Ownership situation hurting Braves

sports@macon.comDecember 7, 2011 

It must be weird for Frank Wren, the Atlanta Braves’ general manager who is in charge of constructing Atlanta’s roster. He’s seeing the other teams in his division make moves to improve themselves for 2012, and yet he’s a bit handcuffed.

You see, Wren is working for a faceless ownership group. The Braves are owned by Liberty Media, which is some company based out west known mostly for producing movies for motels. And that group got the Braves in what amounted to a tax deal a few years ago from Time Warner.

Corporate ownership in baseball is one of the most dangerous elements of the game, and commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t seem to think it’s an issue. He allowed the Braves to be pawned off to Liberty Media a few years ago, like they were in a box that had been auctioned off on the TV hit “Storage Wars.”

And while these other teams are trying to make moves to be competitive next season, the Braves don’t have the financial flexibility, even though the needs are just as great.

Make no mistake about it -- Atlanta has needs. This is a team that just choked a few months ago. The Braves had a 9.5-game lead in the wild-card race and blew it, mostly because the offense took a hiatus. And yet where is the urgency to get another bat to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

The Phillies, who have become the class of the NL East, have gotten a new closer (Jonathan Papelbon). They also have acquired two new hitters (Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome), and they are looking to add another big bat (Aramis Ramirez).

Meanwhile, the Florida … I mean Miami Marlins have signed a new closer (Heath Bell) and added a significant offensive player (Jose Reyes). Plus, they seem serious in trying to get Albert Pujols to go to South Beach.

On Monday night, Wren told reporters at the winter meetings in Dallas he’s primarily trying to sign a backup shortstop to help Tyler Pastornicky in his rookie season. That’s it? What about the big bat needed to make sure we don’t see a monumental collapse again?

This is what brings us back to the ownership situation. It was sad last week to learn that Stan Kasten, the Braves’ former team president, was forming a group with NBA legend Magic Johnson to try and buy the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s why the Braves need -- an owner with experience who can allow this team to be significant again.

Remember, the Braves haven’t been past the first round of the playoffs in a decade. The 2001 season was the last time Atlanta made it to the NLCS, and that was only a few years after the Braves were taken over by a corporate ownership structure that made them one small piece in a big puzzle.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Wren could go to an owner and say, “Look, the Phillies and Marlins and (Washington) Nationals are getting better. We’ve got to do something or we’re going to fall behind.”

Instead, the Braves are facing the real possibility that they could have the lowest payroll in the division next season.

I’m not saying the Braves should just throw money around unwisely. But it would be nice if they could simply compete for a free agent like Michael Cuddyer, a veteran whose versatility could really help the team. He wants more than $10 million per season, which is just not feasible with the Braves’ payroll situation.

Atlanta will probably trade Jair Jurrjens and maybe even Martin Prado, but it will be a surprise if they get significant major leaguers in return. They may get prospects, and that is not bad, but it won’t necessarily help the 2012 team be better.

If the Marlins sign Pujols, it’ll be natural to panic a bit. They could be very good next season, and you just have to hope the Braves can keep up. But without an owner who really cares, can they?

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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