|Posted by theprincipality on October 6, 2017 at 6:25 AM|
I was getting ready to prepare my final blog of the season, all set to talk about a deflating finish, where we barely held off the Mets to stay third in the NL East, then the team made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. An MLB investigation, which nobody in the outside world knew was happening, revealed the Braves had made some serious breaches of the rules regarding international signings. Next thing we know, GM John Coppolella resigns/jumps before he was pushed and potential sanctions await.
It was certainly a bombshell to wake up to, though the exact breaches of the rules are as yet unknown - just described as 'serious'. It's probably the case that Coppy has been made the scapegoat, but I have to back the club's decision. As GM, it was his responsibility to ensure we acted within the rules and clearly we have not. We can only hope now that any sanctions are not too serious, given the near completion of the so-called rebuilding phase.
Not to condone whatever we have done, but it seems inevitable that something like this was going to happen. A couple of years ago the club dismissed GM Frank Wren, had a firesale of all its marketable stars and embarked on a self-proclaimed journey of rebuilding where only baseball's ultimate prize would be sufficient. John Hart was brought in to oversee the process and in turn Coppolella to replace Wren. With a brand new, state of the art stadium under construction and a run of successive losing seasons ahead with the promise of brighter days to come, the pressure on the Braves management to succeed has been enormous. It would seem that the ethos was to win at all costs.
It is probably important to note that these breaches only seem to have occurred where international players are concerned. Moving into geographical areas beyond the jurisdiction of MLB and the United States has always been frought with corruption and dodgy dealings, not least in Cuba and Venezuela, which historically have been enemies of the US. Money and prestige is important here, along with an entourage of minders, agents and bureaucrats protecting young assets and all open to bribery or at least greasing the wheels. Most Major League teams covet the young talent from these countries and obtaining signatures is a competitive business. The Braves' recent success in procuring international talent was sooner or later going to attract the wrong kind of attention.
Of course, I have no doubt the Braves are not the only team to have engaged in unethical practices on the international market. It is just they are the only team to be caught for it, so far. Over the last three decades John Schuerholz has prided himself on running an organisation that meets the highest ethical and professional standards, so make no mistake, this is a serious black eye for the Atlanta Braves and as such no surprise that Coppolella had to go. It is a shame because he was otherwise doing a great job, but no one person is bigger than the organisation, so we must say farewell and look towards the future.
In brighter news, manager Brian Snitker had his contract option exercised for 2018 this morning. There had been some doubt whether he would remain in the role after a disapponting end to the season saw the team finish 3rd in the NL East, 25 games back of the Nationals and 18 games under 500. Nonetheless, Snitker was popular with the players and with the sudden upheaval created by Coppolella's departure, I expect the club decided that was enough change to cope with all at once.
I think Snitker did a reasonable job. If you take the second half of last season and the first half of this, we were one of the best teams in baseball. He was let down in many ways by a terrible bullpen (save for a couple of pitchers) and a young pitching staff experiencing growing pains. His veteran pitchers did not exactly set the world alight. Teheran, Dickey and Foltynewicz all had periods where they impressed, but also periods where they couldn't buy an out. With respective records of 11-13, 10-10 and 10-13, all with ERAs of over 4, it is easy to see that pitching inconsistencies were the main reason our season unfolded as it did.
As has become a familiar theme in these blogs, the focus now turns to the future. Atlanta has a huge crop of talent, many of which have Major League experience with the others not far away. 2018 will still be part of the rebuilding, but could see a postseason push and should almost certainly be a winning season. Expect big things from Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Luis Gohara, Max Fried, Lucas Sims and Mike Soroka. Anchored by All-Stars Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and Julio Teheran, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic. Just need to sort out the bullpen now!