Such a season would try the faith of a saint. Perhaps coincidentally, John Coppolella and John Hart, architects of the Braves’ massive rebuild, are named after one. They absolutely believe their way, baseball-wise, is the only way. But that doesn’t help much in a week like last, which saw the big-league team lose seven consecutive games and, for the third time in two months, demote a young starting pitcher to Gwinnett.
The week’s highlight was the Hall of Fame luncheon Friday. On hand to witness enshrinement of Andruw Jones and especially John Schuerholz was Dayton Moore, long a disciple – I’ll stop with the Biblical references – of the latter. Since 2006, Moore has been the general manager in Kansas City. From that season through 2012, the Royals didn’t break .500. In 2014, they nearly won the World Series. In 2015, they won the World Series.
How, Moore was asked, does an organization focus on brighter tomorrows when today is so wretched? “You have to distance yourself,” he said. “You have to put your head down and keep trying to get better every day.”
That’s a notion Coppolella, the Braves’ GM, invokes often, which surely means both men heard it from Schuerholz. It was Schuerholz, then the Braves’ president, who triggered this reset by firing Frank Wren in September 2014. The old lion hated what his Braves had become — all the strikeouts, the reliance on big-ticket outsiders, most of all the withering of the once-bountiful farm system.
In separate conversations Friday, Moore and Pat Gillick — the Blue Jays’ GM when they won consecutive World Series (the first over the Braves) and more recently the Phillies’ GM/president – invoked the same template for building a consistent winner. “Go back to the Yankees,” Gillick said, “They really got started because of their homegrown guys – Jeter and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera.”
Both Moore and Gillick have seen their respective homegrown cores grow into champions. “You can buy players,” Moore said, “but if they haven’t come up together, they won’t play the same way.” Even at that, his Royals needed time to mature. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were among the top three draftees of their respective classes, but it wasn’t until Moore traded Zack Greinke – the 2009 American League Cy Young winner – to Milwaukee in December 2010 that the rebuild began to take flight.
(Moore quibbles over the word. “We weren’t rebuilding. We’d had one winning season since 1994. We were just trying to build.”)
The Greinke deal yielded Alcides Escobar, who’d be the MVP of the 2014 ALCS, and Lorenzo Cain, MVP of the 2015 ALCS. Those two and the homegrown axis didn’t quite push the Royals into the playoffs, but they hastened the process. “The Greinke trade,” Moore said, “made it possible to do the trade for James Shields and Wade Davis.”
Moore sent Wil Myers, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, to Tampa Bay for Shields, who became the No. 1 starter on the Royals’ first playoff team in 30 years, and Davis, the fulcrum of game’s best bullpen. Any detractors who had, over his first seven seasons, mocked Moore’s mention of “the process” weren’t in evidence during the parade down Grand Blvd. last November.
Coppolella mentions both massive Moore trades as fuel for his belief that the GM of a rebuilding team cannot be afraid – not that Coppolella is inclined to timidity. A rebuild has to start with the farm system, and that’s where the Braves began. Then it needs guts, luck and one thing more.
“Ownership has to be on board with what you’re doing,” Gillick said. “You have to have that.”
Coppolella and Hart were on hand Friday. To them, the heartfelt endorsements offered by Schuerholz and Bobby Cox to the luncheon crowd must have sounded mighty sweet in these sour times.
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