Is ‘The Braves’ Way’ the way out of this mess? Maybe not

John Hart, John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox after Frank Wren’s termination. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

A week before the regular season ended, general manager John Coppolella sat in the executive box at SunTrust Park and spoke of how next year would be different – and presumably better. The Braves would be younger, with as many as seven prospects primed to make their big-league debuts. The first full fruits of a rebuild about to enter its fourth year were about to be seen. The 2018 season figured to be an exciting time.

One day after the 2017 Braves played their final game, Coppolella resigned – using the Braves’ phrasing – “due to a breach of Major League Baseball rules in the international player market.” Thus did Week 1 of what figured to be a serene offseason become an exciting time, and not in a good way.

As we speak, about all we know for sure is that the 2018 Braves will be managed, at least for a while, by Brian Snitker. Everything else is open to question. Such as:

Can the rebuild continue apace without its rebuilder-in-chief? Don’t be misled by John Hart’s title. The president of baseball operations was mostly a sounding board – occasionally a veto – for Coppolella, who was concocting and executing exotic trades while technically an assistant general manager. This happened with the blessing of team patriarch John Schuerholz, who hired Coppolella from the Yankees. For better or worse, the nuts and bolts of the rebuild were mostly if not entirely Coppolella’s doing.

Wouldn’t anyone who assumes stewardship of the Braves be willing to let what is generally considered baseball’s No. 1 farm system continue to flower? The nature of baseball execs is to value what they inherit less than what they accumulate. Note how many of Coppolella’s prospect-gathering trades were made with teams with new GMs – A.J. Preller in San Diego, Dave Stewart in Arizona, Billy Eppler in Anaheim, Jerry Dipoto in Seattle. Note also that Coppolella was willing to shed Jose Peraza, rated the Braves’ No. 1 prospect under Frank Wren, in the Hector Olivera trade. Different eyes see different things. While it’s hard to imagine anyone’s first move after alighting in Cobb County being to put out feelers on Ronald Acuna, you never know.

Will new management be given a different mission statement? As stressed on the day of Wren’s termination, Schuerholz’s aim was to return this franchise to “The Braves’ Way” of doing business – meaning building through the minor leagues, building around young pitching. (Also meaning: No massive contracts for the likes of B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla.) Schuerholz was mostly glowing in his assessment of the rebuild, but he did promise “never again” after the desultory 2015 season. As we know, 2016 and 2017 offered only incremental improvement. The next GM – or president, or whatever – could be told, “Enough of this. Win now.” Which could mean that other teams start getting calls about, if not Acuna, then some of these young pitchers.

Speaking of which, will the new GM be just a GM? It’s widely believed that the Braves would like to bring Dayton Moore, once Schuerholz’s No. 2 man, back from Kansas City. Moore, who presided over two World Series runs and the 2015 championship, mightn’t warm to the notion of working under Hart. If Hart is doing the hiring – he has left the impression that he is, though some are wondering if Schuerholz, officially the team’s vice chairman, again wants to act patriarchal, perhaps literally – would he be amenable to hiring his eventual and perhaps immediate replacement? Jon Heyman of FanRag suggested this week that relations between Schuerholz and Hart have frayed and that the former would like to see Moore return to groom Jonathan Schuerholz, the team’s assistant director of player development, for a bigger job.

Should John Schuerholz have a say in this? The Hall of Famer’s influence on this franchise remains powerful, but he has stepped away from day-to-day concerns. And, to be frank (pun slightly intended), he’s the guy who brought Wren and Coppolella here and championed their advancement. He is — or was — close friends with Hart, who was contracted as a consultant during the Wren administration and who was lured out of semi-retirement after Wren’s ouster.

How much blame does Hart bear? As much as the Braves might love to dump everything in the lap of one overzealous GM and one rogue chief of international scouting (Gordon Blakeley, who also resigned Monday), Hart is president of operations. A whisper holds that MLB’s investigation was a function of an in-house whistle-blower. If what was happening was known within the front office, why didn’t Hart know? And if he did, why didn’t he act? He isn’t exactly a president-in-absentia – he has a condominium in The Battery Atlanta; he and Coppolella would talk many times a day – but his work rate has been a source of curiosity. This week he felt compelled to tell Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he has played golf fewer than 10 times this year. Hart also said that he and Schuerholz had gone to lunch three times this week.

Is Hart staying? He’s not under contract for next season, though it’s believed he plans to work through 2018. It would look weird if he hired Moore as president, handed him the office keys and said on his way out, “Good luck – we’re all counting on you.” The Braves’ issues with MLB aren’t close to being resolved. The organization figures to get hit with significant sanctions. More resignations could be coming. They could lose Kevin Maitan, their No. 5 prospect. Had the Braves felt there was no meat to the investigation, they wouldn’t have pointed Coppolella toward the door. But if Coppolella had to go, should his mentor go, too?

