Hart, Coppolella need to overcome financial mistakes (like Wren)

The arrest of Hector Olivera, left, contributed to the Braves' start and the eventual firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez, right. (AP photo)

The arrest of Hector Olivera, left, contributed to the Braves’ start and the eventual firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez, right. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

UPDATE: To see a full column on the Braves’ unsettling situation in the front office, click here.

From Thursday…

The Braves are 1-1 under interim manager Brian Snitker. Success!

But seriously . . .

As the Braves continue to hope to distance themselves from their 9-28 start, which led to the firing of manager Fredi Gonzalez, we’re going to continue to hear about how the franchise is now on stable ground and the front office has corrected the mistakes of former general manager Frank Wren.

I’ll have a full column later today on the current state of the Braves’ front office. But it’s worth reiterating that every decision by Wren wasn’t the incorrect one. The truth is, he did a number of things right. The problem is most of those were transactions of the mid-level and low-level variety.

Wren’s biggest mistakes were the most high-level of signings and trades — B.J. Upton, Kenshin Kawakami, Dan Uggla being the extreme examples — and those player salaries crippled a franchise whose salary cap was being held in check by ownership. The fact that the player development system had deteriorated under Wren, some scouts had left the organization because of Wren’s management style and he generally burnt some bridges in the front office also were significant factors.

But back to the money aspect of this: If president of baseball operations John Hart (July, 2015: “I never made promises we were built to win”) and general manager John Coppolella see an adequate number of their prospects develop into major leaguers, everything will be fine moving forward. But the Braves still aren’t a franchise that can afford to make financial mistakes.

Consider these numbers:

• Hart/Coppolella believed getting Cleveland to take on Chris Johnson (adequate but overpaid by Wren) in exchange for overpaid/used up veterans Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last season was a plus. Swisher and Bourn would be paid $29 million combined in 2016. The Indians were giving the Braves $15 million in cash. So the Braves would be responsible for “only” $14 million. But both players were released and the Braves have $14 million in dead money on the payroll.

• Hart/Coppolella acquired third baseman Hector Olivera from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two valuable assets, pitcher Alex Wood and infielder Jose Peraza. The Braves believed it was a great deal because Olivera would provide needed offense and the Dodgers had already paid his $28 million signing bonus, leaving Atlanta responsible for $32.5 million in salaries for the next five seasons (2016-20). But Olivera, whose advanced age (31) and salary allows for far less time to develop, showed little during his limited playing time and then was arrested for domestic assault and battery. He remains suspended by baseball, pending the outcome of charges. But even in the best case scenario, he has lost valuable development time. The Braves? They’re committed to $32.5 million for a player who may or may not ever play again, or may or may not ever develop.

• Hart/Coppolella acquired Erick Aybar and two prospect pitchers (Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb) from the Los Angeles Angels for Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons. They believed Aybar would make them better but he’s been a borderline disaster. Aybar is making $8.75 million. L.A. is paying $2.5 million. The Braves are responsible for $6.25 million.

So let’s add that up: For Swisher (gone), Bourn (gone), Olivera (gone for a while, maybe forever) and Aybar (lousy), the Braves have $52.75 million of dead — or relatively dead — money on their payroll for 2016 and beyond. If you hold out hope for Olivera beyond this season, the total comatose payroll portion totals “only” $24.25 million for 2016 (including Olivera’s $4 million salary).

Wren’s biggest mistake was Upton’s deal. It prompted Hart to jump on a deal on the eve of last season that send All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to San Diego with Upton, as the Padres were willing to take on the $46.35 million left on his contract. The Braves lost Kimbrel, effectively trainwrecking their bullpen last season. The upside of that deal for now was young starter Matt Wisler, who has had a nice start to this season (3.14 ERA, five earned runs in 23 1/3 innings in his last three starts). The Braves also received a draft pick (Austin Riley).

Every front office makes mistakes. But not every front office can afford to make the financial mistakes the Braves have made.

I’ll have more later in a full column. UPDATE: Here’s a link to the full column.

Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox

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36 comments
DawgHawkFalconFan
DawgHawkFalconFan

Saw the comment on Albies "only" having 6 homers. Pace for close to 20 as a shortstop who also hits for average and fields position. I'll take that.

DawgHawkFalconFan
DawgHawkFalconFan

As for Hector, minus the arrest issue he may have had a good year. Had a great spring. That would have been a steal as well. At this point I say deportation would solve our problems. Elect Trump

DawgHawkFalconFan
DawgHawkFalconFan

Want to really know who got waxed look at the Padres. Yes they got Kimbrell to close fo a non-contender. We got Wisler and unloaded one of the worst values in the history of baseball. With a potential Riley as well. Padres are financially a mess and still putting a bad product on the field.

HotDawg
HotDawg

Maybe a little less Los Bravos and more American Braves

Ron1126
Ron1126

Looks like they get what they deserve. Sad for the fans that they get ripped off by folks who are rewarded for their incompetence with big fat salaries and stock options.

Reality check: The fans should completely stop going.

Brandon Nelson
Brandon Nelson

All is not lost, inevitably a deep pocketed guy will make LM an offer they can't refuse, and the Braves will be privately owned again. I believe that all of the sports leagues will eventually arrive at the point to where they frown against corporate owners. That being said, you still have to make wise management decisions operating the team.

Falcons63
Falcons63

@Brandon Nelson  Man I hope you are right about that.  I long for the days when the Braves spent big. 

Falcons63
Falcons63

Chris Johnson "adequate"??  Wow...  have you actually bothered to look at his performance in his last 2yrs as a Brave... never mind his short time in Cleveland and his current season in Miami!!  I haven't agreed with all of the moves made by current management, however you can't just tally up salary and start criticizing.  To be fair you have to remember Bourne and Swisher weren't brought in expecting to be contributors.  That trade was done to get Johnson's horrible contract off the books a year early. 

 Simmons trade was hard to swallow.  Not a great offensive player, but a tremendous glove and under control til 2020.  At least Aybar's money is off the books after this season.  You hope the prospects received pan out and Swanson or Albies is as good as advertised. 

The Oliveras trade is the one trade that is painful due to the money.  The "valuable assets" traded away have been anything but valuable for the Dodgers.  Wood has been pretty awful and Peraza is currently in AAA with the Reds.  The overlooked part of that trade was the loss of Paco Rodriguez to arm surgery.  He was  developing into a dominant lefty out of the bullpen.  As far as Oliveras, when I heard terms like "he's a work in progress" I knew something was up.  You don't trade for 31yr old work in progress.

In the end as painful as it currently is, I think you have to at least give the current mgmt. thru 2017 to make a judgement.  To change directions at this point would be a mistake.  JMO...

STHornet1990
STHornet1990

@Falcons63  The direction is DOWN, and it's not changing as long as this management team and owner are around.

Falcons63
Falcons63

@STHornet1990 @Falcons63  hey..  I'm definitely not making grand predictions for the future of the team.  Just pointing out my issue with Schultz's article.  Obviously the current mgmt. deserves criticism.  At this point I can't see firing everyone and starting all over again.  A bad season in 2017 and I would say can them and make a change.

STHornet1990
STHornet1990

@Falcons63 @STHornet1990  Honestly, the owners have to go first. I'm not sure how that will happen but that is the only way the team gets back to consistent winning.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Well, thank you Jeff. I don't always agree with you but at least you aren't playing the role of paid company shill. I posted a blog entry yesterday essentially making the same major points you are making, that the Wren regime wasn't all bad and that this regime is similarly digging itself a growing financial hole of bad deals.


This regime may yet prove successful, but the current evidence is at best murky and mixed, not solid as many tout, ignoring or dismissing common risks associated with pitching prospects and lack of power and turning off fans. They seem to take for granted long-time loyal fans who tune in on a daily basis and just want their team to compete honestly, in a sportsmanlike manner. They dismiss the accomplishments of the Wren-Gonzalez regime as not meaningful, when that regime left us with many lifelong memories (not all bad). In short, they are all about "self", self-aggrandizement, self-gratification of winning it all at any cost. The Miami Marlins way (look where that franchise is).


