Rants Raves and Writin’

What makes a great general manager?

There’s been a lot of talk this week about Alex Anthapololololololoussssssss (or however you spell his name). I’ll clear the air early and say I like the hire, but that’s not the point of my musings.

Since the Anthopoulos hiring was announced, the old hot take machines of Twitter have started grinding away at trade scenarios, free agent targets, yada yada yada.

I enjoy a nice unreasonable session of guessing about things that I have no control over as much as the next person. But at the end of the day I think sometimes us fans get a bit wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of movement of any kind (especially after this long period of stagnation). And because of this, we tend to see any movement as progress.

However, let’s take a moment and look at what defines a great GM.  I believe most general managers tend to be defined by three main things:

  1. Did they cause a scandal?

Seriously, this might feel a bit raw considering the circumstances. But I’m not simply cherry-picking here.

Most GM’s that are remembered for bad reasons are committed to memory because they enabled disaster to occur on their watch. Whether said disasters be character problems, rule breaking, or downright cheating. What’s interesting is the fan-base usually doesn’t care much that he engaged in said cheating. What they usually care about is whether or not he got caught.

In this sense, Anthopoulos is pristine. Clean as a whistle. He’s never been caught, yet has cherry picked some of the best talent available through drafts and on the international market.

I could sit here and pretend to spin the idea that this guy is a saint and is the one really good guy in baseball who just wins without bending any of the rules, but let’s not be naive here. Let’s not pretend that he (more than likely) hasn’t done all of the same things other GMs around baseball have done and are doing. On the bright side, he has been smart enough to not get caught. And, let’s be clear… possession of evidence is nine tenths of the law.

Anthopoulos is obviously fantastic at covering his tracks, and without a doubt the Braves need a lot of tracks covered.

  1. Bad free agent deals.

The clamouring for big free agent signings has never been louder.  “Get Donaldson” “Trade for Archer” “What about Happ!”

No matter where you turn someone is yelling that the brand new GM should try and clear the bad taste out of Braves’ fans’ mouths by making a big splash. However, when I mention Frank Wren’s name, I am certain that most of you instantly think of BJ Upton, Dan Uggla, and of course THE MARK TEXEIRA TRAIIIIDDDDDD!

The pressure to make a big move is huge right now, but I believe it’s the wrong move.

John Schuerholz was the master of Free Agent moves. But he almost never made those moves out of desperation or pressure. In fact signing Maddux is one of the few GIANT free agent deals he made.

I’m sure some of you are screaming, “Ken! Hang on. He made a bunch of free agent deals!” But when you really get down to it, Schuerholz didn’t go after the big splashy free agent guy.

Sure, the Braves might have moved at the trade deadline and picked up a key piece during some of their biggest runs. And, I’m sure over his extended tenure you can find a bad deal or two, but there are not a lot of them that really make you shake your head.

More often than not the splashy Free Agent deal is too late. It’s rare to make that huge splash and it not bite you in the butt.

  1. Finding the diamonds in the rough.

Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill, Adrian Beltre… These are guys who seemed liked average players at one point in their careers, some even scrap heap bound (Hi. This is Josh. Congrats on making it this far in the article. I was actually tasked with editing this thing and I have no idea what “scrap heap bound” means. Ken’s a redneck.) but at a certain point something clicked and all four figured it out.  

Anthopoulos made the genius move of grabbing Donaldson when he was just starting to chip off some rough edges and he watched him blossom into a superstar. But the key wasn’t in acquiring Donaldson once he was great, it was in finding him before he became great.

Maybe it’s all luck, but some GM’s have a knack for finding that “guy”. Daniel Murphy’s insane turnaround, Jake Arrieta’s ascension from a 5th starter to a Cy Young winner.

It’s the stories of the guys who weren’t supposed to be stars that define amazing teams, and more importantly – amazing general managers. It’s the guys you draft in the late rounds who no one gave much of a chance. It’s not missing on your early draft picks. It’s the stuff that most people take for granted. Because of Alex’ history of finding the gems it gives me great hope that he’s the right guy for the Braves.

