Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/2/11
The chill in the air and frost on the windows are signals that winter is indeed here. For baseball fans a truer, and much more pleasant sign of winter is the arrival of Baseball's Winter Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday in Dallas. Those four days are a time of excitement and anticipation, when fans need to keep a close eye for e-mail and Twitter alerts as the Braves make or lay the groundwork for their first moves forward for the 2012 season. The names Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado have come up frequently and the team's need for a veteran shortstop and desire for a corner outfielder with some pop have dominated the rumor mills since the team's season ended. But its the suspense and the occasionally unexpected name that can steal the thunder. General Manager Frank Wren, like his predecessor John Schuerholz, has played things close to the vest, but he, Schuerholz, the team's president, Asst. GM Bruce Manno and Director of Baseball Administration John Coppolella among others, have been crunching numbers, comparing scouting reports and doing what they do leading up to Wrens arrival in Dallas. These meetings have sometimes meant rolling the dice, but have almost always meant making something positive happen. Two of the more aggressive moves came in 2002, when Atlanta acquired Russ Ortiz from San Francisco, and in 2004, when the meetings put the wheels in motion to make the trade for Tim Hudson. While Ortiz wasn't the long-term answer Atlanta had hoped for and certainly wasn't the guy who beat the Braves twice in the 2002 NLDS, he did win 21 games in 2003, and 15 more in 2004, while throwing over 200 innings both seasons. But his ERA was close to 4.00 in '03 and over 4.00 in '04 and his playing-with-fire approach with baserunners didn't work well for an ace in Atlanta, which was used to surgeons like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. On the whole, however the trade was a good one for Atlanta, as Ortiz was a horse in his two seasons, and was well worth the price. Much more worthwhile was what transpired two years later, when the Braves used the Winter Meetings to stoke Oaklands interest in trading Hudson. The teams worked out a package a few weeks after the meetings that saw outfielder Charles Thomas a spark plug in the '03 run to the postseason reliever Juan Cruz, who put up decent numbers, primarily in long relief, and minor league pitcher Dan Meyer go west to secure Hudson. Seven years later, that deal looks quite nice from Atlantas perspective. In 2005, the Braves filled a need at shortstop by acquiring Edgar Renteria from Boston for highly rated prospect Andy Marte. They also acquired reliever Oscar Villarreal, and pitcher Lance Cormier for former All-Star catcher Johnny Estrada. Those moves paid off even though the Braves missed the postseason, as Renteria led the team in doubles and stolen bases and was his usual dependable self at short, while Villarreal was 9-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 92 13 innings out of the pen (Cormier struggled through an injury-plagued year). Estrada, acquired during the winter of 2002 for pitcher Kevin Millwood, had been a solid player and a popular Brave, but his departure opened the door for Brian McCann. Making big moves sometimes required rolling the dice and, for better or worse, the Braves acted decisively. A move that worked out short-term was the 2003 Winter Meetings trade with St. Louis that netted outfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero for a trio of pitchers, starter Jason Marquis, reliever Ray King, acquired in a minor Winter Meetings trade in 2002, and top prospect Adam Wainright. The move paid off in '04, as Drew replaced Gary Sheffield, in right field and had what is still his best Major League season. In 145 games (he'd break that by one game in 2006), the Hahira, Ga., native hit .305 (he hasn't hit higher than .286 since), with career-bests in hits (158), homers (31 he hasn't hit more than 24 since), and runs (118). The deal would pay off more for the Cardinals thereafter, as Drew left for the Dodgers in the winter of 04, and Wainright closed for St. Louis' 2006 World Series champions and is at the top of the Cards rotation. While the Braves got a good year out of Drew, the same can't be said of the 2004 move that brought Dan Kolb in from Milwaukee. Kolb, who had saved 50 games over the previous two seasons, including 39 in 2004, never got it together in Atlanta and finished the season in mop-up roles, with an ERA close to 6.00. He would be traded back to Milwaukee the next winter for outfielder-turned-pitcher Wes Obermueller. Since 2005, the Braves, have concentrated more on building from within and have looked less to the Winter Meetings, but still have used the meetings to make tweaks. Most of those tweaks have come in moves meant to bolster the bullpen. In 2006 they acquired Rafael Soriano from Seattle for lefty starter Horacio Ramiriez. The next year Atlanta came home with lefty Will Ohman and utility man Omar Infante from the Cubs in a trade for minor-league pitcher Jose Ascanio. After not making a move in '08, the Braves used the 09 Meetings to ship Soriano to Tampa Bay for reliever Jesse Chavez. In 2010, having already made the big deal to bring in Dan Uggla, the Braves were quiet, fortifying the bullpen by signing lefty reliever George Sherrill to a one-year deal. How active the Braves will be this year is about to be seen. Regardless of whether the Braves are big players or simply lay low, watching the action heat up over the coming week should be fun.
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