SHANKS: HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER PULLING OFF A TRADE LIKE THIS?
WREN: Well we were kind of pregnant with this one for six or seven weeks. We’ve been talking about it since the end of November – early December. It’s a big relief.
SHANKS: CAN YOU TRACK FOR US HOW THIS TRADE AND THESE TALKS EVOLVED OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS?
WREN: We came out of the general manager’s meetings in early November with at least with a feeling that they would talk about Justin. We had gone into our meetings in October with the thought that with Chipper retiring, we really needed to find that special player that could hit in the middle of the lineup, that had right-handed power and could be with us for a while. There just weren’t many opportunities to get that player in the free agent market. So as we had our ears up as they started talking about him, we started making calls. Some of the early asks were a little too steep to us. I think everybody knows that (Andrelton) Simmons’ name was brought up. We just kept steady in contact over the course of December. Then we had a little bit of a lull for a couple of weeks around the holidays where we just didn’t feel like we were making a lot of headway and there wasn’t traction in the talks. Once we came back from the holidays it started picking up. We called back and re-engaged. As we got to this past weekend, I really felt like we were making progress. At least we were in on some of the same names and some of the same thoughts. I think by Monday night we felt like it had a chance.
SHANKS: DID YOU KNOW WHEN YOU SIGNED BJ UPTON THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE A CHANCE TO ADD HIS BROTHER AS WELL?
WREN: I think we dreamed about it like he said he did that there was a possibility. But it was a very slim possibility, I thought, at the time. I just didn’t know if we would match up well. Over the course of the last month and a half, it had its ups and downs where some days we felt we had a shot and other days we thought we were totally out of it. So today it’s a big relief to get it done.
SHANKS: WHEN JUSTIN TURNED DOWN THE TRADE WITH SEATTLE, DID THAT MAKE YOU FEEL YOU STILL HAD A SHOT?
WREN: I felt like that was one competitor that had good players that was not going to be able to acquire him. That put us in a better position at that time. We really hadn’t developed our pool of players to know if we were going to match up. I think that helped kind of define what they were looking for, and we started matching up names. They got good players from us. I think that’s the one thing we may not get enough credit for – our scouting and player development guys. We have a good, deep system. It may not be as sexy some others. But people like our players. We had a lot of players we said no on. But we still had good players to get a deal done.
SHANKS: WHEN DID MARTIN PRADO’S NAME FIRST POP UP IN THE TALKS WITH ARIZONA?
WREN: Well he’s been one of the guys from very early on – obviously they asked for Simmons in the very beginning. But I think once we started getting serious, it was clear that Martin had to be apart of it. He was going to be the lynchpin of the deal. There was really no way to get him out of it if we wanted to entertain this. We had to come to grips with that. What the fans see is what we see. He’s a quality, quality human being. He’s a gamer. He loves to play. We’ve loved having him on our team. That’s some of those tough decisions you have to make at times that make this job not so good.
SHANKS: HAD YOU HAD DISCUSSIONS WITH PRADO’S AGENT ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF HIM SIGNING HERE LONG-TERM, AND DID THAT IMPACT YOU PUTTING HIM IN THIS DEAL?
WREN: We had some discussions with him and it didn’t progress. I think when you’re making a decision to putting someone in a deal, I think there are a lot of factors. Some of it is the number of years in control. He’s one year from free agency. We didn’t feel like we were close to being able to extend him. Those are all factors when you make that final determination of whether or not you’re going to put a guy in a deal or not. With all the factors considered, we decided to do it.
SHANKS: LEFT FIELD HAS BEEN A REVOLVING DOOR FOR THIS FRANCHISE. DOES THIS TRADE SLOW THAT DOWN, KNOWING THAT JUSTIN WILL BE HERE FOR AT LEAST THREE YEARS? AND DID THAT CHANCE FOR STABILITY MAKE THIS EVEN MORE INVITING TO YOU?
WREN: It’s hard to find these kind of players. That’s the big thing. We’re drafting low enough in the first round that these kinds of players aren’t available. You can’t draft them, so now you’ve got to try and acquire them in other ways. Being able to make a trade using assets we have from the draft, and the value of our young players, is how we’ve got to do it. Players like this don’t come around very often. They’re not available very often. So we feel very fortunate.
