ATLANTA — The proud parents sat in the crowd with their oldest son, but Frank Wren wasn’t smiling any less onstage.
The Braves general manager, glowing right along with his green tie, introduced his newest cornerstone to what he and his staff strongly believe to be a World Series contender Tuesday, helping his manager, Fredi Gonzalez, hold up a No. 8 jersey in front of outfielder Justin Upton’s 6-foot-2 frame. Of course, older brother B.J., who signed with the Braves in November, smiled along with the rest of his family in a crowd media members armed with cameras and iPhones.
But though the day officially belonged to the Uptons, Wren’s facial expressions gave off an impression of pride and satisfaction and anticipation; he knows the moves that were made and the dedication it took to pull them off. Acquiring All-Stars is not a GM’s version of a walk in the park, not to mention reeling in five-tool relatives in the prime of their careers.
“We feel really good about it. It’s something our staff — our major league scouts and our front office staff — have talked about for two months with the idea that this could really improve our ballclub,” said Wren, who took the GM job back in 2007. “So I think we’re all proud of being able to accomplish it. I think we’re all proud of the fact that the organization was strong enough and had the depth to make a deal like this.
“This is a proud moment for all of us.”
The offensive capabilities of the Uptons and right fielder Jason Heyward are obvious: All three have posted 20 home run, 20 steal seasons in their careers, with the possibility of 30-30 years looming. That much has been covered.
But when Wren and his two newest stars discussed possible challenges at Justin’s introductory press conference, one blatant area the team’s three outfielders will need to address and adjust to will be defense.
The Braves now feature speed and athleticism unlike any other team in baseball in their outfield, but there are inherent obstacles in that regard. Who covers what ground? Who takes precedence in the gaps? Will there be collisions or misplayed balls? Justin moving to left field — a position he’s never played in his career — only adds to the adjustment period, although he downplayed that aspect.
“I’ve caught a fly ball before. I’ve fielded a ground ball,” he said. “The more reps I get from that side of the field will be a key in spring training.
Another key? Communication, otherwise known as the defensive buzzword on Tuesday.
“It’s a function of them communicating and guys being on the same page,” Wren said. “It’s going to be a little different for Justin in left field, learning the dynamics of how far he can go and that type of thing, but overall I think our outfield defense should be really good.”
Added B.J.: “I think with both of those guys out there, communication and positioning are going to be key. We can all cover so much ground, so I think it’s going to be more getting used to playing next to each other and realizing how far we have to get something and try not to collide with each other.”
Defensive metrics were not kind with regard to the Upton brothers last season (unlike the Gold Glove-winning Heyward), but Wren and his staff have reiterated time and again that those numbers are not all-encompassing.
He believes that, when it’s all put together, Atlanta will boast one of the top defensive outfields in all of baseball. Period. As long as the three develop a repertoire of communication and a cohesiveness, it’s hard to argue with him.
“It’s more of a luxury than a problem,” Justin said of three guys being able to cover so much ground.
Frank Wren agrees — that look of pride said it all.