Braves could look internally for left fielder
Wren mulling options, but interest in remaining free-agent outfielders minimal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren spent the first day of this year's Winter Meetings evaluating options on the trade market and discussing the possibility that his club already has the necessary internal options to satisfy his search for another outfielder.
Having already landed his primary target, free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton, last week, Wren has given himself a chance to experience this year's Meetings without the temptation to allow the excitement of this event to influence his roster decisions.
Wren will remain busy this week as he continues to search for the possibility of acquiring an outfielder who is capable of hitting leadoff. Shane Victorino has been regarded as an option. But because his contract demands are currently a little higher than envisioned, Victorino stands as just another of the free-agent outfielders who are not currently drawing much interest from the Braves.
To put it kindly, the Braves' interest in the remaining free-agent outfielders appears to be minimal at best. They are much more interested in the possibility of finding an outfielder via trade or giving one of their internal options a chance to serve in an everyday role.
"The perfect fit for us is the guy who can play left field and hit leadoff," Wren said. "So we've looked at every club to see who could do that. Then you cut that list down and say, 'OK, who are the guys who are realistically available.' So you cut that list probably in half. Then you start trying to figure out what the acquisition cost is in terms of talent. That's where we are right now."
So, while some fans spent Monday anticipating the possibility that the D-backs might be willing to trade Justin Upton to the Braves, Wren and his staff were scouring the Major League landscape looking for a potential fit that they might not have targeted in the past.
While it would certainly be tempting to complete a trade that would put the two Upton brothers in the same outfield as Jason Heyward, it remains apparent the Braves will not be willing to include their prized young shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, in the trade.
"I wouldn't say that anybody is untouchable," Wren said. "But I would say that [Simmons] is unreachable."
Translated, the Braves are not going to appease the D-backs' wish to acquire Simmons in any deal involving Upton. For a second Upton to land in Atlanta, the Braves would likely have to part ways with one of their top pitching prospects -- Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado -- or complete the always tough task of arranging a three-team trade arrangement.
Another rumored potential trade involving the Braves has been for Colorado's Dexter Fowler. But with the Rockies asking for a significant return, there does not appear to be much reason to expect Fowler to be returning to his hometown of Atlanta next year.
Wren will continue to explore trade options. At the same time, he seems to be willing to keep Martin Prado in left field and utilize Juan Francisco as his starting third baseman. Francisco has adhered to the Braves' demands to lose some weight. He has hit .318 with a .523 slugging percentage in 23 games during the Dominican Winter League.
There is also a chance the Braves could stick with their plan to move Prado to third base while using either Jose Constanza or Evan Gattis as their starting left fielder. While Gattis might still be a long shot to begin the season at the big league level, he has certainly aided his cause while hitting nine homers and compiling a .503 slugging percentage in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Wren and members of his staff will travel to the Dominican Republic this weekend to watch Francisco, Constanza, Teheran, Delgado and their top catching prospect, Christian Bethancourt.
"The one thing about young players is sometimes they're only lacking one thing -- and that's opportunity," Wren said.
If the Braves opt to satisfy their need for an outfielder with an internal option, they could enter the 2013 season with somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-10 million to spend. This figure would depend on how much money they spend to fill their need for a veteran bench player.
The Braves would certainly be one of those teams that could benefit from having some extra money available to spend on players that could be available before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They were fortunate to get significant Deadline deals done the past two years without any payroll flexibility.
The 2011 trade that brought Michael Bourn to Atlanta was contingent on the Astros paying the remainder of Bourn's salary that year. Likewise, the Cubs had to pay for the remaining salaries of both Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson after trading them to the Braves on July 30, 2012.
This financial situation served as the primary reason the Braves were forced to give up a highly regarded prospect like Arodys Vizcaino in exchange for Maholm and Johnson.
"The way we look at it is, every dollar you save before the season, you can double it during the season," Wren said. "If you save $5 million, that allows you to go get a $10 million player. And at the Trade Deadline, if you save $5 million, that really lets you get a $15 million player because it's triple. That money is valuable at the Trade Deadline, because if you're able to take on salary, you don't have to give up as much in talent."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.