With games starting back up on Friday, we are officially reaching the end of the off-season. Spring Training 2018 is upon us, which means the 2018 regular season is just around the corner, and for Atlanta, a new start. After a scandal that rocked the organization to its core broke just after the season ended, Atlanta watched its farm system get re-shaped by penalties and sanctions and, consequently, decided to completely overhaul its front office. That decision was made with the hope of moving on. Finishing this rebuild, putting these darker days behind them, and beginning a new era of Braves baseball that, hopefully, never utters the phrase ‘The Braves Way’ again.
But before we do that, I thought one last look at the previous regime would be appropriate. A postmortem, if you will, of all that’s happened in the last 3 years. So what we’re doing today and tomorrow is a 2-part series on the 10 best and 10 worst decisions made by the Hart/Coppy regime.
Today we’re doing the 10 worst.
Couple things before we get started:
- Any and all organizational decisions made are up for this list. Not just trades or signings.
- This is a ranking, not merely a list. Number 1 is more egregious, or more impressive, than number 2 and so on.
10. Not Trading Julio Teheran
Atlanta actually missed this boat twice. Right as the tear down process began after the 2014 season, Teheran was an obvious candidate to be shipped off for a haul of prospects. He was a 24-year-old, highly regarded pitcher coming off a 3 Win season and had tremendous value. The Braves, somewhat understandably given his age, decided to keep and build around Julio. After a down 2015 season, Teheran bounced back in 2016, and as the 2016 trade deadline was approaching, Julio was one of the most attractive names on the market. Teams pay a higher cost at the deadline given the increased chances the player they’re acquiring will be helping in a pennant race and Atlanta had a prime opportunity to maximize an asset while still being years away from contention. They declined that opportunity. They once again chose to keep him and ever since, his value has done nothing but drop. It could always rebound of course but as we sit here today, not selling high on a volatile asset was one they’d probably like back.
9. Coppy Being a Cheating Asshole
If we were making this list from Coppy’s point of view, this would be number one. John apparently considered the rules of baseball to be more optional than mandatory, and as we found out later, had no problem flaunting is unlawfulness. Combine that with consistent mistreatment of employees as well as his insistence on continuing to lie to MLB investigators and it’s fair to say Coppy’s moral compass didn’t exactly point north. This would be higher on the list from the Braves perspective, but I still maintain the actual impact to the organization has been overblown. The team ended up with a better GM, a more streamlined and clear power structure in the FO, and it’s been my opinion all along the players they lost were more hype than substance. The restrictions on future international spending is real and will hurt the teams depth in the future but that’s really the only reason this made the list. Of course, for Coppy, his career is effectively over while Hart was asked to take his “overseeing” skills elsewhere.
8. Rebuilding Around Pitching
This will probably be the one that brings the most disagreement from you guys but this was a decision I just never understood. Every time any one of the three Johns got in front of a microphone, they would try to reassure Braves’ fans by mentioning the rebuilds of the Astros, or the Cubs, or even the Royals as models to follow. The problem, of course, is all three of those successful rebuilds were built around bats. And for good reason. Hitting prospects are less risky and therefore more valuable than pitching prospects. No one likes to bring it up but the number one reason the Braves couldn’t acquire Christian Yelich is they didn’t have the sufficient hitting prospect, after Ronald Acuna, to build their offer around. And Acuna came from the Wren regime. As did Albies. Thank god. Imagine where this organization would be without those two. Now I know what you’re are going to say: ‘uh, they have the #1 farm system in baseball.’ They do. But a big reason for that is Acuna. After him, it’s an insanely high-risk system simply because it’s comprised of so much pitching.
Not only is it high-risk system but it’s also a tough farm system to actually use in trades. Selling teams just don’t like building big trades around pitching prospects when hitting prospects are so much safer. The Sale trade was centered around Moncada. Lucroy for Brinson. Quintana was for Eloy. Yelich for Brinson. Chapman for Gleyber Torres. Andrew Miller for Clint Frazier. As baseball has become more risk averse, most significant trades are made using hitting prospects. Doesn’t mean Atlanta can’t make deals. But make no mistake, it’s a much tougher and usually much more expensive road.
7. Brian Snitker
There’s been a lot written and a lot said about Brian Snitker as manager, even by us here at WalkOffWalk. Some of it good, most of it not. I’m not going to dive into all of it again, but the bottom line is Brian Snitker isn’t a great manager. Or probably stated more accurately, Brian Snitker isn’t great at the parts of managing the public can see and judge. Whatever your opinion of him or the job he’s done, one thing that can’t really be argued is Alex Anthopoulos and his team should’ve been allowed to pick their own manager. If they felt the best thing for team stability was to keep Snitker on, then you respect the call and move on. But they weren’t given that chance. Hart’s last move before being shown the door was picking up Snitker’s option in 2018. And because of the initial hiring and that last parting shot, he makes their list.
