- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Frank Wren sensed something was out of whack when his boss, John Schuerholz, turned to him during an Atlanta Braves instructional league game in Florida last month and asked, "Have you seen enough?" In their eight years sharing a front office, Wren couldn't recall Schuerholz ever asking that question in the seventh inning of a ballgame.
An hour later, they were back at the hotel lounge, shooting the breeze over liquid refreshments, when Schuerholz shared the news that some major changes were in store for the Atlanta organization.
"I'm going to become the president," Schuerholz said, leaning across the table with a smile and an outstretched hand. "And you're going to be the general manager."
With the abruptness of a John Smoltz slider, Wren knew his life had just taken a monumental turn. For eight years, he was the faithful lieutenant and organizational soldier, wondering if his opportunity to run a team had come and gone. Now, suddenly, he was sitting in the big chair as the handpicked replacement for a guy with 14 division titles and Cooperstown credentials.
"I was shocked -- really shocked," Wren said. "That's the best word I can use. I really didn't see it coming at all."
Somehow, amid the heart palpitations, Wren managed to keep his composure intact long enough to say yes.
Now Wren is one of eight new faces in the general managers' team photo since late summer. As usual, you can spot a trend or two if you look hard enough.
Old guys, for example, are back in vogue. Two years after Jon Daniels and Andrew Friedman went directly from their senior proms to front offices in Texas and Tampa Bay, respectively, the Pirates hired the comparatively ancient Neal Huntington, who is 38 years old but looks like the captain of the high school debate team.
And if you thought playing experience was vital for a general manager, think again. Now that the Angels' Bill Stoneman has stepped aside to become a senior adviser to owner Arte Moreno, Oakland's Billy Beane and Kenny Williams of the White Sox are the only two GMs who actually wore a major league uniform.
But the biggest change of all is rooted in patience and continuity and the desire for efficiency over the big splash. At the moment, far-flung executive searches are out, and it's all about promoting from within.
Three of baseball's new general managers -- Huntington, Baltimore's Andy MacPhail and Houston's Ed Wade -- came to their organizations from outside. Wren, meanwhile, is one of five who simply changed offices and job titles within the building.
• After Terry Ryan cited job burnout from 13 years in the lead role in Minnesota, the Twins stuck with the program and promoted assistant GM Bill Smith.
• Tony Reagins, Stoneman's replacement in Anaheim, has been with the Angels for 16 years and spent the last six as the team's player development director.
• The St. Louis Cardinals, who had an opening when chairman Bill DeWitt fired Walt Jocketty in October, considered several outside candidates before looking internally and promoting assistant John Mozeliak.
• And while the Marlins' Larry Beinfest gave the press briefings at the general managers' meetings this week, he's now officially known as president of baseball operations. The title of GM in Florida belongs to Michael Hill, who joins Reagins and Williams as the third African-American to hold the position.
Beane, one of baseball's longest-tenured GMs, said the shift toward internal hires is a sign that the organizations in question are content with the direction they've taken and have a desire for continuity.
The Angels won a world championship in 2002 and have captured three AL West titles in the past four years. St. Louis won the World Series in 2006 and made the playoffs seven times in Jocketty's 13 seasons. Atlanta won 14 straight division titles under Schuerholz before coming up empty the past two seasons, and the Twins won four AL Central titles in a five-year period between 2002 and 2006.
"These teams aren't looking to reinvent the wheel," Beane said. "They're looking for a sense of continuation with the things they've had success with. The guys taking over were major parts of that. They know how it's run."
Beane knows what it's like to replace a heavy hitter. He spent seven years as an advance scout and assistant general manager in Oakland before taking over for Sandy Alderson as GM in 1997.
"It was easier for me because there wasn't a sense of anxiety in getting to know everything," Beane said. "I already knew everybody, so it was kind of business as usual.
"There's a lot less pressure on the No. 2 guy taking over than an outsider coming in and filling those shoes. People in the organization usually want you to be the guy, because they've developed a long-term relationship with you and there's a sense of confidence and security. It's really the ideal route."
The internal hire has a feel for the talent in the farm system and on the major league roster. He knows the owner's personality quirks, the secretaries' birthdays, which local media outlets are fair and which aren't, and which scouts work hard and which guys live to pad their expense accounts.
"There's no learning curve," said Brian Cashman, who joined the Yankees as an intern and rose through the organization to replace Bob Watson as general manager in 1998. "You know the intricacies of all aspects of the organization."
There's a lot less pressure on the No. 2 guy taking over than an outsider coming in and filling those shoes. ... It's really the ideal route.
--A's GM Billy Beane
Both good and bad. In St. Louis, Mozeliak deftly navigated the tension that existed between Jocketty and Jeff Luhnow, the former management consultant who runs the team's scouting and farm departments. Mozeliak has a far more harmonious and productive relationship with Luhnow than Jocketty ever did.
In recent years, Smith did a lot of the negotiating with agents in Minnesota while Ryan indulged his passion for scouting. Those relationships can't hurt as Smith tries to maintain a dialogue with the representatives for Torii Hunter and Johan Santana this winter.
While Reagins' ascent to the general manager's job in Anaheim is a sign that manager Mike Scioscia is about to become more involved in personnel matters, he's also an authority on the young talent in the Angels' pipeline.
Reagins, a former Cal State Fullerton marketing major, joined the team as an intern in 1992, when his duties included overseeing the bat boy and bat girl program, typing memos, writing TV and radio spots and working the public address system. He eventually left the marketing department to run the Angels' farm system.
Reagins has worked for three ownership regimes -- from Gene Autry to Disney to Arte Moreno. He can also understand the frustration that Angels fans feel after this year's first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Boston.
"We want to win championships," Reagins said. "I think at one point it was good just to win the division, but that day is no longer."
Wren, through the years, handled the bulk of Atlanta's nuts-and-bolts contract work on behalf of Schuerholz, who makes no secret of his disdain for the agent fraternity. "We have a very productive arrangement in our office," Schuerholz once said. "Frank talks to the agents, and I talk to Frank."
Three days before Schuerholz dropped his bombshell, Wren went to dinner with his wife, Terri, and acknowledged the possibility that his big career opportunity might never come. A one-year stint in Baltimore under Peter Angelos ended badly, and Wren turned down a chance to interview in Pittsburgh several years ago.
Now his days are full talking to the representatives for pitcher Tom Glavine, shopping for a center fielder, and trying to get the Braves back to the playoffs after two straight years without a postseason appearance. Schuerholz is still around as a sounding board and a resource, but it's strictly Wren's show.
"There's a very different feeling sitting in the No. 1 seat and the No. 2 seat," Wren said. "Most assistant general managers have pretty wide responsibilities, but they're taking care of tasks that are delegated to them. As the general manager, it's clearly a leadership role. You're setting policy and talking to everyone about how we're going to operate the organization.
"Fortunately, I didn't need to come in and make a lot of changes like some guys do. We have an organization that was functioning very well, so it was more a changing of the titles and keeping things going."
After eight years of watching the maestro at work, Wren is ready to put his imprint on the Atlanta organization. He embodies the old saying that good things come to those who wait. Now it's up to him to determine just how good.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider.
3hInterview by Buster Olney