With John Schuerholz moving from his role as GM to that of Team President, former Assistant GM Frank Wren will take over as General Manager. It is going to be difficult to follow up Schuerholz, who will almost certainly go into the Hall of Fame and baseball history as one of the greatest GM's ever. Now comes the real question: Who is this guy?
Wren's first major position was with the Expos in 1987 when he became their Assistant Director of Scouting. Dave Dombrowski, who was the Expos' GM at the time, became the GM of the expansion Florida Marlins late in 1991. Wren followed Dombrowski to Florida as the Assistant GM of the team, which was set to have its inaugural season in 1993. He was promoted to Marlins Vice President in 1996 and won a World Series with Florida in '97.
After the 1998 season, Wren was hired by the Orioles as the replacement for Pat Gillick, who had resigned from the GM post. He lasted only one disappointing season working for Orioles owner Peter Angelos and parted on bad terms with the team. After that, Wren joined the Braves front office, where he was worked for the past seven seasons.
That is the quick version. Let's break down the major moves of Wren's season as GM of the Orioles:
- Signed RHP Mike Timlin to 4-year $16 million deal. Timlin was coming off a good season as Seattle's closer with a 2.95 ERA. He was signed to close for the Orioles and was decent in his first year, saving 27 games with a 3.57 ERA. In 2000 however, Timlin's ERA jumped to almost five and he was traded to the Cardinals mid-season.
- Signed OF Albert Belle to 5-year $65 million deal. This move is probably the most famous of Wren's career. Belle, one of the more prolific sluggers of the 90's opted out of his deal with the White Sox and signed what was the largest contract in baseball at the time with Baltimore (Isn't it crazy that people are talking about 11-years $400 million for A-Rod less than ten years later?). Belle hit .297 with 37 homers and 117 RBI's his first year with Baltimore but then dropped to .281 with 23 homers in 2000 and hip problems forced him to retire after the 2000 season. The O's expected more from Belle, who hit 49 home runs and drove in 152 the year before. A pretty bad signing but that is the kind of thing that Peter Angelos more than likely had his hand in.
- Traded RHP Armando Benitez to NYM for C Charles Johnson. Benitez, a young power arm with control problems at the time (much like he is now), had good success closing in Baltimore but settled in to put up for the most part excellent numbers with the Mets. However, he became known as the closer who couldn't close out the big game and was a liability because of his control problems. Johnson had some pop and a great glove but didn't hit for a lot of average. He hit .251 with 16 home runs in 1999 and then was traded mid-season the next year after hitting .294 with 21 homers through only 84 games with Baltimore.
- Signed 1B Will Clark to 2-year $11 million deal. Clark left the Rangers after becoming one of their more beloved players and split time at first in 1999 with Jeff Conine. Clark was a hard-nosed player with a lot of intensity and more than anything, Wren was trying to bring that attitude to the underachieving Orioles. In 77 games, Clark hit .303 with ten home runs and 29 RBI's. He put up similar numbers through the first half of 2000 before being traded to St. Louis in a salary dump. The fact that he split time at first subtracted from his value but his numbers when he did play where right there with his career numbers.
- Signed 2B Delino DeShields to 3-year $12.5 million deal. DeShields was brought in to replace Roberto Alomar who departed via free agency. He only appeared in 96 games, hitting .264 with six home runs. The production wasn't as good as expected but you can't complain that this was a horrible deal. He was decent. The next year he shifted between second base and the outfield, hitting .294 with ten homers.
- Re-signed OF B.J. Surhoff to 3-year $17.9 million deal. That name should look familiar because he played out half of the second year, the third year, and the option year in Atlanta after being traded as a salary dump. Surhoff was a fan favorite and was a consistent run producer even if he wasn't amazing. He was coming off a season in which he hit .279 with 22 home runs and in the first season of the new deal had his career year, hitting .308 with 28 homers as well as reaching the 100 RBI mark the only time in his career. His stats with Baltimore the next year were similar before he was dealt to Atlanta.
- Signed RHP Daniel Cabrera as an amateur free agent. Cabrera was signed out of the Dominican Republic and after dominating in the minors, got a call in 2004. He finished with a 5.00 ERA after slipping late in the season but came back the next year with a 4.52 ERA. By this time he had already become the pitcher he is today. He can either be dominant or get knocked around. People are still waiting for a big breakout but consider this a good signing.
