In a recent blurb from ESPN’s Jim Bowden, the former general manager cites a source which suggests that former Padres’ skipper Bud Black has emerged as the early favorite to become the Braves’ manager in 2017.
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Now, the next Braves manager probably won’t matter all that much. Baseball teams, especially at the major league level, don’t need Casey Stengel to be successful. Bob Brenly was an atrocious manager and won a ring. It’s mostly about the players, their development, and their performance at the end of the day. I’m not saying that some managers aren’t better than others – only that the difference is too often insignificant. It’s akin to lineup optimization. Does it matter? Absolutely, but it’s not really the big deal we make it.
Hiring Black is an acceptable move for a franchise looking for stability. It’s also a boring and inconsistent move for the John Coppolella Braves. One of the great things about Coppy is that he thinks outside-the-box. He’s willing to try new things, move around pieces, and blend new-age/sabermetric principles with traditional accepted ones. He’s the Joe Maddon of general managers and he should have a Joe Maddon of managers leading the club he puts together.
Unfortunately, Maddon has a job and it’s a pretty nice one so he the only way he’ll come to Suntrust Park is as a visitor. That doesn’t mean the Braves should settle on a by-the-numbers pick like Black. If you can’t have Maddon, why not hire his understudy? Dave Martinez, who ended his playing career with the Braves, has interviewed for a number of managerial positions, but failed to secure a job as the guy so far. It’s shocking for Maddon, who says “he’s absolutely ready. Some team’s going to get lucky.” Why not the Braves?
Martinez has been Maddon’s right-hand man since 2008 and followed Maddon to Chicago after the Rays passed on Martinez as Maddon’s replacement. That was despite being endorsed by Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Alex Cobb among others. In fact, it seems like everyone who has been around the 52 year-old is shocked that he hasn’t gotten a chance to lead a club already. Martinez is a student of the game and takes care of a lot of the things typically thought of managerial duties, which leaves Maddon free to focus on more pressing issues. The former outfielder knows all of the stats and knows how to communicate them to the players.
Of course, the Braves could eventually settle on Brian Snitker. He was at the helm of a team that went 59-65 after Fredi Gonzalez‘s dismissal following a 9-28 start. The Braves were especially strong in the second half. The problem with Snitker is that he’s more of a placeholder. He keeps his head down, supports his players, and won’t amaze with you with any sort of strategy. The offense’s play under Snitker is more a product of veterans like A.J. Pierzynski, Gordon Beckham, Erick Aybar, and Jeff Francoeur receiving less plate appearances in the second half. Plus, Freddie Freeman posting MVP-type numbers while Matt Kemp had a big last two months with Atlanta certainly made the offense more dynamic. I just don’t see Snitker as a long-term fixture.
Nor do I see the guys the Braves could have gone with before deciding on Snitker as options. Bo Porter has experience, though it wasn’t too memorable. Eddie Perez has the sentimental vote, but I haven’t read much from him that makes me think he’ll bring something unique to the job. Terry Pendleton coached under a third Braves manager during his move to the dugout and with good reason – nobody else has been willing to give him a position with increased responsibilities.
The Braves will also look at Ron Washington and two-time pennant-winning manager has some pluses, though his very public problems could make that a less-than-likely pick.
At the end of the day, I want someone capable of bringing a fresh perspective to the dugout. The Braves followed the book before and were saddled with Gonzalez, a thoroughly unsatisfying manager. While managers are over-scrutinized and given way too much credit for success (subsequently, way too much blame for poor play), the Braves shouldn’t play it safe with this choice. Instead, give their creative general manager a creative manager who learned under the best. You won’t get a much better option this offseason than Martinez.