With the Braves looking to the future and Freddie Freeman feeling the need to do the same, the team’s best player and longest tenured veteran did something unusual recently. He left the confines of the clubhouse, walked to the executive office and, unsolicited, gave a stirring endorsement of manager Brian Snitker.
“I went to them a couple of weeks ago and expressed to them that we love Brian in here,” Freeman said Friday night. “That’s all I can do is tell them how I feel about a guy who’s put in all the time and done everything possible to help us win. He deserved the managerial job when he got it, and we all hope that he’s back.”
Freeman is signed through the 2021 season. Snitker is guaranteed an income for only two more months. But that likely will change soon.
The Braves’ manager, who replaced Fredi Gonzalez in 2016 on an interim basis and was retained this season, but with only a lukewarm endorsement of a one-year contract (plus a club option), is almost certain to return next season.
The way Snitker has gone about his job has made an impression on not only Freeman and teammates but president of baseball operation John Hart, whose comments strongly suggest the decision has all but been made.
“Yes, we have an option on Brian’s contract and we’ll be making that decision at the end of the year,” Hart said. “But let’s just say that Brian hasn’t done anything to make us look around for candidates like we were doing at this time last year, when we were compiling names. If you broke into my office in the dead of night, you would find no slips of paper in my desk. We have no lists for managers. I think Brian has done a really good job.”
If that between-the-lines commentary didn’t convince you, maybe this will:
“I’m not going to say anything (definitive) now,” Hart continued. “But I think you hear me loud and clear. I’m very happy with the job he’s done and who he is. He’s authentic. He likes players and players respond to him. He has a manager-player relationship, but players also trust and respect him. There are times we go out there and the other team has greater talent. But from an X’s and O’s perspective, Brian doesn’t get caught. He really checks all the boxes for me.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s done. Snitker’s back. He deserves to be.
This isn’t to suggest the man should be in line for manager of the year. But this situation is similar to so many others in sports when there’s a movement to dump a manager or coach. Too many ignore the hand that’s been dealt. Too many dumped on Gonzalez last year when he was in an unwinnable situation, and that’s not to suggest he should be confused with Joe McCarthy, either (the McCarthy who won seven World Series, not the psycho senator).
Snitker was handed an absurd excuse for a starting rotation this season. There have been injuries to Freeman and Matt Kemp, the struggles of an unfortunately over-marketed Dansby Swanson, the decline of Julio Teheran and a truly awful bullpen, punctuated by a used-up closer (Jim Johnson).
Blame the personnel decisions. Blame marketing. Blame luck. Don’t blame the manager.
“I don’t think anybody can account for me getting hurt, Matt going on the DL twice, Bartolo (Colon) not pitching the way we thought he was going to,” Freeman said. “For us to be where we are in August, Brian has done an amazing job. It’s not like anybody expected us to be a World Series team.”
Are there arguments for making a change? Sure. For as strong of a perception that the Braves are better this season, Snitker’s winning percentage entering the weekend (49-58, .458) is lower than it was last season (59-65, .476). Freeman’s comments notwithstanding, the good and bad of a season tend to balance out every year.
Some believe the Braves have overachieved this season. But going into the Miami series they were on a pace to finish 74-88, which is on target for their projected win total in Las Vegas (the over/under ranged between 71½ to 75½ wins).
Another manager wasn’t going to make the Braves significantly better this season. Another starting pitcher (or two) would have.
Snitker wasn’t aware of Freeman’s endorsement until I told him.
“That makes you feel good,” he said. “That kind of validates what you’re trying to do. The workplace I’m trying to create, the culture. It starts with the players. I appreciate that.”
He confirmed that he hasn’t heard a word about his future from management. But he said he’s OK with that.
“I knew last year would play out, and they had to do their due diligence,” he said. “Now I’m going through this part of it for the first time. So I’m learning.”
Does being left hanging bother him?
“I’ve never experienced this, so I would have to say no. I’m just doing everything I can this year to make it the best situation and win as many games as I can.”
He’s in the gold-watch club. He has been in the Braves’ organization for 41 years, dating to when he signed as an undrafted player in 1977. The Braves should have given him a two-year guaranteed contract from the outset because even in the worst-case scenario of Snitker getting fired, he deserves the second year of income as severance.
There isn’t a job he hasn’t done, a bus he hasn’t ridden or a minor-league hotel he hasn’t slept it. The man was hired by Hank Aaron.
He proved to be a smart replacement for Gonzalez. His calm demeanor and positive outlook soothed a frazzled clubhouse. The team went on an unexpected 20-10 run to finish the season – a run that logically was an aberration, but that didn’t stop the front office from using it to form their offseason talking points and pump up the 2017 team.
Reality returned this season. The Braves never were really in the playoff hunt. They released Colon, sold pitcher Jaime Garcia for nickels at the trade deadline, demoted Swanson. But Snitker has handled it all well.
He called this season “a learning experience.”
There are times when he second-guesses himself on decisions: “I’ll be standing in the shower and it’s like, ‘You dumbass, why’d you do that?’ But I guess we all do that.
“I’ll pick something up and write it down. I feel like I’m learning the routine better. It’s not so overwhelming every day now when there’s a thousand things going on. A number of managers have told me the more you do it, it gets better. It’s like my new normal.”
When people ask him if this has been fun, he has to think about it.
“I don’t know if fun’s the right word,” he said. “There’s a lot of gratifying times. Let’s hope I continue to do it because I’d like to get to the point where it feels real comfortable and stuff is just happening.”
It appears he'll have that opportunity next season.
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