Via email, Braves general manager John Coppolella responded this week to 20 (plus one) questions regarding the half-season just past and his team’s future. The first 11 are presented here. The rest will come tomorrow.
Q: The Braves have the worst record in baseball at the All-Star break. Before the season, you said you believed this team would be better than last year’s. What happened?
A: It’s been a disappointing season and we feel for our fans. We never said we would be a World Series team, but we did think we would manage more than the 67 wins we had last season, and that’s still possible.
Q: As difficult as it is to endure a 100-loss season – and your team is on pace to lose 106 games – would the examples of the Cubs and the Astros soften such a blow?
A: No. Although we are following a similar plan to what those two teams did — and many others in recent years have done — it doesn’t mitigate the pain associated with every loss. It’s extremely difficult, but we know we are doing the right thing.
Q: As the principal architect of this rebuilding effort, are there nights when you lie awake and wonder, “What have I done?” Or is your commitment to this grand design so resolute that you’re able to say, “Losing at the big-league level is the cost of what we believe will be enduring excellence”?
A: Our commitment is resolute because what would have been worse is a decade of irrelevance. Look at where we were in October 2014. We had arguably the worst farm system in baseball. We had just lost 800 innings over the past 12 months with Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang leaving as free agents and Mike Minor and Kris Medlen suffering injuries, with nobody to replace them. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton were both a year away from free agency, with nobody to replace them. We finished 27-40 in the second half of 2014 with a team that was not performing, endearing to our fans, or on budget.
Q: There’s no need to rehash Fredi Gonzalez’s firing, but duty compels me to ask: Have you gotten what you wanted from Brian Snitker as interim manager? Is the team now playing more or less the way you hoped it would coming into the season?
A: Brian has done a great job and the team has played much better since we made the change. That’s not a knock on Fredi or Carlos Tosca, who are both great baseball men. It was just time for a change.
Q: The Braves have a history of promoting from within. (You’re an example of that.) Is your preference to hire a full-time manager from within the organization, or will your first look be to find someone from outside? Is Snitker a viable candidate to manage the big-league team beyond this season?
A: Brian is a viable candidate. However, as we made clear from the day we made the change, we will also look outside the organization.
Q: With so many moving parts within the big-league Braves, has it been possible to get a feel as to which players are keepers? For example: Jace Peterson started the year as the second baseman; then he got demoted; now he’s back in the majors and playing every day. Is he part of the Braves’ future?
A: Baseball is an extremely difficult game and we see elite players fall off cliffs in short periods of time and mediocre players turn into superstars. It’s been great seeing what Jace and other young players have done and we hope it continues.
Q: Three of your young pitchers – Williams Perez, Mike Foltynewicz and John Gant – are or have been on the disabled list. Given what has happened with the Mets – Matt Harvey has opted for season-ending surgery; Noah Syndergaard has undergone a series of MRIs and left his last start with a “dead arm”; Steven Matz is pitching with bone chips in his elbow and Zack Wheeler’s recovery from Tommy John surgery has been delayed – do you ever wonder if rebuilding around pitching was the way to go? (The Cubs, as we know, rebuilt around hitting.)
A: The fact that so many of these pitchers get hurt is precisely why we are building around pitching. There’s so much attrition associated with pitching that you truly can never have enough talent or depth when it comes to arms. It’s great the Cubs built around bats, but that’s what was available to them in the draft. There was no Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber in the draft this year. It’s also worth noting that all those bats the Cubs had still got beat (in the NLCS) by a Mets team built around pitching.
Q: Entering the season, the highest-rated pitchers in your chain were Aaron Blair and Sean Newcomb. Blair has been demoted to Gwinnett after an unimpressive turn in the majors; Newcomb is still in Class AA fighting command issues. Another top prospect – Lucas Sims – was returned to AA after struggling in AAA. Yet another – Tyrell Jenkins – has been converted to a reliever. Is this a sign that maybe your young pitching isn’t good enough, or is this just part of the process of developing pitchers?
A: It’s part of the process, but we won’t feel our pitching is good enough until we can run out our own version of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, and we’ve still got a long way to go. Aaron, Sean, Lucas, and Tyrell all have extremely bright futures, but like so many other pitchers they have struggled along the development road. Last year, Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler were in similar positions, as were Julio Teheran and Mike Minor when they were first called up to the major leagues. We are happy with the development we have seen and we understand it’s a journey more than a destination, and we have faith in our players and our coaches to continue making progress.
Q: Arodys Vizcaino had one blown save and no losses through June 6. He has had two blown saves and four losses since. Are you confident he can be your closer of the future?
A: Arodys is extremely talented, but he needs to be more consistent. We hope he’s our closer of the future, but it’s short-sighted to make definitive proclamations on any players.
Q: Was sending Bud Norris to the Dodgers on June 30 an attempt to get ahead of the trade-deadline crush and maximize the value of someone who was signed as a one-year stopgap?
A: Yes. It was difficult to trade Bud, but knowing he was a free agent after the season was the overriding factor. Bud was pitching terrific and the Dodgers made us an offer that we felt compelled us to make that move at that time.
Q: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but will you trade Julio Teheran?
A: No. We aren’t trading Julio.
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