Ken Rosenthal reports for The Athletic, the new home of Mr. Rosenthal’s writings, that there is, quoting an Atlanta Braves source, “a power struggle over who is running the club.” Rosenthal opines that six organizational moves – full credit to him for breaking the news – could be “the first step in a larger battle for the soul of the franchise, a highly sensitive dance between the Braves’ glorious past and promising future.”
We stipulate that Ken Rosenthal really, really knows baseball and has really, really good sources. But if you’ll pardon the immodesty, I like to think I know a bit about the Braves, too. And here’s what I’d say: If there’s a battle for the soul of the franchise, it was decided a while back.
According to Rosenthal’s unnamed “team official,” the issue is: “Is John Schuerholz running the club or are John Hart and John Coppolella running it?” As they say in courts of law, that would seem to have been asked and answered. Schuerholz is no longer the president of anything. He’s the vice chairman, doing whatever it is vice chairmen do, which is mostly christen stadiums and shake hands.
The recently minted Hall of Famer didn’t tell Frank Wren, his successor as general manager, what and what not to do. (That became a source of some Schuerholz regret, you should know.) Schuerholz was the driving force in Wren’s ouster, but he then co-opted Hart and promoted Coppolella to run baseball operations. He has endorsed their shared vision in every public utterance. He has not, so far as I know, vetoed any Coppolella-proposed trade. (I’m told Hart has nixed one or two.)
Is Schuerholz a respected – nay, venerated – presence in this front office? Absolutely. Is he working the phones between here and Anaheim to wangle a Mike Trout trade? Absolutely not. He’s 76. He has taken two franchise to World Series titles. He led the Braves to 14 consecutive first-place finishes. His record is secure. As considerable as his ego is, it isn’t out of proportion. Indeed, the secret to Schuerholz’s enduring success was that he hired good people and let them work. He has not taken to micromanaging at this late date.
As for the Rosenthal-reported changes: Dom Chiti, now director of minor-league pitching, will become the farm director; Dave Wallace, now Chiti’s deputy, will take Chiti’s job; Dave Trembley, now farm director and head of minor-league field operations, will keep the second part of his title. Special assistant Roy Clark will become a special assistant on scouting, which will leave him, Rosenthal writes, “perform(ing) essentially the same duties in his area of expertise.”
Are such moves – there are two other shuffles, neither involving anyone getting fired – the first fusillade in a battle for the organizational soul? I’m sorry, but I don’t see it that way. I see these as a way to play to individual strengths. To wit: The Braves were ecstatic at hiring Chiti and Wallace away from the Orioles last fall, and now they’ve placed a farm system built around young pitchers in the hands of two renowned teachers of pitching. Is that bad? Is letting Clark, one of the great scouts ever, continue to work in scouting in any way counterproductive?
This isn’t to suggest that everything in the Hart/Coppolella rebuild has gone to script: Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair aren’t very good; Dansby Swanson got demoted and Andrelton Simmons is having an almost-MVP year for the Angels. But this top-ranked farm system wasn’t conjured out of thin air, and that’s where the rebuild will rise or fall. And, if memory serves, there has never been a more ardent proponent of a thriving farm system than John Schuerholz.
I’m still not clear as to how Liberty Media thinks, if indeed it thinks at all, regarding the Braves. I’m reasonably certain that the Braves we see before us – and the Braves in Gwinnett and Mississippi and Rome, et alia – are the work of Hart and Coppolella and the people they’ve put in place. If some of those people are getting different titles, I don’t see that as palace intrigue; I see it as business as usual.
One name you didn’t see on Rosenthal’s list of job-changers was Brian Bridges, the Braves’ director of scouting. His promotion to that key position was among the first moves of the Hart/Coppolella reign. If nobody’s messing with Bridges, there’s a reason.
The Braves believe what they’re doing – and what he’s doing – is working. No, they aren’t thrilled at having gone 2-12 against the wretched Phillies; they are thrilled at how much has been accomplished in the span of 35 months. A house divided could not have done what these Braves are doing.