For outsiders like us – yes, even those who cover the sport – it can be difficult to correctly discern the talent and impact of a certain member of a front office. Tons of factors, and many that we don’t see, go into those jobs.
You can feel pretty comfortable saying this, though: The Braves on Thursday suffered a big loss when the Houston Astros hired Dana Brown, the Braves’ vice president of scouting, to be their new general manager. Brown went from winning a World Series with the Braves to becoming the top baseball-operations executive for the reigning World Series-champion Astros.
“I know that there’s some special things going on here right now,” Brown said during his introductory press conference Thursday. “I want to be a part of that and add to (it) what I can add to (it). A big part of what I really want to do is to sustain the long-term success in what we’re doing here. I think it’s got a chance to be pretty special. I’m excited about it.”
Among what the Astros saw in Brown throughout the process, Houston owner Jim Crane said: “He was very analytics-savvy. He’s a great talent evaluator based upon what we’ve seen at the Braves. Seasoned at player acquisitions, seasoned at player development and retention – they were always able to extend some of their player contracts. … He’s got great people skills. Excellent communicator. And last but not least, he’s a baseball player and knows baseball in and out.”
This leaves the Braves without a vice president of scouting. With spring training weeks away, the Braves don’t have any specific plans to fill the job right now. They’ll reevaluate it after the coming season. (Ronit Shah, the assistant director of amateur scouting who worked under Brown, still is with the Braves).
Since joining the Braves in 2019, Brown helped the Braves stock their farm system with elite talent. Among the players drafted during his tenure as scouting director: Michael Harris, Spencer Strider and Vaughn Grissom, who have all made it to the majors. Brown also drafted Shea Langeliers, who made it to the majors with Oakland.
Brown’s promotion also puts this into perspective: There has been a ton of talent in the Braves’ front office since Alex Anthopoulos took over before the 2018 season. Brown is the second member of Anthopoulos’ front office to leave for a general manager job, joining the Angels’ Perry Minasian. Crane said Anthopoulos “spoke very highly” of Brown.
But let’s get to the question everyone wants to know: How much will the Braves miss Brown?
The simple answer: A lot, even if the Braves should still win a ton of baseball games now and in the future. Brown was a key part of the Braves’ front office, but Anthopoulos should be able to make an outstanding hire when the time comes.
Brown possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience. In scouting, he’s able to blend his gut with the data. His relationship with Anthopoulos goes back many years – Brown hired Anthopoulos in Montreal before Anthopoulos brought Brown to Toronto and Atlanta – and the two trust one another.
One example of Brown’s influence: In 2019, Brown wanted to draft Harris in the third round, but Anthopoulos was not sure about drafting Harris that high. But Brown vouched strongly for taking Harris then, fearing he might be gone if the Braves waited.
Brown was big on collaboration. He has good people skills. He emphasized having no egos in the scouting department and ensuring everyone’s opinion mattered. He embraced analytics, which isn’t a guarantee for folks in the scouting industry.
One example of the collaborative effort of the Braves’ scouting department: In 2020, the Braves debated on whether they should draft Strider or Bryce Elder first. They weighed the opinion and report from Billy Best, their area scout assigned to Strider. But they also looked at the analytical profile of both players. They eventually took Strider before Elder – though they ended up with both pitchers – because they liked Strider’s entire package more.
Before joining the Braves, Brown spent nine seasons (2010-18) as a special assistant to the general manager for the Blue Jays. For nine seasons before that, he worked as the director of scouting for the Nationals/Expos franchise. During his tenure with the Nationals/Expos, the franchise drafted over 40 future major leaguers, including seven who became All-Stars. Brown also worked for the Pirates for eight years, serving as their area scouting supervisor and East Coast cross-checker.
During the press conference, one Houston reporter brought up that Brown has never worked for a big-market organization that spends like crazy. The reporter asked Brown what he felt was important in doing more with less.
“The biggest thing, I would say, when you’re working for an organization and you don’t have a lot of money, (is) you cannot afford to miss with the draft picks,” Brown said. “You burn that into your brain, that you gotta get this pick right, you gotta get this pick right, you gotta study the makeup, you gotta know the player better than anyone else. When you come from that type of organization and you know that you don’t have a lot of money, and you work hard to get the draft picks right at the top, maximize the draft by getting some picks lower that can add to a major-league team.
“And now you’re coming into an environment where you have money, and you sign good players and then you extend major-league players, now you choke the system with players and you’ve got a chance to have a long run. So that’s what the plan is.”
Brown’s résumé is long, his portfolio is impressive. He made such an instant impact in Atlanta, which made it likely that he would receive a promotion at some point in the future.
Brown should do well in Houston, which is set up for future success. The Braves lost a good one.
But the Braves have processes, and Anthopoulos always has had a vision. Brown seemed like a perfect fit as scouting director, but you can be sure Anthopoulos is well aware of what he wants and needs in Brown’s replacement.
Plus, scouting is a layered department. It takes everyone – from area scouts to cross-checkers to those higher up – to draft great players. Brown always credited his scouts and everyone in the organization for their help in assembling exciting draft classes, and he would be the first to tell you it takes a village to do so.
At the end of the day, Anthopoulos remains the Braves’ baseball-operations leader, which means there’s no reason to believe losing one front-office member would derail the Braves. You can assume Brown’s replacement, whoever it may be, will work within the same framework and process, for the most part, that Anthopoulos has worked to implement.
Anthopoulos still is making the decisions, and that’s the important part for the Braves. He’s the one who eventually will fill the open job with someone who fits what the Braves want to do and how they want to do it.
Brown, who is Black, is one of two Black baseball-operations leaders – the other is White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams. Brown said he interviewed with the Mets and Mariners about their general manager openings over the years but didn’t get either job.
“Keep plugging away and don’t get discouraged,” Brown said of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s message to him when he didn’t land those gigs.
Now Brown will lead the team that won the World Series months ago.
His former club, which appears to be a contender once again, will move forward without him.
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