Braves GM John Coppolella was a guest on Buster Olney’s podcast at ESPN.com today (audio link) and discussed a number of topics, including the timing of Dansby Swanson’s promotion, his expectations for free agency, what to expect from SunTrust Park, the health of prospect Ozzie Albies and the team’s managerial vacancy heading into the offseason. The entire interview is about 12 minutes in length and is well worth a listen in its entirety, but a couple of highlights from the interview stand out.
Asked about the unorthodox timing of Swanson’s promotion to the Majors, Coppolella plainly stated that service time doesn’t factor into the team’s decision-making that often. (Notably, he pointed to the decision to have Jason Heyward on his Opening Day roster back in 2010 rather than keep him in the minors for three weeks to delay his free agency, and he pointed to Atlanta winning the Wild Card by a lone game that season as a beneficial outcome.) The Braves were in negotiations with the Tigers on August’s Erick Aybar trade, and when discussing the possibility of trading another player who was performing well at the time (Aybar hit .313/.361/.424 in the month preceding the trade), it was team president John Hart who made the suggestion to call up Swanson in his place. While Coppolella originally felt the move might be premature, vice chairman John Schuerholz quickly agreed, and as the trio talked it over, an agreement was reached to promote Swanson. The results, of course, have been excellent, as Swanson is hitting .313/.364/.424 through his first 110 big league plate appearances (a bizarrely similar line to the one Aybar produced between the All-Star break and the trade to Detroit).
Swanson joins a growing core of position players that have helped the Braves move from the worst-hitting team in baseball in the first half to one of the best in the second half (by measure of wRC+), as Coppolella pointed out (with a tip of the cap to Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan). Swanson, Ender Inciarte, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp and Adonis Garcia have all performed quite well in the season’s second half, leading Coppolella to once again state that his focus figures to be on pitching this winter.
“We have more money now than we’ve had in any of the 10 years that I’ve been a part of the Braves,” said Coppolella. “Our biggest needs are going to be starting pitchers. We have a lot of good young starters, guys with great arms, guys that we still really like. They have been somewhat force-fed into opportunities because of guys getting hurt and/or traded. So part of what we want to do is get guys that are more stable — not that we’re going to write off any of our young arms, we still like all them very much — but if we could add two veteran starting pitchers, that would really help our team.”
Another focal point for the Braves early in the offseason will be determining who will manage the team on a full-time basis in 2017 and beyond. Coppolella was quick to heap praise onto interim skipper Brian Snitker for the job that he’s done since Fredi Gonzalez’s firing, explaining that all he’s done is improve his own chances at shedding the interim label. However, the Braves will still conduct a search to determine the best candidate.
“Brian couldn’t have done any better,” Coppolella tells Olney. “…It’d be easy for this team, knowing that they’re not going to the playoffs, to just kind of go through the motions. That has not happened. These guys are playing hard every night. They’re doing great things every night, and that’s a big tribute to Brian as well as to this whole staff. … We’ll end up seeing which way it turns out. If he ends up being the guy — we aren’t set that he wont be, we aren’t set that he won’t be — we just feel that we owe it to our players, to our organization to at the very least talk to a few people without the Braves to see what they have to offer.”
Again, Braves fans will want to check out the entire segment, as Coppolella offers insights into the decision-processes, preliminary testing that has been done on wind patterns in an effort to gauge how SunTrust Park will play, and the strides that have been taken by Freeman in all facets of his game this season.