if they're really going to start the season with Josh Anderson or Jordan Schafer as their starting center fielder.
While both Wren and Braves manager Bobby Cox have said they'd be comfortable with either of these inexperienced prospects filling Jones' void in center, they'd also like to be provided the opportunity to obtain a short-term solution to fill the position until Schafer, who has never played above Class A, proves that he's definitely ready for the Majors.
Some of the discussions Wren and his aides have had since arriving in Nashville on Sunday afternoon have provided a few additional names for their wish list. Between center fielders, left-handed relievers and role players (backup shortstop and backup catcher), the Braves GM said this list currently contains approximately 12 names.
Despite the fact that he came to these Meetings seeking employment and the likelihood that a lack of demand would provide a small price tag, 42-year-old Steve Finley isn't likely to find his name on this wish list. But the five-time Gold Glove winner, who has hit .229 over the course of the past three seasons, did take advantage of an opportunity to exchange pleasantries and phone numbers when he ran into Cox.
While the Royals, Dodgers and possibly even the Giants are contemplating whether to give Jones an annual salary of $18 million, the Braves aren't likely to give his successor more than $2 million. With Anderson or Schafer, they'd be paying just the Major League minimum.
Wren has never publicly stated the team's payroll and he isn't giving any clear indication that he's already neared the threshold of his budget. But one Braves official said he didn't know if the club would even be able to afford Finley, who definitely isn't in position to ask for more than $2 million.
There is a belief that the Braves have the flexibility of spending approximately $4 million in their search for a left-handed reliever, center fielder and two bench players (catcher and shortstop). Wren hasn't prioritized these needs and is hopeful to simply fill as many of them as possible via moves that would likely come in the trade market.
"I really don't think we have a priority," Wren said. "I guess if you had to really press me, it would be the left-handed reliever. This would give Bobby a little more leeway managing the game late."
Minus the financial element, the Braves would like to sign Jeremy Affeldt to fill their desire for a left-handed reliever. But with Affeldt and Ron Mahay both likely to get three-year deals worth at least $12 million, they find themselves potentially in a position where they would have to part ways with some Minor Leaguers in a trade to get a left-handed reliever.
If they are going to gain a more experienced center fielder than Anderson and Schafer, the Braves will do so via trade. But it doesn't seem like they are willing to deal Matt Diaz, Chuck James or Scott Thorman, who despite a rocky rookie season still has plenty of supporters within the organization.
"We feel like we have depth in our system, and that's just general depth," Wren said. "If it takes a young player or two, we could [make a trade] and not deplete us too much. I think that may be where we have greater depth than other clubs, with the depth of our [Minor League] system. ... We probably wouldn't move key players off of our big league club at this point."
Wren believes the depth he has with young starting pitchers could allow for an opportunity to trade with another team. Plus the fact that Mike Hampton has told him he's recovering as expected from the right hamstring strain he suffered on Thanksgiving Day while pitching in Mexico allows more comfort with the possibility of dealing a young arm.
While in his suite early Monday evening, Wren viewed an Internet clip that showed Hampton suffering this injury in his Mexican Winter League debut. The 35-year-old southpaw, who has missed the past two seasons recovering from separate left elbow surgeries, plans to begin playing catch again next week. But he likely won't pitch in a game setting until Spring Training.
While most of the attention surrounding the Braves has centered around obtaining a left-handed reliever and center fielder, Wren is also in search of finding backups for shortstop Yunel Escobar and All-Star catcher Brian McCann. If Wren can't find either, Brent Lillibridge might find himself as Escobar's backup and Clint Sammons would provide support for McCann.
While Lillibridge and Sammons might both benefit from additional seasoning in the Minors, Cox says he'd be comfortable with both in Atlanta.
Cox's good friend and longtime associate Bobby Dews, who is currently serving as a special assistant for the Braves, was impressed while spending some time in August evaluating Lillibridge, who is athletic enough to also serve as a backup outfielder. As for Sammons, he has impressed the veteran skipper with his intelligence and ability to handle pitchers.
"We can go to Spring Training with the club we have," Wren said. "But we would like to improve it, and this would probably be the best time to do that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.