Braves armed to rebound
Club adds pitchers after '08 struggles

ATLANTA - The winter of discontent now seems to be a distant memory for Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves.

Following the Braves' first 90-loss season since 1990 last year, fans grew increasingly impatient as Wren repeatedly whiffed in his initial offseason attempts to improve the roster.

Long trade talks with San Diego for Jake Peavy went nowhere. Then the general manager was turned down by A.J. Burnett, one of the top free-agent pitchers, and shortstop Rafael Furcal.

Complaints from fans reached a high when longtime favorite John Smoltz signed with Boston before going public with his criticisms of the Braves' inferior offer.

Finally, Wren also finished as the runner-up in his bid for outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who instead returned to Seattle.

The long line of frustrations made Braves fans restless. Then Wren's luck began to turn.

Wren, who added starting pitcher Javier Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan in a six-player trade with the Chicago White Sox in December, finished the offseason on a roll. He added right-handers Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to the rotation and signed left fielder Garret Anderson to provide much-needed punch to the outfield.

As a final answer to criticism from fans still stung by the loss of Smoltz, Wren on Tuesday announced a contract extension through 2012 for third baseman Chipper Jones. Smoltz was the last connection to the 1991 season that started the Braves' run of 14 straight playoff seasons, but Jones remains as a franchise player who was around for the 1995 World Series championship.

Jones had strong criticism for Braves management after Smoltz signed with the Red Sox, but the comeback by Wren had the veteran third baseman feeling optimistic about the 2009 season.

"If spring training is any gauge, it's going to be real positive year for Atlanta," Jones said. "We've played really well. We've pitched well early in games, which we had trouble doing last year with all the injuries. Last year we were down four or five runs way too often.

"With Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami, our starting pitching is much better. They will keep us in games and let the offense have time to get going."