Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

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


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.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.