For three years, John Coppolella was treated as a wunderkind. The Notre Dame graduate who had cut his teeth in the Yankees organization before coming south, Coppolella represented a new era for the Atlanta Braves. He seemed ultra-capable in fleecing other teams of prospects and draft choices while also bringing together a talented group of scouts and assistants to comb the globe for new talent. Under his leadership, the Braves’ scouting department flourished and with his background in statistical analysis, he seemed like the perfect blend of the traditional mindset and more modern approach. Coppolella gave Braves fans hope. Coppolella convinced fans to trust the process.
Around one in the afternoon on Monday morning, that trust was irrevocably broken as Coppolella resigned from his position in disgrace. While details are currently sketchy, we do know that under Coppolella, the Braves ran afoul of “rules regarding the international player market.” Others have suggested domestic spending in the draft may also be involved. In addition, as Jeff Passan tweeted, “Coppolella’s treatment of Braves employees” was also put under the microscope. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised.
It was a little more than a month ago that Ken Rosenthal penned a piece for The Atlantic about the level of discord in the Braves’ front office. At the time, it seemed limited to problems between Coppolella and Hart on one side and the old guard of John Schuerholz and his guys on the other. However, the issues in the front office went beyond that as we found out today. With the general manager now out of the way, the narrative changed from the local stories of how capable Coppolella was to the tweets many national writers were not writing before the news broke. With Coppolella in charge, people like Rosenthal and Passan couldn’t unleash their observations on the character of Coppolella because they needed him for quotes and news. With him gone, the tweets began to come out in droves of how poorly thought-of by the industry Coppolella was and how no one was sad to see him go.
Some of that could be sour grapes. After all, Coppolella did fleece many general managers. However, it seems to go deeper than that and it appears like Coppolella – for all of his good qualities – rubbed many people the wrong way. This is not unlike the man he basically replaced in Frank Wren and it’s amazing that their dismissals carry much of the same narrative, though Wren’s firing was far more simplistic and seems much more contained. Wren was hated by many people close to the Braves. Coppolella was hated by seemingly the industry he worked in. As Passan pointed out, the news about Coppolella brought “a lot of schadenfreude right now.”
There were will be much more detailed reporting to come in regards to what the Braves did under Coppolella and retrospectives of his time with the Braves, but the striking thing to me is that a guy who was regarded as such a capable general manager might never work in a baseball front office again. Again, you can compare this to Wren. He found work. He may have burned every bridge possible in Atlanta, but he was still respected outside of the south. Coppolella seems outright loathed.
The word many used to describe Coppolella was “relentless.” That aided him – and the Braves – in an organizational reset that saw Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Craig Kimbrel traded within months of Wren’s removal. That was followed up by moving Andrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller, bold moves to bring in a higher-class of talent than the Braves had been able to acquire in the trades the previous winter. However, his relentless “make this happen” approach also led to deals for Hector Olivera and wasting Kimbrel’s value just to get rid of Melvin Upton Jr. Coppolella was creative, that much is true. But he wasn’t perfect – even when the Atlanta-area media (or bloggers like myself) made it sound like he was.
Moving forward, the Braves have what could be a highly-coveted position available should other general managers not shy away due to the questions regarding whatever punishments should await the Braves. The best case scenario is that the Braves pay fines and possibly have restrictions put on them in the international and/or domestic markets. The worst case? The Braves get all of those restrictions and fines plus lose prospects – maybe even Kevin Maitan, according to Passan’s latest article. While details remain fuzzy, the fact Coppolella resigned leads me to brace for the worst. Similar to a college program giving player under-the-table benefits, the Braves may have done the same with Maitan which could force Major League Baseball to bring the hammer down. Passan also sheds light on some possible negotiating issues the Braves had with Drew Waters after selecting the outfielder this offseason. According to the report, some benefits were offered to Waters to make up in the difference between the signing bonus he received and the slot value he could have received. Both prospects rank among the top handful of position prospects currently in the Braves’ system and there’s a possibility these players are the tip of the iceberg.
The chance of dealing with sanctions from this mess awaits the next general manager, whoever that might be. Some have suggested Dayton Moore is a natural fit and he kind of always has been. Had he not left before Schuerholz’s retirement, it likely would have been Moore and not Wren who got the keys to the castle. Perhaps Coppolella never rises to the top in the Braves’ organization and perhaps we never live the darkest timeline. The good news is that even if the worst case scenario awaits the Braves, the system will continue to be stocked with talent – even if they lose some of their best ones.
Braves fans – and I consider myself one – found it easy to like Coppolella especially if you could trust the process. He marketed himself well, something that may have made it even easier for rival general managers to hate him. Whether it was candid interviews or through lengthy Q&A’s with Braves fans, referred to as #AskCoppy, the former Braves general manager was far less reserved than most general managers who often only spoke during press conferences in a rehearsed manner. Zealous, but also patient, Coppolella built a collection of young talented envied throughout the game.
It was easy, with Coppy reassuring us, to trust the process. It’d work out.
It’s almost ironic. This was finally the first year that we began to see the fruits of Coppolella’s labor play out. Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson up the middle. Rio Ruiz and Johan Camargo at third. Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, and Max Fried all starting games for the team in September. A.J. Minter coming out of the pen. And the best was yet to come as Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, and Kolby Allard all appear primed to appear in the majors in 2018. The process is getting closer and closer to bringing success to a city starving for their baseball team to once again be among the game’s elite.
And it still should be that way. The Braves are still on the rise. The Nationals will still have to worry about the Braves in the coming years. None of that has changed. In their beautiful new ballpark, the Atlanta Braves will be contenders sooner rather than later.
It just won’t be with the guy who helped make it happen anymore.