Is this as big a mess as it appears? Sometimes we in the media say, “Such-and-such team is in chaos.” Two months later, upheaval has yielded to business as usual. Until we know what MLB does, we can’t affix a real prognosis. But it’s clearly the darkest moment “this great, grand organization” – Schuerholz’s immortal and immodest description – has known. Losing games is one thing. Losing face is another. The Braves have been so embarrassed they might well wonder if “The Braves’ Way” is has outlived its usefulness, like Turner Field. Which makes us wonder if the solution is yet another old Braves’ hand riding to the rescue.

Reader Comments 0

69 comments
JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

There is no choice for the A-Braves: If Moore wants to be president then Hart should be let go right now. Moore is the steady hand we need at this time. Tons of talent in our system but some gaping holes, too. Moore can bring this thing together. Hart, sorry to say, is not the man for this job. Atlanta should move decisively and bid Hart good bye, and hello to Dayton Moore. 

58Supersports
58Supersports

Hart needs to be fired asp... Hire Moore as President of all Operations...let him hire his own people and stop this Braves way buddy buddy system. Braves front office is a mess. Clean the swamp and get a winner in here. Fans deserve the best and the present front office sucks big time. 

Time for McGuirk to get some balls and clean house.

Thanks Mark!

rererosa
rererosa

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Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

The Braves way is a thing of history, the Braves way was basically over when Liberty media purchased the team from Time Warner in 2007. Although the Braves way was likely over when Ted Turner lost control of the franchise. Liberty runs the Braves like a real estate venture, keep costs down and profits up. New Stadium ,over  2.5 million attendance = a healthy profit in 2017. With all the new business in the Battery next year, more profits . And a Braves roster full of kids making the MLB minimum salary, makes it even more profitable in 2018.

Reno8989
Reno8989

Maybe...just maybe, the whole "Braves-way" - thing as the underlying "formula" principally and universally responsible for the Braves successful run in the 90's and beyond is really a misconception. Maybe what we all witnessed and most of us greatly enjoyed was mostly just due to  "dumb luck" - more a product of "random forces" (albeit with some important input from the front office and the managerial/coaching staffs) than "intelligent design." Think of it in the sense of "managed" stock funds vs. "index" funds.  Or even better, "hedge-fund" results vs. index funds. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the "geniuses/experts" fail to display any advantages over "blind" index funds and "random" results. It was "smart" to obtain Maddux from the Cubs - he was a proven performer at that point in his career. The only "luck" involved here was that the Cubs allowed him to leave. But Smoltz, Glavine...who really knew that they would turn out to be the Hall-of-Famers that they did? What "expert" in the Brave's front office was absolutely and indisputably "smarter" than every one else in baseball? What "expert" would have "known" that the likes of a Mark Lemke would provide the crucial contributions that he did? If such a person or group of "baseball geniuses" really existed back in the Braves' "golden years," a person or group of front-office baseball men that was so clearly superior to every other front-office in baseball, where are they now? Let's bring them in to "right the ship" and bring back winning baseball to Atlanta. (If it were only so easy. It's not.)

ps. It would appear that Coppie got caught up in the whole "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'" mentality so common throughout collegiate and professional (is there really a difference?) athletics. All too human, I am afraid.   

Berserker
Berserker

"Dumb luck" resulted in 14 consecutive titles? That is the dumbest thing I've heard on this subject. Maybe, what these clowns (Hart, Coppolella, Snitker, and Fredi Gonzalez) have been doing is not what the Braves did when Bobby Cox and Schuerholz were running the organization. Why am I the only one who even asks this question? Maybe the current clowns just don't know what they are doing.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Okay , dumb luck may be a little harsh.

But can you name another MLB team that had 3 HOF pitchers on their staff for for 9 straight years and 736 starts . I doubt there has been one.

Berserker
Berserker

And Cox and Schuerholz don't get credit for drafting, trading for, signing, coaching, and managing them and all of the other players they did?

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker No Cox and Schuerholz received plenty of credit for it ,I think they are both in the Hall Of Fame.

