Braves must keep John Coppolella

The Braves need to hang on to a very valuable member of the front office. John Coppolella has made a tremendous impact in the remodeling of the organization, and he does not need to be allowed to leave.

Ten years ago a major event happened in the Atlanta Braves organization. It was a move that impacted the organization in more ways than people realize.

Dayton Moore left his job as an assistant general manager of the Braves to become the man in charge of the Kansas City Royals. It was a dream job for Moore, who grew up watching the Royals as a kid. But it was also tough for him to leave considering his loyalty to the Braves and then-general manager John Schuerholz.

Moore went on to build the Royals into a World Series team last year, and Kansas City may be the American League favorite for the pennant this season, as well.

For the Braves, it was a tremendous loss. Moore was well-respected throughout the organization. People loved the man for his leadership and simple goodness. He cared about everyone he was around, and it was genuine. His main duty was to help the Braves be a championship-caliber club, but he also built an environment that facilitated the ‘Braves Way.’

When Moore left, it opened the door for Frank Wren to be in position to replace Schuerholz. Many believed Moore had been first in line, but when he had the opportunity in Kansas City, Wren moved to the front. And then, two years later, Wren replaced Schuerholz.

We all know what eventually happened. Wren had a series of bad moves that crippled the organization. And his drafts decimated a once-proud farm system that was rated in the bottom-five of the 30 clubs when he was let go last September.

What might have happened if Moore had stuck around and eventually replaced Schuerholz? Well, we can only wonder. But the Braves do not need to make that same mistake again of letting a talented young executive move to another organization.

Tuesday rumors circulated the Milwaukee Brewers may be interested in talking with John Coppolella, who is Atlanta’s assistant general manager. And the Braves do not even need to let the Brewers talk to the man called, ‘Coppy.’

Remember, the Braves don’t officially have a general manager. When John Hart replaced Wren last October, he was given the title of President, Baseball Operations. The Braves should have named Coppolella the GM right then and there, as the precedent was already in place around baseball to have a man in Hart’s position, with a general manager under him.

They chose instead to have Coppolella keep the same title he had last year, but have increased duties. Sources tell Scout.com that, while Hart ultimately has a final say on baseball matters, it is Coppolella who oversees the entire operation and has been the source of much of the creativity seen in many of the Braves trades.

Hart has groomed many executives in the past, and in that spirit he has evidently allowed Coppolella to lay the groundwork for these deals and at the same time gain valuable experience negotiating with other baseball general managers.

Throughout the season, a number of scouts and minor league coaches have expressed how impressed they have been with how Coppolella has handled the added responsibility. He has had good communication skills with the coaches and it’s obvious there is a respect in place, much like there was when Moore had the same position a decade ago.

That’s what’s a bit scary. This is so similar to the environment created by Moore, but the Braves don’t need to let Coppolella have the same exit. They need to hang on to a man that has obviously made a huge difference in fixing what was broken.

It’s evident the Braves are simply following the formula that Bobby Cox and Paul Snyder put in place in the late-1980s. After years of having hitting as the priority (which failed), Cox and Snyder decided to stress pitching. We all know what that strategy produced, as the Braves had a historic decade in the 1990s and won 14 straight division titles between 1991 and 2005.

No team in baseball has done more to change its fortunes in the past year than the Braves. A year ago, there was little hope with a barren farm system, but the deals that Coppolella has helped engineer have made analysts now rate the Braves as having one best minor league systems in the game.

That’s a big reason the Brewers, and perhaps other teams that will have openings for a general manager, would have interest in Coppolella. He has shown tremendous ingenuity in deals, like convincing the Padres to take Melvin Upton off the Braves’ hands. Who really believed that would happen? Sure, Craig Kimbrel had to go, but the Braves got back a tremendous return along with getting Upton’s money off the books. The Braves recently found a home for Chris Johnson, who was an albatross with the contract given to him by Wren.

How about the deals that included draft picks? Atlanta got a pick from the Padres in that same Upton trade and it turned into Austin Riley, who many already wonder may be Atlanta’s best hitting prospect. How about the deal with Arizona that had the Braves get Touki Toussaint, a former first round draft pick in 2014 that the Diamondbacks agreed to trade for salary relief?

That deal sparked reaction from national writers, including ESPN’s Keith Law, who believed this type of trade should be outlawed because it was so good for the Braves.

The farm system is well-stocked with pitchers. Atlanta’s rotation right now includes Shelby Miller, Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz, three pitchers that all came over in trades. Manny Banuelos may be in next year’s rotation, and he came over in a deal. For the first time in forever, the Braves targeted minor leaguers (like Toussaint, Banuelos, Max Fried and Ricardo Sanchez) for other teams and have been aggressive in their pursuit.

This is not taking anything away from Hart, but from all accounts, Coppolella has gotten the deals in order and Hart has given his approval. It’s the same way many baseball front offices now function.

The Cubs have Theo Epstein as the president of baseball operations, with Jed Hoyer as the GM. Andrew Friedman of the Dodgers has that same title as Epstein and Hart, and he has Farhan Zaidi as his GM. Tony LaRussa is known as the chief baseball officer with the Diamondbacks, but Dave Stewart is his general manager.

Boston has recently hired Dave Dombrowski as its new president of baseball operations, and he is expected to hire a GM (possibly Wren) to work underneath him.

This is the trend in baseball, for someone, usually a veteran with a proven record, to be in the president of baseball operations role with a GM under him. And the Braves need to follow that lead and name Coppolella as the general manager.

Perhaps the Braves waited to see how the Hart-Coppolella tandem would work. The refurbishment of the organization is much more important than the won-loss record in Atlanta, and the results speak volumes that the duo has worked well together. Maybe they wanted Hart to take the hits for trading away the big names in the offseason.

But why wait any longer on naming Coppolella the GM? Whatever the reasoning, there is no need to continue to risk losing Coppolella to another organization.

Hart is 67 years old. He had to be persuaded to take the job by Schuerholz. Hart has a three-year contract through the 2017 season. Nothing with Hart’s duties would be changed by naming Coppolella as the general manager.

Last November, in an article on Braves.com, Hart said, “I think Coppy is a big reason I took this job. I’ve had a lot of people in the GM family tree, a lot of young guys who have come through the office and become GMs. Coppy is really good. I’m telling you, he is really good. I think you’re going to see a young man who is really going to develop and grow.”

The Braves need to let these men continue what they have been doing. I’m buying the work this tandem has done to reconstruct the organization. Coppolella has been a huge part of this process that is now 10 months old. There’s more work to do, and the Braves don’t need to make another mistake and allow a talented executive to walk out the door.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.


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