November 28, 2015

Coppy Should Express Anger at Losing but Confidence in the Plan

It’s been quite an offseason so far for Braves public relations.  New Braves GM John Coppolella is pissed.  He’s tired of the criticism and the accusations the Braves are tanking.  The Braves have traded away a ton of present talent for a ton of Major League potential.  The rebuild was because they were about to lose two of their best players (Jason Heyward and Justin Upton) to free agency and didn’t have any talent in the system to replace them or provide any sort of depth.  Craig Calcaterra is one of those frustrated Braves fans who just wants wins and to be entertained.  But Rob Neyer makes the argument that full-on rebuilding always works.

Coppolella, Calcaterra, and Neyer are all smart men.  They all know rebuilding works.  Neyer thinks Calcaterra will come around when the Braves inevitably become contenders (or that Calcaterra won’t come around but the Braves will gain plenty of new fans in his place).  Coppolella just wants the fans and media to stop criticizing him and his staff, because he is confident that he and his team know best.

So how should Coppolella and the rest of the front office endear fans to their plan, or at least elicit sympathy, while still acknowledging the fans’ frustration?  The truth is the Braves’ front office isn’t any more satisfied with losing at the Major League level than the fans.  In that sense, the Braves aren’t tanking.  They are not intentionally losing at the Major League level.  The front office would be ecstatic if, by some miracle, a team built around the likes of Freddie Freeman, Hector Olivera, A.J. Pierzynski, Erick Aybar, Cameron Maybin, Shelby Miller, and Julio Teheran (or whoever is left among that group in 2016) were to contend.  But they don’t want to make shortsighted moves in hopes that maybe they’ll contend.  This is why they traded Heyward, Justin Upton, Gattis, and Kimbrel in the first place.  It’s not because they wanted to or were trying to tank.  It’s because they knew they were going to be in bad shape when Heyward and Justin Upton walked, because the farm system was in shambles, so they wanted to load up on young talent before the situation got to the that point.

Yes, they knew that by trading present value to load up on potential future talent, it would make the team worse.  In that sense, they tanked the present to contend in the future.  It is a rebuild.  But the ideal would be to load up on talent while the Major League team miraculously contended.  The front office knew this was highly unlikely, given the moves they had to make, but that’s not the same thing as intentionally wanting the team to lose at the big league level.

What about losing for the sake of higher draft picks?  Maybe I’m naive, but I think they would rather have a miracle contender at the major league level than a terrible team jockeying for a very high draft pick.  Sure, they’ll obviously take a high pick and be satisfied that they got the talent.  But they are finding ways to load up on talent anyway.  And winning baseball teams need so many good players that jockeying for a higher position to get one player in any one particular draft is probably not worth the dissatisfaction of losing at the big league level.  Maybe if there is a Bryce Harper type, it would be worth it.  But even then, it’s hard for a team to set itself up to make sure it loses the most games instead of the second- or third-most, thereby guaranteeing it can draft the one special player.

John Coppolella needs an I feel your pain moment with the fans.  He needs to let them know the ideal would be the Braves of the 1990’s or the present day St. Louis Cardinals and that’s what he’s trying to build.  He’s trying to make it so that eventually there is no need to trade valuable Major League players in order to restock the system.  He needs to assure the fans that’s what the front office is working towards.

With some of the key talent set to leave via free agency, they needed an influx of more talent.  The only way to increase the quantity of talent is to trade quality Major League talent for prospects.  With their payroll budget, this is the only way they have any hope of getting enough good players to contend.  The bottom line is the organization needs as much talent as it can get its hand.

Unfortunately, the only way to have a stacked Major League roster, when your farm system is depleted and when you are set to lose some key players to free agency, is to trade whatever Major League value you have for multiple prospects.  Some of those prospects are bound to fail.  Some of those trades are bound to look bad.  But there will also be unheralded prospects who will succeed and enough depth to win.  This is the way rebuilding works (and it always works, as Rob Neyer points out).  It may seem arrogant for Coppolella to say so.  But if he makes it clear that the losing is pissing him off and that rebuilding works, the fans will forgive him for his arrogance and for being overly emotive, once the plan inevitably comes to fruition.



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