Since yesterday’s press conference in which John Schuerholz discussed the future of the Braves' ‘post-Wren era’, there has been much discussion about "The Braves Way." If full, the phrase is discussed by Schuerholz as follows:
"It’s a special way of identifying young players who you want to become part of your organization with great comfort and expectation that when they put on a Braves uniform, they’ll be taught well, instructed well. Their makeup and their character will allow them to turn into winning championship-caliber players. They’ll fit the pipeline of this organization with highly capable, high-character, young, winning men who help you win many many championships on a major league level, year after year after year."
First, I'm going to leave all the off-the-field issues and personal matters out of this for the sake of keeping the conversation somewhat on track. I'll leave that to the Twitter memers out there. Every team has these issues, the Braves are no exception.
Second, it should be pointed out that this is pretty much the "way" for 90% of the organizations in baseball. Unless you are a big money club like the Yankees or Dodgers, your goal should be to draft and develop well, while molding and teaching young players throughout the minor league system, turning them into high-quality, high-character, major league players. Yesterday was really just a PR move to ease the fanbase, more than an actual philosophy.
Third, where this gets a little fuzzy, is this seems to be the "way" that Frank Wren followed, at least from the outside looking in*. Over the past couple of years, the Braves have led the way in baseball of bringing up high-level players through the minor league system – the ideal way you want to put together a baseball club. While this didn't amount to a championship, they put themselves in position to have success on a limited payroll. You can't really ague with that, as the playoffs are more or less a crapshoot.
As has been mentioned, pulling out "The Braves Way" simply looks like a way around throwing Wren and his supposed trouble some relationships with other members of the organization under the bus. Reports suggested Wren wanted Fredi gone, while guys like Bobby Cox held him in high regard. While I disagree with the move to let Wren go and let Bobby have that type of say, there is really not much you can do about it. It became apparent that Schurholtz and Cox did not see eye-to-eye with Wren, and his views were not fully backed by upper management. Scott had a good quick write-up on the situation here.
But back to "The Braves Way." While I don’t think there is a single person who would disagree with the end goal of the quote above, my concern is the organizations process it getting there and how they approach "The Braves Way". In a marco sense, there are two general ways this could go.
The first path is reverting back to what seemingly worked in the 90’s. Learn from what worked in the past, right? With Schurholtz and Cox (and Hart) running the show to find the next GM, you can see them sitting back and smoking cigars, wanting to get the gang back together, attempting to relive the glory days of Braves baseball years ago. This is the reason the name Dayton Moore has popped up as a candidate. Moore, who originally signed on as a scout in 1994, worked his way up assistant GM in 2005, before moving on to take the position as GM for the Kansas City Royals. However, Moore’s decision making has been highly questioned since taking over, and there are doubts he would leave now that he’s found some success in Kansas City.
My fear with this move is that the culture would become stagnant. Reverting back to what worked in the 1990’s won’t work this day in age. The Braves don’t have three hall of fame pitchers, Chipper Jones, or a payroll that was one much more expansive than it was in the 90’s. The game is different. It’s more of a hope and good feeling of trying to recreate something that worked years ago. As was thrown around on Twitter, the VHS tape ain’t coming back, no matter how cool it was 20 years ago.
The second route is bringing in a progressive culture. The lead GM candidate for this route would seem to be right under the Braves’ nose in John Coppolella. "Coppy" has got nothing but good reviews from inside baseball circles, blending advanced stats and scouting as the Braves second-handman in recent years. Ian will have a good write-up on him coming later today. This culture would direction towards being progressive, keeping up with the times, and realizing that the game has changed. Now a mid-market team, its about taking every advantage possible, from drafting, to player development, to in game management decisions, to advancing the analytical process in the front office. However, I don't know how open the current regime is to this type of thinking.
At the end of the day, no matter which path they side with, the front office needs a culture change. The problem is this can be extremely hard, especially when you are dealing with men who have been around the game of baseball for decades. These next couple of months will be a key for the organization as a whole, a fork in the road, if you will. Do they take a step back in their process as an organization? Is this just a bump in the road where they continue ahead with a new manager who has advanced decision making skills and can keep the the club inspired? Do they incorporate an advanced analytical approach in the front office? Do they revamp their draft philosophy and development process?
So is the "The Braves Way" the right way? As much as we want to speculate, I don’t think we really know right now.
*As a side note, if there is one thing we can take away from this year is that we really have no idea what goes on within the front office. Between the relocation to a new stadium, the rash of extensions, or the conflict within the organizations wall and ultimate firing of Wren, all which came as a surprise, we really know nothing. It is almost to the point where it is silly to discuss. Just something to keep in the back of your head, whatever you think is really going on is no where close to the full story.