- Traded OF Danny Clyburn and a PTBNL to TB for RHP Jason Johnson. Clyburn wasn't much and retired from pro baseball after struggling that year for Tampa Bay. The PTBNL, Angel Volquez, played four seasons in the Devil Rays farm system before retiring in 2004. He never got above A-ball and accumulated only 85 career innings. Johnson, after getting knocked around his first two seasons, went on to have three productive seasons as a starter with ERA's of 4.09, 4.59, and 4.18 before leaving in free agency. We can definitely call this one a win for Wren.
- Traded RHP Chris Fussell to KC for 1B Jeff Conine. Conine spent 4.5 productive seasons with the Orioles, shifting between first base, third base, and the outfield. He averaged around .290 with 15 home runs per year for Baltimore. Not mind-shattering but a player that certainly pulled his load during the course of the season. Fussell went on to do nothing. He had two stints in the majors with the Royals and then became a journey-man minor league pitcher (pitched one year for Richmond in 2003). Another win for Wren.
- Drafted OF Larry Bigbie (Round 1), SS Brian Roberts (1A), LHP Erik Bedard(6), 2B/SS Willie Harris (24), and Doug Slaten (34) in June Amateur Draft. Pretty good reward for this draft. The Orioles had numerous first round picks due to a couple free agents leaving that off-season but Brian Roberts was the only one who really made a significant impact. Bigbie is now playing with the Richmond Braves and has been up and down for most of his career. The Orioles did however pass on players such as Carl Crawford, Alexis Rios, John Lackey, and Albert Pujols. Bedard can easily be considered the best pick here as he has developed into a dominant left-handed starter.
- Traded RHP Rocky Coppinger to MIL for PTBNL (RHP Al Reyes). Coppinger struggled for the Orioles in 1999 but finished out the year strong after being traded to the Brewers. He would play only one more season in the majors in 2001. Reyes, now with Tampa Bay, was usable out of the bullpen after being acquired by the Orioles. He struggled in 2000 and was traded that year. He went on to have one big season with the Cardinals in 2005 but has been merely OK other than that.
- Traded RHP Juan Guzman to CIN for LHP B.J. Ryan and RHP Jacobo Sequea. This was Wren's greatest move as GM. Guzman was a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher who had been acquired in 1998. He threw 21 starts in 1999 with a 4.18 ERA before being traded. He finished out the season strong with Cincinnati. Guzman threw 1.2 innings for Tampa Bay the next year, allowing eight runs and that was the last time he was in the majors. Ryan was very good down the stretch for the Orioles and after a rough 2000 season became more and more dominant. In 2004 he was one of the top setup men in baseball with a 2.28 ERA and the next year he took over the closers role pitching just as effectively before leaving for Toronto in free agency. Sequea was a career minor leaguer and retired in 2005.
- Traded DH Harold Baines to CLE for RHP Juan Arancea and LHP Jimmy Hamilton. Baines' last real success came with the Orioles in 1999, hitting .322 with 24 homers before being traded. He hit .271 with the Indians but only one homer in 28 games. He played two more seasons in the majors in 2000 and 20001 with Baltimore and the White Sox but retired after hitting only .131 in '01. Neither of the players Wren recieved made it to the majors but the team got Baines' contract off the books before he went into a quick decline. Lets call it a slight win for Wren.
I think overall he is blamed a bit too much for the Orioles' struggles that year. He inherited a team with a lot of problems but didn't do too bad a job considering that he had to work for the meddling Peter Angelos. Obviously he has learned since then working under the tutelage of one of the greatest GM's in baseball history. One interesting note in where we might see a difference in style between Wren and Schuerholz is Wren's extensive use of statistics. He actually created a "complex computer program" to help Jim Leyland pick the remainder of the All Star team while Wren was with Florida. I'm excited and a bit nervous about him taking over the team but if Schuerholz trusts his ability, I do too. Also, Wren has a much better relationship with Scott Boras than Schuerholz, who it was widely known wanted no part in dealing with the super-agent.