SHANKS: YOU HAVE TWO SONS (CODY AND KYLE) THAT HAVE PLAYED BASEBALL TOGETHER, MUCH LIKE THE UPTON BOYS. DID THAT HELP YOU KNOW WHAT IT MIGHT BE LIKE FOR THE UPTONS TO PLAY TOGETHER?
WREN: Watching my kids, they push each other. They know each other’s swings better than anyone else. They’ve seen them since the day they started playing the game. They’re a big help for each other. They’re a big support to each other. I think that’s the one thing that came through loud and clear when we went to dinner with B.J. Upton when he was in town for his press conference, listening to him talk about Justin and his desire to play with Justin someday. Those were all really good things to hear. Then you meet mom and dad and you get a sense of what kind of family it is and how close-knit they are. I think it’s got a chance to be a perfect situation for both of the boys to thrive and a perfect situation for us as well.
SHANKS: IS CHRIS JOHNSON THE NEW STARTING THIRD BASEMAN?
WREN: I think we’re going to go into it with an open mind because we like Juan Francisco a lot. Juan Francisco is a guy that we want to give every opportunity to give a lot of at bats. In our view, it’s a tandem position and we’ll see how it plays out. Chris Johnson hit 15 home runs. The combination of the two of those guys hit 24 last year. So we feel we’re in pretty good shape. Chris Johnson hit .281. He’s a good, solid baseball player. We’re going to be in good hands. We’ve got good depth in the middle of our infield as far as backups, so our club is slowly but surely coming together.
SHANKS: SO ARE YOU SAYING A PLATOON, A COMPETITION OR JUST TO SEE HOW IT PLAYS OUT AT THIRD BASE?
WREN: We’ll see how it plays out. I don’t think we’re ready to say one way or the other. We’ll let Fredi and the coaches figure that out as we get through spring training. We clearly want to see what Juan Francisco can give us and Chris Johnson. I don’t think it’s going to be predetermined one way or the other.
SHANKS: YOU INCLUDED RANDALL DELGADO IN THE TRADE INSTEAD OF JULIO TEHERAN. IS THIS BASED ON A CURIOUSITY TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT TEHERAN CAN DO AS A BIG LEAUGE STARTER?
WREN: Well I think we’ve always felt there was a difference in the two of them, and I don’t think anything every changed or waned. We thought Delgado was going to be a fine pitcher. It doesn’t mean we disliked him. We’ve always felt there was a difference. In the case of Teheran, if he pitches like we saw him pitch in mid-December down in the Dominican, he’s a top of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Just if he pitches that same game, same stuff. We need him to be able to get comfortable in the big leagues where we can see those kinds of performances. If we do, we’ll be real happy he’s pitching for us. That’s the big thing, Bill. With young pitchers, it’s a growing process. We saw it with Mike Minor, where we’d see occasional spurts where he was really, really good and then we’d have to life with some not-so-good until he kind of finally figured it out in midseason last year. Now we’ve got a bona-fide left-hander that a lot of people would like to have. It’s hard to be patient sometimes, especially when you’re trying to win games and trying to win divisions and trying to get to postseason and go deep in the postseason with young pitching. In the end, it’ll pay off. We’re going to give Julio every opportunity to be a starter for us, and if not a starter we’re going to give him every opportunity to pitch for us and help him continue to develop and grow. I think it’ll be a good season for him.
SHANKS: WILL IT HELP TEHERAN KNOWING THAT HE LIKELY WON’T HAVE THE THREAT OF GOING BACK FOR HIS THIRD SEASON OF TRIPLE-A BALL – UNLESS HE JUST HAS A HORRIBLE SPRING TRAINING? AND DID HIM GOING BACK TO GWINNETT IMPACT HIS STATS LAST YEAR?
WREN: I think what impacted his stats last year was he went back to trying to throw his way to the big leagues by putting up radar gun numbers and being a thrower instead of a pitcher. I feel he kind of got out of his game. Once he kind of regained that form in August and then throughout winter ball, he was one of the best pitchers in the Dominican or really any of the winter ball places. When we saw him, he was 94-98, with an outstanding breaking ball and an outstanding changeup. He spotted his fastball on the corners. You really couldn’t have asked for anything more from a dominant top of the rotation pitcher. We have high hopes for him. He’s 21 years old. We’re just starting to see the very beginnings of what he can be.