But who is more responsible for where the Braves find themselves today. who ultimately hired all of the Clowns you talk about (Wren,Hart, Gonzalez, Coppolella, Snitker)? Schuerholz. Cox ?

khd713
khd713

@Reno8989 This is a really dumb comment. The Braves were a laughingstock organization until Schuerholz arrived. He had a systematic approach to developing the farm system, which produced just a few of those "dumb luck" players like Justice, Avery, Javy Lopez and later Andruw and Chipper, and allowed him to deal for players like Maddux, Smoltz and Pendleton. That's not dumb luck, you moron. That's how you win 14 straight divisions and play in five World Series. I just think it's amazing how the revisionists have tried to disparage Schuerholz, a man who has been nothing except the greatest thing that ever happened to sports in this loserville city, and a man whose integrity has never, ever been questioned. I can promise you that when the whole story is told about what went down with Coppy, it will be Hart whose hands are dirty, and not Schuerholz. That's why Schuerholz is so pissed right now. Please take the dumb luck nonsense somewhere else.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@khd713 @Reno8989 Schuerholz deserves the credit for assembling the Braves teams that won 14 divisional titles,but he also has to take some of the responsibility for where the organization is today.What may be Schuerholz last major decision as Chairman(hiring a new President of baseball operations)  is the most important for his legacy going forward? I hope he can bring in the right person to get the Braves back in contention for playoff spots and hopefully another championship.

ctbold
ctbold

I hear the new GM is going to focus on mass transit.  Good move; the average turnstile counts of 14,000 need options.


No playoff wins since '01?  Ouch...

Berserker
Berserker

So, this guy doesn't know either.

Berserker
Berserker

They haven't hired a new GM, A$$HOLE.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker You just don't know yet. Nothing can be announced publicly until after the World Series, Hart is acting GM, he could name Asst.GM Adam Fischer full time GM, Hart could decide to be GM or Hart can try to hire a new GM from outside the current Braves administration.

slydawg
slydawg

Too many layers to unravel in this trashy, gossipy , mess. Terry McGirk should clean house and make them all go into retirement, and hire a younger president of baseball operations, then allow him to start from scratch. That is the absolute best move. By keeping even at least one old hand around, you're beholding one's self to them. The older you get, the more stubborn and arrogant one becomes. That's not an optimal working environment for the bright mind this club now requires.

Berserker
Berserker

Complete nonsense. "beholding" means gazing. Not "becoming beholden to." "oneself" is fine for "one's self." You can say "you" instead of "one." You are not speaking to the Queen. Besides, everything you said is just wrong. Fire everyone in the organization? Have you graduated from high school, yet? Experience matters. Baseball has been around for 150 years before you were born. It hasn't changed that much since it started.

TideDawg
TideDawg

I'm good with Snitker....maybe until he retires. I'll see how it goes in 2018.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Because genius the Braves under Cox had the money to keep Glavine. Smoltz and Maddux for nine years in the starting rotation. Larussa managed the A's until they sold off his all stars, and finished his career with the second most successful team in MLB history .(St.Louis Cardinals)

What the hell kind of comparison is Riggleman to Cox and Larussa.Riggleman managed teams Padres ,Cubs , Nats just as bad as the 2016 -2017 Braves.  And I guess you must have forgotten the first 5 years Bobby Cox managed the Braves his record was 306-380. 

Berserker
Berserker

More evidence you have no idea what you are talking about. Snitker is a terrible manager. He is a minor league manager, not a major league manager. He should have been fire after last season.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Damn. your a genius. Most major league managers were at one time minor league managers.There have been a few exceptions, but most successful MLB managers were promoted from the minor league systems. I will say again , I doubt any manager could have won 10 more games with the pitching staff the Braves had in 2017, as a staff their ERA was a half a run higher than in 2016. You could say Snitker did a good job winning 3 more games in 2017 than 2016. 

Until the front office and ownership decide to spend the money needed to put a MLB pitching staff together , the Braves will struggle no matter if Snitker, Maddon or Francona is the manager.

Berserker
Berserker

You are too stupid to even have this discussion. What I mean is Snitker manages the team exactly the way a minor league manager manages a minor league team. There is a big difference. You are still wrong. I will say again, if managers don't make a difference, why have a manager at all? Why is Bobby Cox's record 2504-2001? Why is Tony LaRussa's record 2728-2365? And why is Jim Riggleman's record 662-824? If Snitker doesn't add any wins to your record why pay him a salary?

Berserker
Berserker

Wow you are too stupid to live. Bobby Cox and Larussa had MUCH BETTER records than Riggleman had. They coached a long time. If managers don't matter, why did Cox and LaRussa win so many games, and why did Riggleman lose so many games. All three of them managed MANY DIFFERENT players on different teams. Cox and LaRussa won. Riggleman lost.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Cox and Larussa had much better teams than Riggleman had, Do you remember another Braves manager in the 1980's Joe Torre fired in Atlanta , St.louis and NY with the Mets, Then he becomes a managing genius 4 straight World Series 1996-1999 because he finally gets to manage a team with TALENT. Is it so hard to get through your head that the 2016 -2017 Braves do not have enough TALENT to win more games than they lose ,no matter who their manager is.

