They don’t have a hitting coach and, oh yeah, they don’t have a GM, at least not officially.
But the Braves are undoubtedly moving forward and shaking things up, having realigned their front office so rapidly and extensively that it’s clear the old-guard trio assigned to guide this overhaul was ready to turn the page. To leave behind the team’s recent past and rid itself of some inner-organizational stagnation or rot, depending upon whom you ask.
After general manager Frank Wren and assistant general manager Bruce Manno were fired on Sept. 22, the Braves had a news conference that day to discuss a comprehensive evaluation of the organization that they said was already underway.
It was evident that day that significant changes would be made, though it was entirely clear how many and how quickly the moves would be made. Fifteen days later, it became clear Tuesday how extensive the changes would be and how swiftly the Braves were prepared to move. They weren’t messing around.
“Scouting and player development is the life blood of any major league baseball organization,” Braves president and longtime former general manager John Schuerholz said on Sept. 22. “You look at a major league organization and you see the top 10 percent of the iceberg when you see a major league team play, and the 90 percent unseen by most people is what goes down in player development, scouting and international scouting.”
The three-person “transition team” of Schuerholz, interim GM John Hart and Hall of Fame former manager Bobby Cox had plenty of ideas and were clearly prepared to move on them. On Tuesday, Hart announced a bevy of moves, some of which had already been leaked in the media in the past few days, others that had not.
The Braves added two of the most respected scouts and talent evaluators in the game in Roy Clark and Gordon Blakeley, both named as special assistants to the general manager, and promoted one of their top scouts, Brian Bridges, to scouting director. Bridges replaces Tony DeMacio, who has been offered another, unspecified position in the organization, and Hart said he hoped DeMacio would stay on.
The Braves hired Dave Trembley as director of player development and named Jonathan Schuerholz as assistant director of player development. Schuerholz, 34, is the son of John Schuerholz and spent the past four seasons managing lower-level minor league affiliates in the organization.
The Braves also realigned their scouting department with several moves including reassigning Ronnie Richardson from director of minor league operations to major league scout.
They still haven’t named a permanent GM, but … the frenzy of front-office personnel moves, in addition to announcing last week that Fredi Gonzalez would be back as manager and the hiring of third-base coach Bo Porter, seem like strong indications that the Braves are going to stay in-house for their next general manager. That would presumably mean that Hart removes the “interim” from his title – it was clear two weeks ago that Schuerholz wanted him to take the position – or that assistant GM John Coppolella moves into the role, though it seems more likely — to me, at least — that he’d first be groomed for a couple of years by Hart.
Personally, after talking with Hart, after hearing his ideas and seeing how much energy he has, how much he’s embraced evolving aspects of the game – yes, including the use of sabermetric stats and an analytical approach to evaluating players – and how he likes surrounding himself with up-and-coming baseball minds, I think he’d be a great choice to take the job right now during this important time for the organization. It’s not the time to turn it over to someone you’re not absolutely certain can handle all the demands of the job during normal times, much less during a period of transition like the Braves are entering now.
I think Coppolella, aka “Coppy,” could do well as GM now – he’s very smart and extremely knowledgable about baseball — but could be even more prepared for success in the role after, say, a two-year tutorial under Hart that could cover all the aspects of GM that don’t involve talent evaluation. The job involves a lot of being polished in so many settings — from wooing free agents and knowing the fine art of making good trades, to frequent interviews with the print and electronic media, to Q&A’s with season-ticket holders, to motivating an entire front office and dealing with a manager and his stuff during good and bad times, to… well, you get the picture. A lot of stuff. Hart, like Schuerholz, is a master in those areas.
If they aren’t staying in-house for their next GM, then the Braves would have to be working in concert with someone from outside who has already agreed to take the job. That’s the only explanation for making all these moves before hiring the GM, the man who’d normally make most or all of those decisions. Did someone say Dayton Moore?
Hey, I understand where all the speculation is coming from, since Moore spent so long in the Braves organization, learned at the knee of Schuerholz, and was supposedly in line for the GM job if he hadn’t left for Kansas City some 16 months before Schuerholz stepped down as GM to take the president’s position, with his other assistant GM (Wren) taking over the controls.
