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Braves decide they need a new tone

Wren's dismissal will ultimately pave way for continued success in Atlanta

Two offseasons ago, Braves general manager Frank Wren believed he had given his team a dynamic new look that would propel the franchise back to greatness. In reshaping the roster around the acquisitions of outfielders Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, he believed he'd given the franchise more than just talent.

Wren loved the idea of putting the Upton brothers in an outfield that already had Jason Heyward, a rising star. Together, those three players surely would be exactly what the Braves needed in the wake of Chipper Jones' retirement.

"We thought it was important to give our team a new identity," Wren said at the time.

In two seasons, that outfield has been unable to deliver the way Wren hoped. B.J. Upton got the largest free-agent contract that Atlanta has ever given a player -- $75 million over five years -- and in 263 games has a .197 batting average.

And yet that contract alone wasn't why Wren was dismissed by Braves president John Schuerholz on Monday morning.

Nor was this September's 4-14 free fall from contention by the team Wren constructed. That team has scored the second-fewest number of runs in baseball with the fourth-highest number of strikeouts.

Around Atlanta, there was criticism that the club lacked leadership during tough times and that Wren had not understood the roles former Braves like David Ross, Eric Hinske and Martin Prado had played in keeping the clubhouse going in the right direction.

It's also unlikely that clubhouse makeup was why the Braves didn't win or why Wren is no longer the general manager. When a team hasn't changed general managers in almost a quarter-century, it's never just one thing that prompts a move.

Wren's five-year, $62 million contract to second baseman Dan Uggla wasn't what prompted a change, either. Uggla batted .209 in 499 games, and when Atlanta released him this season, the club ate around $19 million.

If you're keeping score at home, Wren had other big-ticket mistakes, but he had some tremendously smart moves, too. His acquisition of Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson in a seven-player deal with the D-backs was a huge win.

Wren also oversaw a farm system that produced Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, David Hale, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy.

The Braves won just one division championship during Wren's eight seasons as general manager, but they also won more than 90 games two other times with a payroll that usually was in the middle of the pack.

Atlanta hasn't won a postseason series since 2001, and plenty of those disappointments were on Schuerholz's watch. Schuerholz has been in baseball almost 50 years, and so he understands that sometimes sensible deals don't work out.

In the end, the Braves are getting a new general manager for other important reasons, for reasons that are difficult to quantify.

Schuerholz became convinced that the Braves needed a change at the top of the baseball operation, both in terms of substance as well as style. Schuerholz simply wanted a different tone. He was concerned that too many good people had left the organization, or at least were considering leaving.

During Schuerholz's two decades as general manager, he prided himself on Atlanta's teamwork from top to bottom. He wanted executives, coaches, scouts, etc., working together.

Again, if B.J. Upton and Uggla had played the way Wren thought they would, it's fair to assume no change would have been made.

But Schuerholz apparently has had concerns for a while, even though he was the man who originally hired Wren 15 years ago.

In turning to veteran baseball man John Hart to be his interim general manager, Schuerholz is relying on an old friend. It spoke volumes that Bobby Cox showed up at the news conference announcing Hart's appointment.

Cox was one of the people said to have something less than the best of relationships with Wren during his final years on the job, and Schuerholz asked him to help the Braves find a new general manager.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore almost certainly will be offered the job. He was with the Braves during the best of times and is held in high esteem by almost the entire organization.

Moore has spent the last eight years building a winning franchise in Kansas City and has a solid relationship with Royals owner David Glass. He has two years remaining on his contract with Kansas City, and some of the people who know him best think he'll be tempted but ultimately remain loyal to Glass.

Hart's front offices in Cleveland and Texas have produced a string of big league general managers, including Mark Shapiro, Dan O'Dowd, Josh Byrnes, Jerry Dipoto and others.

Like Schuerholz and Cox, Hart knows the job and what it entails in an era when every general manager must embrace both people skills and analytics. It's a complex job on a variety of levels.

But Atlanta will attract the best of the best candidates. With a rich history and a competitive roster and a good farm system, the Braves need to be tweaked more than rebuilt. For that, they can thank Frank Wren's good work. When all is said and done, that work might be his legacy.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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