Braves wrap up Meetings with Johnson signing

By Mark Bowman / 12/06/12 3:00 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren proved to be correct with his assumption that he would not make an impact transaction during this year's Winter Meetings. But Wren was able to bring back outfielder Reed Johnson on a one-year deal Thursday to bolster the club's bench.
When Wren exited the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Thursday morning, he felt good about some of the free-agent and trade-related conversations he had during this year's Meetings. But he still finds himself searching for another bench player and one everyday player who could preferably play left field and bat leadoff.
"If we could get the right guys in those three spots, we'd really like our club," Wren said. "We came here with the goal of moving the ball forward and we've done that. ... I think some things could pop in the next few days, because I think a lot of seeds have been planted."
When Wren arrived at this year's Meetings on Sunday afternoon, he had already completed a significant portion of his roster reconstruction process. Along with signing his primary target, B.J. Upton, he had already signed backup catcher Gerald Laird. Wren took care of his only pitching need and created some financial flexibility by trading Tommy Hanson to the Angels for hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden last week.
While Wren will likely visit the free-agent market in search of proven pinch-hit options, his focus to land an outfielder has remained on the trade market.
Atlanta has some interest in Toronto's Emilio Bonifacio, and the club has at least continued to monitor the Justin Upton trade talks. But as things currently stand, it does not appear the Jays are looking to trade Bonifacio.
As for Upton, baseball executives seem to be mixed when asked whether they believe the D-backs will trade the talented young outfielder. Whatever the case, it does not seem like the Braves would be a fit.
There has been some talk about adding another veteran like Mark DeRosa. But the primary wish was to add two proven pinch-hitters, one right-handed and one left-handed. They've accomplished half of that goal by adding the right-handed-hitting Johnson.
"We're going to have bench guys," Wren said. "The one thing we've learned over the years is that you want to have quality bench guys and guys that really fit. If it costs you a little extra to get those, it pays off in the end when you are trying to win games."
Wren will get a better feel for his needs when he and manager Fredi Gonzalez travel to the Dominican Republic this weekend to watch some of their players in action.
This trip will give Wren a chance to get a firsthand look at Juan Francisco, who has supposedly dropped some weight while frustrating pitchers in the Dominican Winter League this year. If the Braves do not find an outfielder, there is a chance they could keep Martin Prado in left field and use Francisco as their primary third baseman.
Atlanta would rather acquire an outfielder and use Prado as its primary third baseman. But Francisco has at least positioned himself for a more significant role while hitting .317 with seven homers in 27 games with Licey.
"This is a bit of a fact-finding mission where we will go down and see how guys are progressing to our eye," Wren said. "Stats are one thing and reports are another. I'm anxious to see Francisco. He's worked hard losing weight."
Deals done: Other than revealing that catcher Matt Pagnozzi has been signed to a Minor League contract, the only other deal the Braves completed this week was the one-year pact with Johnson. But as many previous years have shown, the conversations staged during these Meetings can often lead to trades and signings over the course of the next few days.
Rule 5 Draft activity: Atlanta did not select or lose any players in the Major League or Minor League portions of this Draft.
Goals accomplished: Wren acquired a backup outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench in Johnson and at least satisfied his goal to get a better feel for what he might be able to do on the trade market. Along with confirming potential fits, he was also able to eliminate some possibilities after discussions with other GMs.
Unfinished business: The Braves have the unique comfort of feeling like they are set from a pitching perspective. Wren's focus over the next few weeks will be to find a bench piece and an outfielder who can preferably bat leadoff. If Atlanta does not find a leadoff hitter, Prado or Andrelton Simmons are the most likely players to fill the leadoff role until the team finds a better solution. The World Series-champion Giants did not put Angel Pagan in the leadoff role until August of this year.
Team's bottom line: "It seems a lot of other teams are in the same boat we're in. They feel like they have had productive conversations. But the folks who are holding on to those players have a lot to weigh." -- Wren