So, my message is VERY simple: Please go on about your business, but STOP lecturing us on why your way is so great and wonderful and we are somehow defective human beings to not buy in totally and let your ACHIEVEMENTS (successes at the MLB level) speak for the wisdom of your plan.

UGA76
UGA76

I need to be educated. Why is everybody so excited about Ozzie Albies?He’s generously listed as 5’8” and maybe 155 pounds.He’s hardly a power prospect nor is he stealing bases this year.In 80 games or half a season this year his stats are 6 HRs, 24 RBIs, 6 steals.He’s a singles hitter.Needing 3 singles to score one run won’t take us anywhere.That’s what we have now.

khd713
khd713

@UGA76 I've wondered the same thing – how can this guy really have much of an impact? What I've been told is that you have to see him play to understand, that he's just one of those special players. He's a winner and he's clutch. He gets the hit when you need it, drives in a run when you need it, makes the play when you need it, and will even hit the occasional home run when you need it. He'll hit close to .300 and will put a lot of balls in the gaps, not to mention that he's fast and plays smart. Every championship team needs that kind of player. Can't wait for him to get here, because I'm not sure we're going to survive Aybar until then.

khd713
khd713

Hopefully your column later today will report the net financial result of Hart & Coppollela's moves, but I suppose that kind of reporting may be too honest for you, a hack with an axe to grind. Are you really suggesting the Braves aren't in a better financial position than they were when Wren was fired? Don't pick out isolated examples of contracts and act like there's some kind of cash-flow crisis. Swisher, Bourn, Aybar? They're all off the books after this year. Who knows what will happen with Olivera? You certainly don't. You've obviously adopted an anti-Hart/Coppollela slant since they fired your pal Fredi, and like so many other morons on this board you can't see the forest for the trees. I guess some people just aren't willing accept a couple of down years in exchange for the huge payoff that awaits when this team returns to being a championship contender. I guess some people just prefer to wallow along in mediocrity, with no comprehension of what it takes to build a championship-caliber team. One commenter below notes that the lineup of Freddie, Heyward, Gattis, Simba, et. al., was "a really talented team". No it wasn't. That was a mediocre team that made the playoffs once and barely managed to take one game from the Dodgers. That was not a championship-caliber team, and it was so weighted down by bloated contracts for non-performers that there was no hope of turning it into a championship team. Can these people not see that? Another commenter actually has the audacity to say that B.J. Upton "wasn't a bad signing." What planet do these people live on? It may not have been a bad signing at the time because Wren was desperate for a center fielder and for some reason wasn't interested in trying to re-sign Bourn, so he made what appeared to be the best move available. But it turned into a disaster, and to claim otherwise is just insane.


Hart and Coppollela have finally rid this team of those outrageous, non-performing contracts and given themselves a ton of payroll flexibility. The Olivera deal was a drop in the bucket and isn't going to hamstring anything. Why don't you do some honest reporting and tell us what the net contract liabilities were when Hart/Coppollela took over, and what they are now? Why don't you tell us the team's cash position then, and the cash position now? The new administration shed a lot of talent, no doubt, but again, it wasn't championship-caliber talent. What they've brought back in return is the foundation of a championship team – an arsenal of some of the best young arms in the game. And, they've left themselves a ton of flexibility to make their next moves to round out the lineup that will take this team back to the World Series. Why can't you people just assess the situation honestly, and have a shred of patience to let the process play out? If all of this effort fails to produce a championship contender in a few years, then you can criticize all you want. Until then, just chill with the harpy whining, and quit acting like a few million in "dead" money for 2016 – a transitional year that the Braves could not care less about – even matters. What matters is what comes next, so open your friggin' eyes.