But it’s worth noting, Moore has been with the Royals now for almost a decade, has two years left on his contract, and after a lot of struggles and people questioning his ability, his long-term plan has finally come to fruition and the Royals are in the ALCS and, as of this writing, looking like a team fully capable of advancing to the World Series in K.C.’s first postseason trip since they won it all in 1985. Plus, people forget – if most ever knew to begin with – that Moore is a Kansas native (Wichita), so it’s not like he’s been a fish out of water there. And his three children have now spent their formative years in Kansas City.
Maybe I’m wrong and I’m underestimating the pull on the Braves job for Moore, 47. But unless the Braves blow away the salary the Royals are paying him, I don’t see much reason for him to jump ship at this point.
Meanwhile, the Braves have made some strong moves in rapid succession, the best way to get over a season that turned terrible and get past a period in which morale had eroded steadily in recent years and things had become almost rotten at the core in some ways. The kind of problems that can be concealed by winning on the field, and sometimes only surface when the on-field losses mount and the unhappy voices start getting heard.
They haven’t exactly “cleaned house,” but the Braves have made some major moves and brought in several men whose credentials speak for themselves and who are known for being professionals and guys who know how to work for the greater good. The kind you need to have in abudannce if you want to get the re-solidify the foundation for success without tearing down the building and starting over.
Clark, 57, was hired away from the Dodgers after one season there and three in Washington. He had been hired in each of those places by Stan Kasten, who had targeted Clark after watching his work during Clark’s 22 seasons in the Braves organization including 11 as scouting director through 2009.
“Roy played a vital role in the Braves’ unprecedented run of division titles,” Hart said Tuesday. “It is a pleasure to bring him back home as we look to begin another run.”
(Again, that sure sounds like a man comfortable in his new role, doesn’t it? In two weeks I’ve gone from thinking there was very little chance of Hart taking the GM job to thinking he’s most likely to take it.)
The Braves won Baseball America’s Organization of the Year award three times while Clark was on the staff, and he was a protégé of legendary Braves scouting guru Paul Snyder.
At the Sept. 22 news conference after Wren was fired, Schuerholz made it a point to talk about getting the organization back to the “Braves Way” of doing things, beginning with scouting, drafting and developing top talent. It doesn’t get more “Braves Way” than Snyder, Cox, Schuerholz, Clark, et al.
Blakeley, 60, was with Yankees for two decades and had served as farm director, vice president of international and professional scouting, senior vice president of player personnel, and since 2008 as a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman. “One of the elite talent evaluators in the game.” Hart called him. “Adding someone with his experience and success to our organization is important for us.”
Blakeley has scouted at all levels, including internationally, since starting out with the Mariners in 1988. He’s signed or helped to sign a list of marquee talent that includes Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, Jose Contreras, and Orlando Hernandez.
Bridges, 44, has been a Braves scout since 2007, first as their main guy in talent-rich and later as their Southeast crosschecker. He’s had a hand many of the Braves’ recent top draft choices in the region, include Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Alex Wood and Mike Minor.
“We are excited about the talent and energy he will bring to this position,” Hart said.
Trembley, 62, takes over as director of player development after two seasons on the Astros coaching staff, including a year as bench coach in 2014. He has spent 30 years in professional baseball, including three as Orioles manager. Trembley was the Braves’ minor league field coordinator in 2011-2012.
Player-development director duties had been handled by assistant general manager Bruce Manno since September 2011, after Kurt Kemp stepped down from the player-development position and the Braves didn’t hire anyone to replace him. Manno was fired along with Wren on Sept. 22 (The Braves also fired Jeff Wren, a special assistant to the GM.
Jonathan Schuerholz managed the Class A Rome Braves in 2014, after three seasons managing rookie-league teams in Danville and the Gulf Coast League. Schuerholz, who played at Auburn, was drafted by the Braves in 2002 and played six minor league seasons before taking a position as a roving infield instructor in 2009.
Hart also announced that Rick Williams, a former major league pitching coach, would be back for a second season as a special assistant to the GM, and that would be more involved at the major league level and with special assignments.
The realignment of Braves scouting gives them five major league scouts: Matt Carroll, Dave Holliday, Richardson, Jeff Schugel and Brad Sloan.
