Seven years. Two Wild Cards. One National League East championship.
Since 2009 the Atlanta Braves have averaged 92 wins per season. Only the New York Yankees have won more regular season games than the Braves during the same time. So what would cause the Braves, a relative model of organizational consistency for close to 25 years, to make their first in-season firing since 1985?
Well, let’s take a look.
Last November the Braves hired former Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers general manager, John Hart, as Senior Advisor of Baseball Operations. For some, it was an innocuous a move, but I want to recall a conversation I had with my sister not long after that move was announced in screenshot form:
That conversation took place the day John Hart came into town in November 2013. Notice I said he would be integral in “orchestrating some folks out of Atlanta?”; bringing in Hart was the beginning of the end for Frank Wren.
It has been apparent for a while that something was amiss in Atlanta. I’ve been watching Braves baseball for the better part of 24 years and I can’t think of a five-year stretch when so many signings went bust. It just didn’t match up with the scouting department I’ve been accustomed to trusting. No matter what angle a lot of writers, experts, fans, and the like tried to look at Wren’s history of signings they all came with big question marks. Since 2009 he’s given the largest positional and pitcher contracts in the history of the Braves franchise to Derek Lowe (4-years, $60 million dollars) and B.J. Upton (5-years, $75.25 million dollars). Lowe left Atlanta 40-39 with a 4.57 ERA and B.J. Upton has more strikeouts (319) than hits (177) since he slipped on a Braves uniform.
And those were just the “marquee” offseason signings. Some of the others have been just as atrocious.
There was Kenshin Kawakami (3-years, $23 million dollars). At the time of his signing Kawakami was 34 years old and had pitched in Japan/international competition his entire career. In theory, the Dan Uggla trade/signing should have been a coup for Wren; but he whiffed again (no pun intended) when he handed 5-years and $62 million dollars to a (then) 31-year old second basemen when the breakdown years start at age 30 for the position.
It’s no wonder John Schuerholz mentioned revamping the baseball operations and getting back to the “Braves Way” of doing things.
When news of the Hart signing came down, after already hearing the announcement of the new stadium in Cobb County, it started to all make sense. I knew the Braves brought Hart in to evaluate who they wanted to bring with them to the new digs in 2017. He’d done it before in Cleveland when the Indians moved from Municipal Stadium to Progressive Field. The young core then consisted of Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Jose Mesa, Charles Nagy, and Jim Thome.
True to form: In February 2014 the Braves locked up the best of their young core (Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons, and Craig Kimbrel) to the tune of $235 million dollars.
Those were not Frank Wren moves. I promise you that.
John Hart has always been the forerunner of locking up young talent as early as possible. It was his practice to do so before it was the Rays or any other organizations for that matter. Frank Wren bet his job on established veterans with mixed track records. Not usually a good recipe for success.
Another bad recipe? Try pissing off everyone in the organization. As mentioned in this great Jerry Crasnick piece, Wren didn’t do himself any favors with his abrasive personality towards the wrong people. How many of you noticed during Bobby Cox’s Hall of Fame speech he didn’t mention Frank Wren despite Wren being in attendance? That wasn’t an accident. The laundry list of people he offended/bumped heads wasn’t just some guy in the front office. His poor handling of Tom Glavine back in 2009, his tension-filled negotiations with future Hall of Famer John Smoltz that saw him exit Atlanta, and, as I mentioned, rubbing the guy who has more power than anyone in the organization (Bobby Cox) the wrong way.
Which begs the question: now what?
Part of the conversation my sister and I had mentioned Jason Heyward. Don’t think the Braves didn’t realize that because of the contracts given to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, the Braves might find themselves in a position where they have to choose between signing one or the other. Interim general manager John Hart will be tasked with getting something done with Heyward, while trying to find the resources to lock up the younger Upton (Justin) while shipping the older (B.J.) out-of-town.
Next, the search for a general manager shouldn’t be as long as they’re advertising. They have two names in mind for the post: John Coppolella and Dayton Moore. I’m more in favor of Coppolella, the game is analytical and he’s one of the best young minds (35 years old) in all of baseball. I see him taking the post and John Hart serving as mentor for a few years.
After those two things are accomplished, the lineup and rotation need to be overhauled. There are too many holes, too many strikeouts, and too many injuries. Expect to see some names you might not want leave Atlanta (Evan Gattis), but that is what it’s going to take to right the ship in Atlanta.
Whether you believe it or not the wheels for major change in the Braves organization started turning not long after they announced they were moving to Cobb County on November 11th, 2013. Now that the dust is settling on the mess that Frank Wren (and his equally abrasive and since fired assistant general manager Bruce Manno) has created, the onus will be on John Hart, John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox to fix it.
I can think of worse situations for a baseball team than having those names involved in your rebuild.