Earlier this week, we posted now-former-general-manager Frank Wren's three best moves made during his tenure with the Atlanta Braves. But a GM does not get dismissed because of his good deals, so here are the three moves that precipitated the end for Wren.
Trading for and extending Dan Uggla
The downfall of Uggla's career is very well-publicized. Once a feel-good Rule 5 draft success story, the second baseman spent five seasons as a Marlin and was named as an All-Star twice (2006 and 2008). Uggla averaged around 30 home runs per season, a power not often seen among middle infielders.
After the 2011 season, the second baseman was traded to Atlanta for infielder Omar Infante and LHP Mike Dunn. Less than two months later, the Braves extended Uggla to a five-year, $62 million deal.
Well, for 2011, Uggla displayed his power. In fact, he hit 36 home runs, a career high. In 2012, however, some stats started to trend the wrong way. He struck out more often (26.7%, a then-career high) and he hit for less power (.160 ISO, then-worst of his career).
He had hit .287/.369/.508 in 2010 - a downfall to .220/.348/.384 in two years was very worrisome. That concern became deeper in 2013 with an ugly .179/.309/.362 line.
What contributed to Uggla's downfall? A FanGraphs article from 2012 examined that the second baseman fell into the pitfalls of a fly-ball hitter with an uppercut swing -- being prone to strikeouts and infield pop-ups with an overall power decline.
That declined did not stop in 2014 -- Uggla hit for a miserable .472 OPS (what used to be the number in vicinity of his slugging percentage) in 145 plate appearances and Wren released him by mid-July.
Signing B.J. Upton to a five-year contract
Well, hindsight is not always 20/20. Who knew, that Bossman Junior Upton (yes, that is actually what B.J. stands for), who had put up 7.7 fWAR combined in the two years heading into free agency, would have been very counterproductive for the Braves (-0.6 fWAR in 2013 and 2014 combined)? In terms of hitting skill, Upton did have a .300 season in 2007, but from 2009 to 2012, he hit for a .242/.316/.420 slash line with 102 OPS+. That's not the flashiest sight, but he did display 20-homer power while playing above-average defense.
On Nov. 28, 2012, the Braves signed Upton to a five-year, $75.2 million deal. It is not superstar money but certainly not an amount easily handed out to any player. From 2010 to 2012, the outfielder compiled for a 10.9 fWAR, which, according to the FanGraphs metric, comes out to a $46.7 million value in three years. The deal is in line with that value of performance that the Braves had expected from Upton, which seems fair.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, a lot of things took turns for the worse. In 2013, Upton hit an anemic .184/.268/.289 with 9 home runs in 446 plate appearances. His strikeout rate went up to 33.9%, second-highest in majors that year (minimum 400 PA's) after Chris Carter (36.1%).
Upton came into spring camp in 2014 with a revamped swing, hoping that things will change. His slash line showed minimal improvement: .207/.282/.327 -- still atrocious, especially considering the $13.4 million that the team owes the outfielder.
Could this deal get even uglier? Well, the Braves are on the hook for at least three more years and the deal is actually backloaded. What's puzzling is that Upton is having the worst stretches of his career in the ages 29 and 30 seasons after coming off several solid years of production. He still has some time with him to rebound as a useful big leaguer, but because he has not shown any major improvement in 2014, it remains to be seen.
Acquiring Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek for Mark Teixeira
The Braves knew that they were not going to re-sign Teixeira. They had acquired him during the 2007 season, before Wren's reign, to salvage their playoff hopes (but they didn't make it).
Back in 2008, Teixeira was one of the most dynamic power bats in the league, hitting for average, taking walks, and, of course, hitting for power. He was also facing free agency and retaining him, obviously, would not have come at a small cost. The Braves looked to send him to an organization willing to give up the most for a half-season rental.
Enter the Los Angeles Angels, who won the Teixeira sweepstakes by giving up 1B Casey Kotchman and RHP Stphen Marek. The Braves reportedly wanted a big-league-ready first base bat -- and they acquired one in Kotchman. The lefty first baseman had came off his break out 2007 season in which he hit a solid .296/.372/.467 with a low 8.5% strikeout rate. At the time of the trade, he was hitting .287/.327/.448, which is also good.
However, after becoming a Brave, Kotchman would not have another 100 wRC+ season until 2011 with the Rays. After hitting a miserable .647 OPS for the rest of the season, Kotchman got traded to the Red Sox in the middle of the 2009 season for another first baseman, Adam LaRoche (who, thankfully for the Braves, performed very well in his brief time with the team, but he signed with the Diamondbacks for 2010).
Stephen Marek, in the other hand, was a 24-year-old relief prospect at time with not-so-high evaluation. The righty never landed in the majors. In terms of bWAR, the total value Atlanta received for trading away Teixeira is... 0.7 wins. Teixeira, by the way, produced for a 3.7 bWAR for the Angels alone.
What made this failure painful is that some of the prospects that they sent to the Rangers (a non-Wren move, we should note) have blossomed as solid regulars. Well, here are the names: SS Elvis Andrus, LHP Matt Harrison, RHP Neftali Feliz, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia and LHP Beau Jones. Besides Jones, all four then-prospects have turned into recognizable names among baseball fans.