Without Coppolella’s manic intensity, the Braves would never have collected so many prospects so fast. But manic intensity can bear a cost: The Hector Olivera trade was always a reach, and in hindsight the Andrelton Simmons deal seems the work of a young GM desperate to make his mark. And yet: Not a month after trading Simmons, Coppolella swung the Miller-for-Swanson/Inciarte/Blair trade, which many consider the best deal of this century.
When you move this fast, you make enemies. Some baseball folks weren’t crazy about the nerdy non-athlete, whose ingenuity was widely hailed among the sabermetric set (read: nerds). Still, that No. 1 farm system had to come from somewhere. Largely it was the work of Coppolella, who was as smart as all get-out and backed by Hart and Schuerholz and Bobby Cox. To be nearer the Braves’ new ballpark, Coppolella had moved his wife and three young children from Newnan to East Cobb. He’d gotten the job he’d wanted, and he was within a year or two of reaping the rewards. Then he resigned.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted Monday: "MLB was looking into everything from Braves' international operations to its domestic draft to Coppolella's treatment of Braves employees." He also tweeted: "Early on in investigation, little evidence had been found to corroborate a number of accusations levied against Coppolella."
It’s unlikely that mere vocational jealousy would have forced this resignation. (Contacted via text message Monday, Coppolella declined to comment.) And it’s a matter of record that the Braves played the draft-slotting game as hard as anyone, spending all but $5 of their 2016 allotment. Asked what the Braves did with that fiver, Coppolella said: “We split a hamburger.”
This rebuild wasn't going to work by taking half-measures, which fed into Coppolella's wheelhouse. He was pedal-to-the-metal 24-7. He once said, "The first thing I think about when I wake up is the Atlanta Braves." At his first press conference as fully minted GM, he said his aim – forget making the playoffs – was "to bring a world championship to the city of Atlanta." The final sentence of an essay written by this correspondent for the 2016 Baseball Prospectus yearbook: "He might be new to the job, but he is not afraid."
He wasn’t a politician, wasn’t an old-time baseball hand. He was an economics major who loved the game. John Coppolella had the job of his dreams and was doing it the way he’d envisioned. Now he’s gone. And several dozen baseball execs are lusting to inherit what he built.