JTGrace
JTGrace

I can't believe the AJC actually pays people to write this drivel.  Hart and Coppolella did what needed to be done.  Yes, the Olivera thing was a disaster.  However, the Braves now have a deep and talented farm system.  This farm system is already paying dividends with guys like Folty, Wisler, Blair and Mallex finding their way to the majors.  These guys aren't even the top guys.  Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson will be in the next wave of talent....probably sometime late this year.  Look a little deeper and you find future stars like Ronald Acuna and Kolby Allard.   If Hart/Coppy had not made these deals then the Braves would have been mediocre last year with nothing to show for it now.


You and your fellow AJC writers need to be a little patient with a rebuild that just started LAST YEAR.  Sometimes you need to tear down to build back up and that is what was done here.




jay_watson
jay_watson

@JeffSchultzAJC look at the whole picture: Hart/Coppy have created massive payroll flexibility past 2016 (while also stocking the pipeline)

TideDawg
TideDawg

You can ride good talent all the way to the promised land....but it only takes one leader to derail that talent on the way. That's usually the manager or a  GM.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Big Difference is that Wren's teams won games and had players you wanted to root for.  


B.J. Upton wasn't a bad signing.  He has been more than adequate in San Diego, and is a middle of the lineup bat. Freddie and crew turned him into a head case, and San Diego appears to have corrected the issues.


The new management may work out, but they make Frank Wren look like a genius so far. In 2014, He put together a team with J-Up, Freddie, Heyward, Gattis, Simba and Chris Johnson.  Pitching had Teheran, Ervin Santana, Minor, Wood and Kimbrel.


That was a really,  really talented team with players that have excelled elsewhere.  They should have just fired Freddie Gonzalez and let Wren keep constructing the teams.  Yes, i know they couldnt keep the players, but he was excellent at getting talent at the big league level.

Big Wally
Big Wally

More proof that we just exchanged bad GM's. Swapping Wren for Hart/Coppy was not a step up, it was a lateral move.

TideDawg
TideDawg

Do the Braves have, anywhere in the organization, a talent that is a power hitter?

TideDawg
TideDawg

The Braves got taken on Olivera. The Dodgers knew what they had and knew they had to get rid of him. Don't bring him back to this team. He will sour the entire team. He lives his life the only way he has ever known and he won't change.

jts712011
jts712011

@JeffSchultzAJC I can't even read the article my phone keeps going to the App Store when I start reading

abtoal
abtoal

@JeffSchultzAJC 100% agree. Everyone seems to be saying "we are rebuilding" without questioning how they got there or if that is acceptable

Jbrin12
Jbrin12

You are being a little disingenuous with this article. The only "long-term" commitment made, money-wise, was with Olivera. The majority of that money was taken on to get rid of bad, lengthy contracts, not to bring any real on-field value (ie. Swisher & Bourn). I'm sure the hope was to trade them and gain back some of the lost money, but in the end, that wasn't possible and was most likely expected (hence the DFA'ing of Bourn and Swisher prior to them hitting their vesting options for 2017). Short-term loss for long-term game in every essence of the phrase.

hami1018a
hami1018a

@JeffSchultzAJC like Bourne and Swisher are your highest paid players and neither played a single game for you. Olivera too.

ZackDannawi
ZackDannawi

@JeffSchultzAJC Lol at this joke of an article. I like how you didn't mention the outrageous 4 year/$60 million deal to Derek Lowe.

Kamper10
Kamper10

@JeffSchultzAJC cheap shot-not dead if putting it elsewhere/saving it, now is it? Try writing same article after intl sign period/offseason

jaywilsonapr
jaywilsonapr

@JeffSchultzAJC Biggest difference I see is with exception of Olivera mess, dead/wasted money is for this year only. Wren: multi-year awful.

rcbGT
rcbGT

@JeffSchultzAJC Two of those moves freed up a bunch of money for 2017. That's a good thing, not a bad thing.

bengoodfella
bengoodfella

@JeffSchultzAJC To be fair, many of those mistakes were specific attempts to take on payroll for this one year when the team was bad.