COMMENTARY | Not long after the Atlanta Braves signed B.J. Upton to the richest contract in franchise history, a couple of my buddies and I started discussing whether or not this signing would determine not only how much longer general manager Frank Wren will be with the team but also how it will define his legacy with the club.
Simply put, if this Upton deal pans out with him living up to his potential, Wren will look like a genius. If it doesn't, his career in Atlanta is over, in my opinion.
I think it's safe to say that no one truly expects Upton to live up to the price of this contract. We're all in agreement that he got overpaid, but that's what you have to do to sign free agents in today's baseball market.
I don't fault Wren for making the deal. Upton wouldn't have been my first choice -- I would have preferred re-signing Michael Bourn, trading for Ben Revere or trading for Denard Span -- but Wren did what he thought was best for the team.
Sticking with home grown talent
Over the past couple of years, Wren has been hesitant to trade his plethora of young pitching depth. Not long ago Arodys Vizcaíno, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were thought to be the next big trio to join the Braves staff.
We've since seen Vizcaíno traded for a bag of peanuts, Delgado has had mediocre success when called up, and Teheran had an ERA above 5.00 in Gwinnett this past season.
The most frustrating part of being a Braves fan today is knowing they have to rely on homegrown talent to compete. They don't have the capability to fill a hole through free agency, even though they had that luxury this offseason, and Upton didn't exactly excite the masses.
What the Philadelphia Phillies gave up for Revere would have been devastating to our team in the long run. But the Phillies can do that. They've done that for the past three years, trading top prospects for major-league ready talent.
The Braves, and Wren, are so fixated on making sure their homegrown talent stays at home that he's missing opportunities to contend right now.
Wren's hesitance to part with top talent is warranted because of the infamous Mark Teixeira trade, which basically set the Texas Rangers up for two World Series runs. While current Braves president John Schuerholz was the one who pulled the trigger on that deal, Wren was in the Braves front office and still feels the heat from Braves fans that cringe when talking about the trade.
It is very rare to see that many prospects actually pan out. You can't let one bad move hold you back from putting together a championship-caliber team. And at the time of the Teixeira trade were there really many Braves fans up in flames about the deal? For that season it gave us our best shot at becoming contenders.
Wren was hired as the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1998 and was abruptly fired less than a year into his three-year contract.
Nearly a week later the Braves scooped him up and hired him as their new vice president and assistant general manager.
Wren took over the general manager position after the 2007 season when Schuerholz decided to step down.
The Braves' payroll then wasn't much different than it is today -- around $90-95 million. The Braves have only made the playoffs twice under Wren's tenure, but both appearances have come in the last three seasons. And we all know about the collapse in 2011 -- I unfortunately witnessed game 162 in person.
There is no doubt Wren is putting a competitive team on the field each season, and the Braves are in a much better place now than when he took over.
But I believe Braves fans have grown tired of just "competing." It's time the Braves become a team with the mentality to go for it. This offseason, the Braves finally had the financial flexibility to make that one big move that could instantly make them contenders, and Wren chose to spend that money on B.J. Upton.
For that very reason, I feel secure in saying that this deal will ultimately decide his fate in Atlanta.
This team has plenty of talent surrounding Upton, and I believe they'll compete regardless of whether or not he performs, but from Derek Lowe to Dan Uggla, Braves fans should be tired of seeing their money spent on players who will simply help you "compete."
Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.