Hart also announced three promotions in baseball operations: Matt Grabowski is assistant director of scouting and analytics; Ron Knight is manager of minor league administration, and A.J. Scola is an assistant in player development.
It went unnoticed because of the dreadful finish to the Braves’ season, but Andrelton Simmons was selected as the major league Defensive Player of the Month in September by ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot blog. It was the first time he won the honor this season after dominating it in 2013. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved with 32 in 2014, while Simmons ended up tied with splendid Mets center fielder Juan Lagares for second place with 28….
Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, are moving this winter from Hunstville to the Nashville area. “We’re both from North Alabama, so it’s only an hour away,” Kimbrel said. “And Nashville’s not a bad city. Nashville’s fun.”…
Watching the Royals’ so far in the postseason, noticing how their hitters do so well a few of the things that the Braves struggled at so mightily, I wondered how the two teams compared in a couple of the most basic of stats – hits and strikeouts. And when I checked it out today, must say it wasn’t too surprising: The Royals had 1,456 hits and 985 strikeouts this season, while the Braves had 1,316 hits & 1,369 strikeouts.
Let’s close with some real (good) country from Holly Williams, grandaughter of the immortal Hank Williams Sr. From her terrific album The Highway. You can hear it by clicking here.
“WAITING ON JUNE” by Holly Williams
She was from North Louisiana in the town of Mer Rouge
I fell in love in a week or two,
It didn’t take long to love a girl like that
We were barely ten in the cotton fields
Playing horseshoe with the colored kids
I tried to kiss her, she grabbed a baseball bat
I was waiting on June, I hope she comes to see me
Waiting on June, I can’t take this feeling
Waiting on June, I pray to God she’ll love me one of these days
I hope I find my way waiting on June
I went off in ’42 to fight those boys and pay my dues
Her wallet picture kept my spirits high
Charley boy died in my arms, he saw Jesus, I saw blood
It soaked her wallet picture that cold night
Well I told my best friend Charley I would kiss his girl goodbye
He made me promise I’d go home and make Miss June my wife
Shaking like a drunk old fool, I hopped off of that plane
And I ran home to ask her in the rain
Waiting on June, I hope that she says yes
Waiting on June, in her faded summer dress
Waiting on June, her daddy shook my hand
And she lit up the moment I pulled out that silver band
Waiting on June
Well we married at the Methodist Church
Found a big white cow and a piece of dirt
With pecan trees to build our homestead on
Jolynn, Becky, then Donna, then Shelby,
Our tiny house was a sanctuary
Laughter filled those rooms all day long
Waiting on June, she’s putting on her makeup
Waiting on June, she’s trying to get her hair curled
Waiting on June, kids listen to me
You walk on down to Sunday school, I’ll be there in 15
Waiting on June
Well time flew by like they said it would
Yeah the kids grew fast and the farm did good
Mrs. Bertha made our supper everyday
At noon that silver bell would ring
We’d all say grace and dig on in
We always ate together in those days
One by one those kids went off and found a love of their own
There’s nothing like the joy I knew when they brought their babies home
We’d play all day in the cotton fields with the dogs I raised up right
And end in grandma’s kitchen every night
Waiting on June, honey don’t burn the bacon
Waiting on June, our bellies are a-aching
Waiting on June, she turns that fork so slow
And we all had to sit there ’til the last bite was no more
Waiting on June
We were slower than we used to be, the nursing home told June and me
That we’d have separate rooms side by side,
Oh what I’d give for one more night of sleeping with my wife,
Since ’45 I’ve touched her skin in the middle of the night
So I’m lyin’ in this single bed until they cut the lights,
That’s when she’ll sneak in and I’ll be fine
Waiting on June, so we can kiss goodnight
Waiting on June, I’ll hold her hand so tight
Waiting on June, I’ll love her ’til I die
It’s bittersweet when love grows old and you really miss your wife
Waiting on June
Well they buried me last Tuesday morn,
The good Lord came, He took me home,
I closed my eyes and quickly went away
But the angels let me see her everyday
Waiting on June, our mansion is so grand
Waiting on June, footprints in the sand
Waiting on June, that’s the story of my life
Cause me and Jesus are standing here ’til she walks through that light
Waiting on June
I’m still waiting on June,
I’m always waiting on June.
No more waiting on June…