When Frank Wren was let go by the Braves on Monday after nearly six years in the general manager's chair, many fans were puzzled as to why the architect of an organization who transformed a franchise with lots of old, overpaid talent into a perennial contender with one of the youngest rosters in the Major Leagues was let go.
Sure, Wren had some huge misses in free agency, such as B.J. Upton, Kenshin Kawakami, and Dan Uggla (although that was actually a trade and an extension, but nonetheless), and reportedly isn't the most pleasant person with whom to work, but much of the general sentiment from Braves fans has been: "Why did we just fire a GM whose teams have compiled the third-most regular wins in the MLB since 2010?" It's a fair question, and one that will continue to be asked and probed.
But, really, that's neither here nor there at this point. Wren has been ousted, and the three-headed monster of interim GM (formerly the Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations) John Hart, team President John Schuerholz, and former manager Bobby Cox has been tasked with leading and directing the search to find his successor. Speculation has abounded already, with MLB.com's Mark Bowman linking the Braves' braintrust to Royals GM Dayton Moore, formerly an assistant GM under Schuerholz in Atlanta, and also to Hart himself, who has publicly indicated that he would prefer not to become a full-time GM, but could potentially be persuaded to fill the role on a permanent basis.
The third hot name in the GM search has been Braves assistant GM and Director of Scouting, John Coppolella. Coppolella, a 35-year-old Notre Dame alum, was brought on by Wren after working in the New York Yankees organization in 2006. Coppolella has been regarded for some time now as a potential candidate to become a general manager. His name was tied to the Texas Rangers' GM search earlier this year, and he was named as Baseball Prospectus' top GM candidate to know in a survey conducted earlier this year by the BP staff.
While Frank Wren was proficient in the usage of sabermetrics and non-traditional methods of player evaluation, Coppolella's role behind the scenes, in addition to his role as the Director of Scouting, has been to implement sabermetric information into the team's decision-making process. He may not have received as much ink or praise as Wren did after the team signed Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons to extensions in the off-season, sources indicate that Coppolella played a major role in the negotiations and carrying out of these deals.
As the Baseball Prospectus piece mentions, not only does Coppolella excel in understanding and implementing advanced statistics, he also has valuable experience in the more traditional arena of scouting. Scouts are often stereotyped as old dinosaurs who rely on their eyes and instincts rather than statistical information to evaluate players, and that isn't a completely unfair take. However, the role of scouting in the decision-making process for Major League teams shouldn't be understated--sabermetrics tell us a lot about players, but traditional scouting is still a pivotal piece of how teams identify talent.
Fortunately, Coppolella doesn't fall into either of the "Peter Brand" or the "Gus Lobel" archetypes, but is somewhat of a rarity--he's excelled in both the traditional scouting and the sabermetric fields in baseball. This is highly, highly important and valuable in the context of Major League Baseball front offices. While many of the readers of our site and our writers may tend to lean towards being strongly pro-sabermetrics, many long-time executives and scouts in baseball (such as the guys heading the GM search, for example) are less friendly towards non-traditional manners of evaluation and decision-making in the game. Braves fans may not like the fact that three guys who we generally associate with the 1990s are heading this GM search, but that's just reality. It seems, however, that a candidate such as Coppolella who is able to blend new-age techniques with orthodox baseball practices, could be appealing to the trio who'll decide who should become the franchise's newest GM.
One of the biggest grumblings surrounding Frank Wren was that his personality rubbed people, namely other front-office executives and scouts in the organization, the wrong way. Also, this bit of information that came out on Monday afternoon seems to be telling as to how the mood in the organization was in regards to Wren:
on-camera #Braves players/officials being nice. Off-camera..haven't found one who wanted Wren around. "great day, just wished it was sooner"— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) September 22, 2014
While being a nice person shouldn't the the number one qualifier when a franchise looks for a GM, hiring a person who can't get along with his co-workers probably isn't the best strategy. Although hyperbole does sometimes seem to permeate these discussions in the immediate aftermath of a major transaction or personnel move, it probably isn't unfair to say that Wren wasn't the easiest guy with whom to work.
In contrast, conversations that I've had with people who know and have dealt with Coppolella indicate that his personality would be an ideal fit for someone serving as General Manager. Coppolella is well-regarded both by the media, and by those who work with him and in baseball at large. One source told me that he is the "definition of a people person" and that "(he) has never spoken to anyone who doesn't like him in the industry." That, to me, is a ringing endorsement of someone who would be adept at maintaining a front office dynamic that is not abrasive and is conducive to collective success. As I mentioned, being easy to work with isn't everything, but it sure seems that it would be helpful.
With all of this being said, I believe that choosing John Coppolella as the franchise's next GM would be wise. He has experience working with the current "braintrust" and a reputation as being a positive person with whom to work, he has a decade and a half's worth of experience and administration in MLB front offices, despite being in his mid-30's, and he has experience in both the traditional scouting and sabermetric analysis venues of the game. He's sharp, young, and universally-regarded as a person who would make for a strong GM. Combining advanced knowledge of new-age techniques with a background in scouting is what all teams, in my opinion, should look for in a GM. For an organization that values continuity and internal promotions, this move seems even more obvious, considering Coppolella's background in Atlanta's organization.
In short, for the love of God, don't hire Dayton Moore when an excellent, qualified GM candidate is already sitting in the same office as you.