First things first: The Braves are believed to be leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager for next season. No final decision has been made, but Saturday’s luncheon meeting between Snitker and upper management generated, in general manager John Coppolella’s description, “productive conversation.”
Beyond that, Coppolella declined public comment about Snitker’s status. And there’s thought that, even if the manager is retained, the coaching staff will see changes. The GM again offered a no-comment.
(As noted recently, I believe retaining Snitker would be a mistake . Then again, I wasn’t invited to lunch.)
Coppolella was more forthcoming on other matters. He spoke Sunday, before the Braves’ final home game of Year 1 in SunTrust Park. Seated alongside in the executive box was Adam Fisher, just hired as assistant GM from the Mets, where he was director of baseball operations. Fifteen minutes before the first pitch, Bobby Cox ambled in. But enough scene-setting. Here’s Coppolella on …
How next year won’t be like this year: “I think we’re going to see a younger team. We’ve got arguably the best prospect in the game (outfielder Ronald Acuna) pushing his way up to Atlanta. He’s going to be given every opportunity in spring training. When he’s ready, nobody’s going to stand in his way. I said the same thing about Ozzie Albies this spring, and it’s the same way. You saw where we moved Brandon Phillips to third base. We will move other people to make way for this young player because he is that special.”
On whether the Braves feel comfortable with in-house rotation options for 2018: “It’s safe to say we won’t be playing in big free-agent pitching waters. We need to make a decision on R.A. Dickey’s option; he needs to make a decision on whether he’s coming back. He’s had a great year for us. He’s a great person. Out of respect for him, I think we have to see what happens on both sides. I don’t think we’re locked in either way. But we’re going to see our young players make their way up to Atlanta, and they’re going to be given opportunities.”
On whether the youngish infield seen in September could become an STP staple: “It could certainly factor in. You could have a great defensive infield with some good hitters who are going to get better. The way (Dansby) Swanson has come back since he was optioned has been very impressive. He’s got off-the-chart makeup. It’s tough to play in this market with the amount of pressure that’s been put on him, and the way he conducted himself, especially after he’s come back, speaks to the kind of person he is, which is really impressive.”
On Jim Johnson, defrocked closer: “You might think I’m crazy, but I think Jim Johnson is going to have a big bounce-back year. Jim was really good up until around the break, and then he started to struggle. Jim’s in great shape. He’s got great stuff. He’s a good person. … We think he’s going to have a much better season next year.”
On the biggest offseason need: “I think we need bullpen. For sure one viable piece, possibly two.”
On his catchers: “We’re more than likely to pick up the option for (Tyler) Flowers. By bringing back Kurt Suzuki, you feel good about that position.”
On trading Matt Kemp and/or Nick Markakis to clear room for Acuna: “We’re open to any possibilities to improve our club.”
On the Braves’ lack of power – 13th among National League teams in home runs – in a park that plays small: “Power’s nice. (Braves president) John Hart’s Indians had as much power as any team in baseball. It’s something we’re trying to find. We’re still searching. Part of what we want to do is grow with our kids. We love the kids in our farm system. We have faith in them. We want to give them opportunities. We don’t want to be the team that gets the big-name player as a free agent. We want to be the team that grows the players from the farm system, that builds the Braves the way they were built in the 1990s.”
On front-office changes: “We’re trying to get better on the field. We’re trying to get better in the front office. With both Adam and Perry (Minasian, imported from Toronto as director of player personnel), these are guys who are really good. They’ve helped build teams that have done really good things and were in one place for a long time. Both their teams did not want to lose them. Both of them showed faith in the Braves and in me, coming here being a part of this. I’m thrilled we were able to add two guys of their quality to our group. We’re just trying to get better. These guys make us better.”
On this season, which has a week to run: “A word for the year? I would say ‘improving.’ We’re going from 67 wins to 68 wins to 70-something wins. We’re seeing us do it with young players. A big point for me is that you’re not seeing starts go to Joel De La Cruz. You’re not seeing innings go to Jake Brigham or Ryan Kelly. We’re doing it with kids. In the game last night, all four runs were driven in by guys in their first season. We’re seeing kids every day. Whereas we were trying to hold on and build up the minor leagues in years past, now we’re seeing them play up here and doing better than the castoffs, for lack of a better term, that we filled in with the last two years.”
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