So sure, take a moment and enjoy the thrill of TRAAAAIIIIDDDD takes. Let your mind run wild with the possibilities, but then realize at the end of the day that at least 95% of those ideas are probably terrible trade ideas and it’s the guys you keep, the diamonds in the rough, and the free agents you don’t sign that make a huge impact and define your legacy as a GM.

Some Food for thought: As much as we want to be twitter GM’s and armchair geniuses, how are we at managing our own lives? Are we always trying to buy the next great thing, or find the little things that make a big difference in our lives? Are we searching for a way to make a big splash and change the flavor of our lives from the sour taste we might have left for others in the past? Are we consistently developing the relationships with those still in the rough? Looking for value in places that maybe other people have given up?  Maybe if we nail those things in our own life we might get a little better perspective on how to judge a general manager for our favorite baseball team.

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Could the Braves go after Josh Donaldson?

Former Auburn Tiger, from Pensacola, FL, went to high school in Mobile, brought to Toronto by Alex Anthopoulus. Could it happen? Should it happen? What about Austin Riley? What about Camargo?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, you knuckleheads. It’s hot take season. And, when it’s hot take season, us baseball fans just can’t contain our hot takes. It’s what we do and it’s what we have done for over a century.

I first heard this idea brought up by the boys over at ChopCast. At first, I thought it was a bit wild. But that was before Alex Anthopoulos was announced as the new GM for the Atlanta Braves.

The notion doesn’t sound so wild anymore.

Let me first say this about Anthoploulus. He’s not perfect and he hasn’t won every trade. But like I said a few podcasts ago, some of the best GMs in baseball win AND lose trades. Anthopoulos has won and lost some trades. He’s probably won more than he’s lost. Plus, his drafting skills seem to be excellent.

Anthopoulos traded some amazing talent for an older R.A. Dickey, but he also traded peanuts for Josh Donaldson and signed Bautista and Encarnacion. And let’s face it – Alex Anthopoulos brought the Blue Jays from being completely irrelevant to being one of the best attended teams in MLB. This being said, could he go after Josh Donaldson?

But what about Austin Riley?

I think the Atlanta Braves love Austin Riley. In fact, they turned down a Chris Sale trade because the White Sox wanted Austin Riley. Now, that love for Riley could end up being different with a new guy in charge, with no emotional attachment to these players. But even if the Braves love Riley like I believe they do, and despite how great he’s been in the AFL, and in double-A this past season, he’s still at the very least one year away from MLB.

Donaldson could bridge that one-year gap. But he certainly wouldn’t be cheap. 

If Anthopoulos wants to get aggressive, he could go after Donaldson for one year, and then cross the bridge of a possible extension when it gets here. Now, if Anthopoulos deems 2018 as yet another re-building year, then sure, he might not go to such drastic measures getting a guy like Donaldson. I’m a believer in Johan Camargo, and as it sits now, I believe Camargo to be the best third-base option on the team currently. That certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Atlanta Braves.

Whether it’s landing Donaldson or not, I believe Atlanta Braves fans could be in for a wild and interesting ride this off-season. Sometimes it’s a good thing for a new guy (not just any new guy in this case, an extremely qualified new guy) to come in, with no attachment to any players, and do what’s best for the future.

Since 2015 Josh Donaldson has boasted the highest wRC+ (153) and the second most homers (111) among MLB third basemen. This 30-year-old seems to be in the prime of his career. Whether the Blue Jays retain him, or whether he ends up somewhere else, someone will be lucky to have him.

Fun fact about Josh Donaldson – In 2008 this young Cubs catching prospect was traded, along with Matt MurtonEric Patterson and Sean Gallagher, to the Oakland Athletics for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. In short, Jim Hendry wasn’t the best general manager the Chicago Cubs ever had.

by Josh Brown (aka @santoniobrown)


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Hindsight is 20/20

I love it when a plan comes together.  Unfortunately for Colon and the Braves, that doesn’t always happen in real life.