Berserker
Berserker

Because you say it, then it must be true? If Snitker can win with these players, then they don't have enough talent? I have seen Snitker manage. It is basically Fredi Gonzalez, but worse. Of course Torre won with the Yankees billion dollar payroll. Anyone could have won with them. That doesn't mean that a manager has no effect on wins and losses.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Have you ever played baseball beyond little league, High School ,College, ? How many more wins was Snitker supposed to get out of the 2017 Braves to earn his salary. Other than Freeman and Inciarte was there a player the 2017 Braves that would be a starter on the Nats, Cubs, Dodgers, D-Backs, or Rockies?

A manager can only be as successful as the team that he can put on the field. In the big picture you may be right Cox or LaRussa may have been able to coax 5-10 more wins out of the 2017 Braves. But that still would have the Braves finishing 3rd, 20 games out of first and 10 games out of the playoffs.

Berserker
Berserker

I never said the Braves have the most talented team. I have said that Snitker is not a major league manager and should be fired. A good manager would have won more games. I don't know exactly how many. I do know Cox would have won more games.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker So tell me who should be the next Braves manager? What manager out there can win with the talent the Braves currently have on their roster? I know you say Snitker is a clown, well who is out there to take over that would not wind up wearing the Clown shoes?

coolcatdaddy
coolcatdaddy

i quit the Braves the year they blew that big lead going into fall. Thank God. Now I just tune in to enjoy their misery. Hope they suck forever in their suburban hellhole

TideDawg
TideDawg

@coolcatdaddy  I would guess that you have quit the Falcons too. What team do you support that has never fallen on it's face?

Berserker
Berserker

You are not a fan. NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU THINK. GO AWAY.

coolcatdaddy
coolcatdaddy

@TideDawg @coolcatdaddy been a saints fan since birth so screw the falcons too. loved watching them choke away that super bowl. even if we go 0-16 for forever it would still beat the eternal stench of that . 

Gomez Addams
Gomez Addams

Thank God the Dawgs are back on track!  My old age will be rewarded at least in one way.

tmc
tmc

What kills me is Schuerholz, Cox & Hart are glorified for being such great (at least 2 of 3) baseball minds. Yet, they can't seem to find a way out of the one major anchor holding back the organization from being competitive. They have a huge problem spending money for talent on the field. Most agree it is because of a very poor tv contract. If so, great minds find a way out of a horrible 20 contract.
I never thought Joe Johnson or Marvin Williams could be traded. Danny Ferry did that and more, but he was run out of town...
The Braves "greats" are sitting on their collective hands while trading mlb talent for minor league pitching prospects at nauseam. And neglecting the everyday 8 positions needed to compete in baseball today.
CHANGE is needed or this will continue for many, many years.  

Berserker
Berserker

Bobby Cox doesn't work for the Braves anymore. Schuerholz has left the team in Hart's hands. So, everything you said is nonsense.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Get it right genius, Bobby Cox is still on the Braves payroll as Special Assistant to the general manager.

Berserker
Berserker

What the hell is Special Assistant to the General Manager. That is a meaningless title. It also means that he worked for Coppolella, not the other way around.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker I think no one is currently working for Coppolella.But Cox is still on the payroll, and if he was not 70 years old , he may actually want to be the next GM of the Braves ,the job he had before Schuerholz came to the Braves in 1990.

Berserker
Berserker

Coppolella was the GM moron. Cox is Special Assistant to the GM, so Cox technically WORKED (past tense, idiot) for Coppolella.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Berserker Cox answers to Schuerholz not Coppy ,Hart or anyone else in the Braves front office. Just a rumour ,but some have said it was Cox that dropped the Dime on Coppolella that got him Fired. 

alareno
alareno

Every team has their "Way." Most of them wind up with fairly similar records over the span of, say, thirty years. They exist to make money for a handful of people and to provide diversions for people like us who have our theories about all of it.

My theory is that you have to have consistently good hitters and pitchers, not just one or the other.

I also think it's foolish to take a fastball down the middle of Broadway after saying you're waiting for a pitch you can drive.

Oh, and why pitch to a guy who's red hot and kills you almost every time you see him?

In conclusion, why not walk a Masher with the bases loaded and force in one run instead of pitching to him and letting him drive in two, three or four runs?

See? It's fun!!

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The bottom line is black so the baseball operation is pretty much irrelevant to this owner. "The Braves Way" cannot be recreated without an owner passionate about winning.

Berserker
Berserker

The only way the ownership has an effect on winning an losing is whom they hire to run the organization and the amount of money they are willing to spend. Passion has nothing to do with it. The Braves payroll is in the bottom half of the league, but the talent on the team is not the best either. They are not going to go out and try to buy a team.

POV1948
POV1948

Hard to believe the remaining Johns knew nothing about Coppy's shenanigans, not just with international players but contacting agents illegally.  The one value you'd assume they both still have is being plugged in to the MLB grapevine.  If not, what good are they?

Berserker
Berserker

I will have to take your word for it, because I will never drive out to Smyrna to see it. But, in 10 years they will tear it down and build a new one somewhere else.