GM Candidate: John Coppolella

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced the MLB executives who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces.

It's time to get acquainted with Braves director of professional scouting John Coppolella.  John worked his way from the ground up in baseball, landing an unpaid internship with the Lake Elsinore Storm back in 1997.  By the time John graduated from Notre Dame he had an Angels internship in his pocket as well, and that led to a couple of positions with the Yankees.  John joined the Braves' front office five years ago and currently has a hand in player evaluations, acquisitions, and contracts.  

I recently exchanged emails with John covering a wide range of topics, many of which follow up on comments he made in a Baseball Prospectus chat last month.

Which people have served as mentors for you in baseball?

At the Yankees it was Brian Cashman, Mark Newman, Kim Ng, Damon Oppenheimer, Gordon Blakeley, and Billy Connors.  Damon taught me a lot about scouting and got me to spend less time on the computer and more time in the stands.  At the Braves it was and continues to be John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, Bruce Manno, Jim Fregosi, and Paul Snyder.  I consider John to be the best GM in the history of the game while Frank and Bruce are extremely bright and hard-working leaders who have helped me grow and provided me with opportunities.

How has your job description changed with the promotion to director of professional scouting?

Not at all.  Like Frank said it was more a case of having my title match my job description.  I still continue to lead our analytics department, statistical efforts, and arbitration research, but the most important work I do is with our scouts.  All of that work ties in with waivers, free agency signings, etc, and helps me assist Frank and Bruce in all facets of baseball operations.

You've called the current arbitration system "terrible."  Can you elaborate?

It’s a flawed system that leaves both parties unhappy.  I’ve done dozens of deals and don’t feel great about any of them, but I feel even worse about the process.  A couple of years ago Bruce and I were getting ready to pull two of our players out of big league spring training so we could fly them across the country to Phoenix in order for them to attend a hearing where they would hear us berate their performances in an effort to take money out of their pockets.  The cases got settled, but neither player is still in the Braves organization.

Assuming the current arbitration system stays in place, do you envision a day, perhaps five years from now, when advanced statistics will help one side win a hearing?

Arbitration is a complete crapshoot.  Either side – club or player – could make a compelling case and still lose based upon the whims of an arbitration panel that knows very little about baseball.

Do you have any ideas on changes that could eliminate the manuevering some teams do to prevent top prospects from getting Super Two status?

I don’t think a perfect system exists.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t think some clubs tried to prevent prospects from getting Super Two status, but I think it’s overstated.  Teams need to win games, otherwise the management team holding these players back will themselves be held accountable.  We all need to win and I know at the Braves we have never held somebody back because it might save us a few million dollars a few years down the line.

You recently mentioned Brooks Conrad, Jose Constanza, Eric O'Flaherty, and Cristian Martinez as minor league signings/waiver claims of which you're most proud.  Can you elaborate?

All of these waiver claims and minor league signings make me proud because it shows the great work our scouts are doing for the Braves.  A week ago we closed out a doubleheader sweep of the Mets in New York with Cristhian Martinez, Eric O’Flaherty, and Anthony Varvaro, all three of whom were claimed off waivers.  Dom Chiti and Jeff Wren pushed hard for Martinez.  Fregosi and Dick Balderson pushed hard for O’Flaherty and Varvaro.  Tim Conroy pushed hard for Constanza.  All of us talk about these players and Frank makes the final decision, but we are all part of the process, and I feel like we have had more success in these markets than any other team in baseball.

You've mentioned how the next Cubs GM will be entering a challenging situation.  What would be your approach to fixing the club?  Do you think the Cubs should use 2012 as a rebuilding year, despite the size of their fan base?

I don’t feel comfortable commenting on how other clubs should approach the construction of their club.  Our focus at the Braves is on getting into the playoffs, advancing as far as possible, and putting together another great club for 2012.



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