The Braves entrust their future to Coppolella

One of the principal architects — unless I miss my guess, the chief architect — of the worst Braves season in a quarter-century was promoted Thursday. Assistant general manager John Coppolella shed the first word of his title and was handed a contract that runs through 2019. Maybe you think that’s a case of failure being rewarded. Here’s where I say you’re wrong.

And maybe you think that the GM title has become devalued, that what general managers did is now done by the president of baseball operations, who for the Braves remains John Hart, who said, “We’ll still have the same decision-making process as before.” Here’s where I say you’re wrong about that, too.

The Braves spent the past 53 weeks letting Coppolella take a test spin. They knew he was smart, but weren’t sure he had the polish to be the face of a franchise. The year of having Hart, who’s so polished he practically glows, serve as driving instructor could well be the most productive year this front office — as opposed to this team, which stinks — has known. The Braves just handed the keys to Coppolella and said, “Take us to the winner’s circle.”

Hart is 67. His contract lapses after the 2017 season. Coppolella is 30 years younger and signed through 2019. You don’t have to be a magnum cum laude graduate of Notre Dame’s business school — Coppolella is — to know the younger man will be making deals vital to the Braves’ well-being long after Hart has gone back to reading greens.

Even as we giggle about the proliferation of Johns atop the Braves’ org chart, it’s clear that this franchise’s future has been entrusted to John the (relatively) Younger. That’s not a reason to giggle. That’s a reason to smile.

Forget about this season. It was always seen as, to use Schuerholz’s word, a “pivoting.” Hart and Coppolella tried to give the major-league team a fighting chance, but winning games was secondary. The only thing inspiring about this season was how creative the Braves were in the acquisition of assets.

They dumped baseball’s best closer because it was the only way they could dump the worst contract in baseball. They traded for pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery in the belief they were spending 60 cents on the dollar. They essentially pried a teenage pitcher from Arizona for cash. They dealt three good big-league players and a heralded prospect for a 30-year Cuban defector they hadn’t been able to buy on the open market.

I don’t want to cast Hart as a rubber stamp — I’m told he vetoed two major trades before the deadline — but I’m fairly certain the genesis for most of the Braves’ moves this past year was Coppolella. They didn’t scan like baseball swaps. They seemed the clever marriage of business training and baseball savvy.

Schuerholz made that very point Thursday. “There are a lot of smart guys who want to work in baseball,” he said, “but Coppy (as Coppolella is known) has instincts for baseball.”

Coppolella’s news conference was instructive in the crowd it drew: Some seasoned scouts stood in the back. Anyone who has read “Moneyball” knows about the scouts-versus-stats disconnect. Coppolella has bridged the expanse. He can talk with scouts without seeming like an egghead, but he darn well loves his analytics.

Credit Hart with serving as Coppolella’s finishing school. It’s a role for which the former is uniquely suited, having offered his imprimatur to “seven or eight” future GMs, among them Jon Daniels of Texas and Paul DePodesta, now with the Mets. Of Coppolella, he said: “Fans of Atlanta should be very comfortable with him.”

Both Schuerholz and Hart spoke of phone conversations with Coppelella at 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. — “Sometimes in the same day,” Schuerholz said — and lauded his work ethic. The Coppy Way is to propose a deal only to be told why it won’t work; two hours later, he’ll have figured a way it will. He’s unrelenting in his brainstorming.

In his prepared remarks, Coppolella mentioned the one (and only) championship won by big-league Atlanta teams and said, “My goal and my vow is to increase that number.” He just might.