SHANKS: MANY WILL WONDER HOW YOU’RE ABLE TO GIVE UP TWO GOOD YOUNG PROSPECTS LIKE DELGADO AND SPRUILL, BUT YOU STILL HAVE A GOOD NUMBER OF PITCHING PROSPECTS, LIKE J.R. GRAHAM, SEAN GILMARTIN AND ALEX WOOD. THAT MAKES IT EASIER TO SWING A DEAL LIKE THIS, CORRECT?
WREN: No question. The names you just mentioned are all special talents. They have the ability to be very good pitchers for us in the future. We feel like we’re in real good hands. There’s another guy that nobody knows about - a left-hander that led the Mexican League in strikeouts the last two years in Daniel Rodriguez that we signed in August. He really hasn’t pitched for us except in limited in Gwinnett that we really like a lot. There’s some depth there.
SHANKS: MAYBE ONE OF THE BEST PARTS OF THIS DEAL IS THAT YOU STILL HAVE FINANCIAL FLEXIBILITY. DOES THAT ALLOW YOU TO TWEEK THE ROSTER BEFORE YOU GET TO FLORIDA?
WREN: I don’t know if it’s before we get to Florida, but there’s no question it gives us the flexibility. I think we just look at our team and see what we need to adjust as we go along. We’re not pinned under a budget that doesn’t allow us to make moves and be creative. I think we are in a really good spot right now. We do have some flexibility. We’ve had to use a few prospects, so that makes it more difficult to trade. But we still have depth there as well.
SHANKS: DO YOU NEED ANOTHER VETERAN FOR THE BENCH, ESPECIALLY WITH GUYS LIKE CHIPPER, PRADO, ROSS AND HINSKE NOW GONE?
WREN: Not necessarily. I think we’re in pretty good shape. With (Gerald) Laird and with Ramiro Pena, who we signed, and Reed Johnson, who is a real pro… I think we’re in pretty good shape. We’ll see how it all plays out in the spring. That last week of March is always important as you put those finishing touches, whether it’s the 23rd or 24th or 25th man, and that’s what will play out. If we feel like we’re deficient in that area, there are players that fits those needs available at that time of year.
SHANKS: STARTING IN 2014, EACH MLB TEAM WILL RECEIVER $20-$25 MILLION MORE DOLLARS FROM THE NEW NATIONAL TV DEAL. WILL LIBERTY MEDIA ALLOW YOU TO USE THAT MONEY TO INCREASE PAYROLL?
WREN: What they’ve always done is looked at our incoming revenue, and given us the ability to increase our payroll as the revenue grows. I don’t know what the formula will be or what the dollars will be, but that’s always been a constant – as our revenue grows, our payroll grows. Getting that extra money I think will be good for us as far as payroll is concerned, and will allow us to continue to grow our roster.
SHANKS: SO IT MAY BE PREMATURE TO SAY THAT JUST BECAUSE THERE WILL BE $20 MILLION MORE, THE PAYROLL WILL DEFINITELY RISE FROM $98 MILLION TO $115 MILLION OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
WREN: Yeah I just don’t think we know exactly what it’s going to do. I’m relatively confident it will grow. I just don’t know at what rate. A lot of that is predicated on what players are available. Just because we have it doesn’t mean we have to spend it if the players that are out there are not valued that way. We’re always pretty cognitive of making sure we try to spend the money wisely.
SHANKS: THIS TEAM WON 94 GAMES LAST YEAR. DOES THIS TRADE KEEP THE BRAVES RIGHT THERE WITH THE NATIONALS?
WREN: Yeah I think we match up very well with all the teams. When we look at our outfield, and we look at our pitching, and we look at the young dynamic players we have… we’re going to be one of the youngest teams in the National League. I think that bodes well for us as we get more experience and our guys kind of come into their own this year and the following years. We have a chance to have a real good ballclub. How we match up with the other teams… I feel good going into spring training with where we are. That’ll be settled between the lines. We’ve got to go out and perform. We can’t just sit back and say, ‘We’ve got the players now. It’s going to happen.’ We’ve got to make it happen.
SHANKS: WITH THE ACQUISITION OF JUSTIN UPTON, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE THREE OUTFIELDERS IN PLACE FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS. HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT STABILITY?
WREN: And we’re talking special talents. We’re not just talking that we’ve got them filled and we’ve got guys signed. All three of these guys are special talents that can be game-changers. Any one of them can be a game-changer. I think that’s what’s going to be most fun to watch. You’re talking about three outfielders hitting in the middle of the lineup. I don’t know exactly where Fredi will bat them, but they’re going to be in the middle of the lineup. It’s a special group.
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. Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.