Braves manager Fredi González talks with reporters during the MLB Winter Meetings earlier this week. (Reuters)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Braves were one of the few teams to leave the Winter Meetings on Thursday without making a significant trade or free-agent signing. In fact, they made no move at all.
Still, general manager Frank Wren was pleased with progress made on several fronts and said the work could culminate in a deal or deals in the next week or two, perhaps even the next few days.
The Braves are optimistic about re-signing free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty. They are also pushing hard to acquire a starting pitcher and could be leading suitors for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija if Chicago decides to trade the hard-throwing right-hander.
“We leave here feeling good about where we are,” Wren said. “Now it’s just a matter of, sometimes (general managers) go home and regroup and have different discussions. Sometimes they go home and think about it a little and call you back and say, ‘OK, let’s get it done.’ “
The Braves want to add a veteran hitter to their bench to replace Reed Johnson, whose option they declined. They have expressed interest in several, including free-agent corner infielder Eric Chavez, a left-handed hitter who batted .281 with 53 extra-base hits (25 homers) and 81 RBIs in 506 at-bats over the past two seasons.
With other teams making a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, some Braves fans have grown impatient waiting for Wren to do something. So far, the Braves’ biggest offseason moves have been by subtraction, losing free agents Brian McCann to the Yankees and Tim Hudson to the Giants.
“I don’t dwell on it, but I have a sense of it,” Wren said of the fans’ anxiousness. “And I can understand that. I think the part that I have to keep focus on — and I think we as an organization have to keep focus on — is when we sit down in our meetings, whether it’s Fredi Gonzalez, Bobby Cox, John Schuerholz or Jim Fregosi and all our scouts, when we’re sitting around talking about our team, there’s a lot of positives with our team. We have a lot of things that people out there are looking for.
“We have a lot of things in place that helped us win 96 games and we have a lot of young, core pieces that should only get better. So it’s not like we only have guys that are on the downslope of their careers; our guys are all on the ascent. And so, we should get better just from the fact these guys are going to have four or five years in the big leagues now. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to add, but we have a really good core.”
Payroll constraints have prevented the Braves from diving into the free-agent pool for the big-ticket pick-ups with eight-figure salaries. And after being burned in the past by trading multiple top prospects in return for a year or two of a player they hoped could get them over the hump in the playoffs, the Braves have in recent years refused to trade premium prospects in such deals.
That’s the case again this year. It’s why they might not make an offer for Tampa Bay’s David Price or the White Sox’s Chris Sale, left-handed aces who aren’t expected to be dealt for anything less than a bevy of elite prospects and young players. The Braves won’t trade their most-prized young talent, including No. 1 prospect Lucas Sims, but they might be able to put together a package good enough to land Samardzija without depleting their minor league system.
“You always want to get things done as quickly as you possibly can, but I think it was a really productive meetings for us,” Wren said. “We were able to sort through all the possibilities early in the week, then (Tuesday) get it a little closer to (finalizing). So I feel like we have a good chance to get some things that will be good for our team done over the next couple of weeks.”
ARBITRATION UPDATE: After avoiding arbitration with reliever Jordan Walden, who signed a one-year, $1.49 million contract, the Braves have eight remaining arbitration-eligibles: pitchers Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy; infielders Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson; and outfielders Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer.
BRAVES LOSE TWO IN RULE 5: In Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, the Braves made no selections and lost two minor league pitchers. Michael Lee went to the Diamondbacks off the Double-A Mississippi roster in the Triple-A phase and lefty Blaine Sims went to the Astros off the high-A Lynchburg roster in the Double-A phase. Sims, 24, hasn’t pitched above A-ball and has a 5.12 ERA over four seasons. Lee, a former independent league pitcher, had a 3.77 ERA in 26 games (21 starts) last season, all but one in Double-A. He had 80 strikeouts with 21 walks and 10 homers allowed in 133 2/3 innings.