6. Weird Fascination with Aging Veterans
Once you decide to rebuild, most of the attention turns toward your farm system. While improving the amount of talent you have in the minors is the main objective, it’s not the only objective. Or at least it shouldn’t be. The innings and at-bats you have available at the major league level should be viewed as an opportunity to tryout younger MLB players whose value has diminished for one reason or another. Basically to take fliers on still talented guys who’ve seen their prospect shine wear off. Usually cheap to acquire, cheap to pay, and effectively serve as no-risk, high reward moves. If they continue to suck, move on. No harm. If something clicks, then boom, you just found a future piece for nothing. Atlanta did not do this. They filled their bad teams with way too many guys on the wrong side of 30, or sometimes 40, and essentially wasted all of that potential time on zero-upside, aging vets. Just because your major league team is going to suck for 4 or 5 years doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help advance the rebuild. But to do that, you have to be smart and creative with who you give those at-bats and innings to. And Atlanta wasn’t.
5. Signing Nick Markakis
This was weird the day it happened and 3 years later, it just as confusing. The Braves were rebuilding. It was clear. Present assets were being moved for future assets. A long road was being embarked upon. It was time to do that thing we mentioned up above and start taking fliers on some young guys. Time to allocate resources more efficiently. Time to….give 31-year-old Nick Markakis a 4 year/44 million dollar deal? What the f*** just happened? That was my reaction the day it happened. And something like 1000 days later, I still don’t have an answer. The time and money wasted on Nick Markakis during this rebuild has been as pointless as it was predictable.
4. Using Craig Kimbrel in a Salary Dump
The day before the 2015 season started, Coppy and crew sent B.J. Upton and Craig Kimbrel to San Diego in a complicated deal. While there were a lot of moving parts, Atlanta essentially used the significant value of Craig Kimbrel to entice SD to take the rest of Upton’s deal. Braves took back some money too, plus got a draft pick, but they basically gave away Kimbrel to move a bad player and save around $45M. If you squint, you can kind of see the logic. Upton was bad and expensive and SD took him. But Atlanta was just starting a full scale rebuild. They were going to be bad for a while. Having one more bad player on the team really shouldn’t have been that big a deal. And certainly not such a big deal that you would use all of Craig Kimbrel’s trade value just to get rid of him. Braves lost 90+ games each of the next three years. Would Upton being on those teams really have been that much worse? And you might say ‘hey, they did save $45M.’ Yeah they did. And you know what they spent it on? Scroll up to the point just before this one. Yeah, him. They saved $45M on Upton and spent $44M on Nick Markakis. Which sounds better to you: keeping Upton and his 45M while being able to trade Kimbrel for what he was worth in prospects or just giving away Kimbrel and signing Markakis at $44M? The only reason this isn’t #1 is because the closer market hadn’t fully boomed yet and Atlanta did get Austin Riley with the pick. But it was still a really poor use of a first-grade asset.
3. Matt Kemp
I could spend a long time going over all the facts that made this move incredibly dumb but you guys know what they are. Kemp spent 3 years, 1 in LA and 2 in SD, showing the world he was content just cashing his massive paycheck every month and felt the hard work part of his career was over. How a player gains 50 pounds in a season is as big a mystery to me as why our front office decided his 54M was worth taking on. AJ Preller is probably still laughing about that one, as he did what Atlanta should’ve which was to just cut Hector Olivera. Coppy instead decided to double down on Matt Kemp and it predictably blew up in his face. And Atlanta is still paying for it.
2. Andrelton Simmons
From the moment Hart and Coppy showed up, they made it clear defense wasn’t really a priority. They signed Markakis, traded for Kemp, traded for Olivera, played Adonis at 3B, etc. But it became most clear when they shipped the best defensive player in baseball off to LA for Sean Newcomb. There were other players in the deal but primarily it was Simmons for Newcomb. Newcomb is a solid piece but he is not now nor was he ever sufficient value for Simmons. If Atlanta was trying to re-acquire Simmons, Newcomb probably wouldn’t be good enough to headline the deal, much less be the only return. Newcomb is a pitching prospect, making him a highly risky asset, but he’s also a pitching prospect with bad command making him basically the highest risk type player there is. Meanwhile Simmons remains one of the best players in baseball. This trade just sucked. Hopefully Newcomb can make it suck less.
1. Hector Olivera for Alex Wood
What else was it going to be? The Braves, in the middle of a rebuild, gave up a 24 year old, cheap, quality, LH starter for a 31-year-old DH who couldn’t hit anything other than women. There were others involved as it was actually a 3-team deal, but from Atlanta’s perspective, it was mainly Wood for Olivera. Oh, did I mention he was a DH who couldn’t hit who also cost $30M? Of course after the trade, Braves fans and team executives quickly realized they had basically been robbed by LA as Alex Wood became a legitimate front end starter. This is what led to the Kemp mess and pretty easily makes #1 on this list.
We’ll do the more positive list tomorrow.