Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Are Sweeping Changes Coming for the Braves?

This article was co-authored by Fred Owens and myself. After much discussion, we have some speculative theories about things we’ve all been seeing lately with the Braves.  Purely a speculative piece, we wonder if recent changes, hires, etc., coupled together with the planned move to Cobb County, are just the start of an overall evolution of the baseball culture and philosophy in Atlanta.  If you’re intrigued, read on….

 

We learned recently of the Atlanta Braves hiring John Hart as the organization’s new Senior Advisor, and we introduced you to him.  We now know that the Atlanta Braves have hired four more to various positions in the organization.

Former Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee was hired recently to be the Braves’ new minor league pitching coordinator, and takes the place of Dave Wallace who recently left the position to be the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles.

The other hires are Ronnie Ortegon as Minor League hitting coordinator, Rick Williams as special assistant to the general manager/pitching development and special assignment, and Bobby Mitchell as Minor League roving outfield and base running instructor.

Ortegon will be replacing Don Long who left to become the Cincinnati Red’s hitting coach.  Williams was reportedly hired to replace Dom Chiti, and Bobby Mitchell will take over for Doug Dascenzo who was recently promoted to be the Atlanta Brave’s 3B coach.

When Frank Wren was asked about the hires, he said….

We think the number of Braves Minor League personnel who have been recently promoted to Major League jobs speaks volumes about our player development program.  We are proud that they had opportunities within Major League Baseball, and we are also very excited about the quality of the four men we are announcing today.

You have to have good people in place, so Wren’s answer makes sense.  That said, two of these additions got our collective wheels turning; Harts hiring followed so quickly by that of Rick Williams.  Williams has been an MLB scout for the New York Yankees for the past seven seasons, was a pitching coach for the Rays from 1998 to 2000 before being promoted as a special assistant in the Ray’s organization.  As a former scout and pitching coach, Williams obviously brings a wealth of experience to the job of helping select and develop good pitchers.

The Braves pitching development program is supposed to be good however, so why do we suddenly need a special assistant to the GM for that, and a special assistant for baseball operations like Hart? When John Schuerholz resigned as General Manager in 2007, Terry McGuirk (then the Atlanta Braves’ President) created a position of Chairman for himself and gave Scheurholz the title of President.  It’s difficult to see why we need both positions since Shuerholz’ position was supposed to be largely as figurehead – a familiar face people had known.

Fred and I have discussed all this at length, and we wonder if this situation compares to the situation in Cincinnati when Walt Jocketty was brought in a special assistant in 2008, and a few months later became General Manager.  We have to wonder if the accumulation of bad signings and marginal trades in the Braves’ organization is causing enough concern that Braves’ Chairman Terry McGuirk might be acting like an unhappy owner and preparing for a change.

President John Schuerholtz is 73 years young.  When he resigned as GM he indicated he wanted to take things a touch easier, but has instead been seen actively advising General Manager Frank Wren over the past three seasons.  Has Schuerholtz told McGuirk he’s going to retire for real this time, and is McGuirk sufficiently disenchanted enough with what he considers problems in the front office, to give Hart and Williams more control and perhaps give one of them a better title?

Williams has been close with Yankees Assistant General Manager Billy Eppler for a few years now.  Eppler is a sabermetrics oriented AGM and it’s reasonable to assume that Williams is as well. The Yankees sent Williams to Japan to watch and evaluate Masahiro Tanaka and when the Yankees were scouting Yoenis Cespedes, Williams was there as well, which indicates they had confidence in his all around judgment.  The Yankees have said the 38 year old Eppler would be a GM one day.  Is it unreasonable to think his right hand man – perhaps with guidance from Hart – might make a good one as well?

Fred and I know this is pure speculation, but we like to entertain speculation at times.  I have said for many years that I think the baseball philosophy, strategy, and culture in Atlanta needs to change.  We have to wonder with all these coaching changes and new hires, whether things are going on that no one would really be privy to at this point, even the so-called reporting insiders.

What’s your take? Do you feel like even more sweeping changes are on the horizon in the front office? Are these small moves leading to a subtle change in baseball philosophy, culture, and strategy?  Are the Braves looking to take more of a sabermetric approach in years to come? If any of this true, what’s your take on this speculative new direction for Atlanta?

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