Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that John Hart has declined the Atlanta Braves’ offer to remain their permanent-if-only-for-a-while general manager. (Hart is already the interim GM.) If this is indeed true — team president John Schuerholz told esteemed colleague David O’Brien the report is “not accurate” — it would be a mild surprise but no shock. Hart is 66, and it has been unclear whether he wants to return to baseball on a full-time basis.
Assuming Passan’s report is accurate, we need to ask how it affects the Braves’ search. Not much, I’d suggest. Passan identifies the two leading non-Hart candidates as the two you’d figure — assistant GM John Coppolella and Kansas City GM Dayton Moore, who’s otherwise occupied at the moment.
(Passan also mentions Dan O’Dowd, who just resigned as Colorado’s GM, but O’Dowd — on the job since 1999, his Rockies managed four winning seasons — seems like someone you’d interview just to say you’ve interviewed someone. Here’s an acerbic appraisal from Woody Paige of the Denver Post.)
Let’s not get carried away by the Royals’ sudden success. It took Moore, who left the Braves for K.C. in 2006, nine years to build a playoff team, and these Royals made it only as a wild card. Yes, they’ve looked unbeatable in the postseason — heck, they’ve BEEN unbeatable; they’re 7-0 — but they’re also an 89-win team. (Before this failed season, the Braves under Frank Wren had won no fewer than 89 games over the past four years.)
The Royals look fast and sleek and deft defensively, and their bullpen has been tremendous. But this was also a team that finished last in baseball in walks and home runs, an odd parlay that is the antithesis of “Moneyball.” (They also had the fewest strikeouts, which I know is music to Braves fans’ ears, and the most stolen bases.) As dashing as Kansas City appears, this seems a case of postseason-lighting-in-a-bottle. The two teams the Royals have faced beyond the wild-card game — the Angels and the Orioles — have the sort of ordinary starting pitching that rarely reaches October.
Coppolella, who’s 36, would be the better choice. He’s big on advanced analytics but not so big that he won’t listen to scouts. (Indeed, he’s in charge of the Braves’ scouting department.) Some wonder if he’s seasoned enough, but the Dodgers just stole 37-year-old Andrew Friedman from Tampa Bay, where he’d been GM (with great success) since 2005.
The Braves’ apparent preference has been to let Coppolella serve as GM-in-waiting under Hart. If Hart is no longer an option and Moore becomes their first choice, they’d have to wait until nearly November — his Royals are one game from the Fall Classic — to make a fairly retro move. (Moore is so old-school he employs Ned Yost, the former Braves coach who is the sabermetrician’s least-favorite manager.) And there’s no guarantee that Moore, who’s under contract in Kansas City through 2016, would agree to leave.
If the Braves believe Coppolella will be ready eventually, they’d be better off seeing if he’s ready immediately. The trend in baseball is to go younger and smarter, not retro.
Further reading: The Braves as nostalgia act? Not necessarily.