This past off-season Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella signed 43-year-old Bartolo Colon to a one-year $12.5 million deal. The idea was to get a couple of qualified MLB starters on one-year deals to bridge the gap between now and the time when some prospects were expected to be ready.

It was a sound idea. Despite Bartolo’s age, it made sense. At the time, I was not completely on board with the R.A. Dickey one-year deal (even though I think he’s one of the coolest guys in the sport and would love to have a beer with him) but I was on board with the Bartolo Colon signing.

Despite Bartolo being 43-years-old at the time, he was coming off two good seasons with the New York Mets and seemed to be a unicorn when it came to aging. Now, I did think $12.5MM was a little steep, but the signing made complete sense to me.

Based on Bartolo’s history, and even recent history, the realistic expectation was for him to at least come close to replicating the last two seasons. It was essentially, as my co-host at Knockahoma Nation Ken Hendrix said, a $12.5MM insurance policy.

Well, for whatever reason (and maybe it is the age at this point) Bartolo Colon cannot seem to locate his pitches and has become nothing short of an embarrassment for the Atlanta Braves.

With Colon’s ERA now at 7.78 the “I told you so”s are all over Twitter and bloggers like Jeff Schultz are reveling in this monumental mishap.

Two things – John Coppolella (while a graduate of Notre Dame) does not have extrasensory perception and John Coppolella has done just a few more things than this measly one-year signing of Bartolo Colon.

Should Atlanta Braves fans blame John Coppolella for signing Bartolo Colon to a large one-year deal? Yes.  But should Atlanta Braves fans and AJC basketball bloggers judge John Coppolella based on this one transaction? No.

John Coppolella is currently being judged by many because of this Bartolo Colon mistake. And I’ll be the first to admit – It’s a large mistake (no pun intended).

I was listening to Grant McAuley’s podcast Around the Big Leagues last week and was reminded that not all trades and transactions are going to be a winner.

We tend to remember all of John Schuerholz’s great trades, but we tend to forget about the bad ones… Adam WainwrightMark Teixeira. Every great GM is going to lose some trades and every GM is going to lose some free agent signings.

Meanwhile, since becoming a first-time Major League general manager at age 35 John Coppolella has turned a terrible farm system into the #1 ranked farm system in all of baseball in two years.

So while he’s made a mistake (a mistake than many could have made) with signing Bartolo Colon to a $12.5MM deal, such a mistake pales in comparison to the accomplishments he’s made in just two years.

Could another GM have flipped two good weeks of Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarezfor a legit power-hitting prospect like Travis Demeritte? Could another GM have traded two minor league/non-prospect pitchers for Brandon Phillips while getting the Reds to eat $13MM of Phillips’ $14MM salary?  Could another GM have traded fringe prospect Juan Yepez, who had to repeat low-A, for Matt Adams and cash?

Frank Wren was fired in 2014. John Coppolella took over in 2015. In other words, this “rebuild” we keep hearing about only started two years ago.

To put this into perspective, Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka were Atlanta’s first two picks in that next draft.  Both Soroka and Allard are 19-years-old, ahead of schedule, dominating double-A against guys much older than them.

Worthy of mention: on average, a minor league ballplayer spends four years in the minors before making his MLB debut. So to answer the complaint, “Bartolo Colon is terrible. Where’s this number one farm I keep hearing about? #askcoppy” – They are in the farm still, where they’re expected to be, and many are ahead of schedule.

So, do mishaps like Bartolo Colon give Atlanta Braves fans legit reason to complain? Absolutely. But look at the whole picture.

If you’re judging John Coppolella based solely on Bartolo Colon’s demise, then trade in your Braves cap and become a Nats fan because there will be no room for you when guys like Soroka, Allard and Acuña are embarrassing the NL East.

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