ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick – “Cras,” as he’s known in the biz – reported Monday that MLB’s investigation into Atlanta Braves improprieties will absolve team president John Hart of any wrongdoing. At the same time, Crasnick’s report offered this unflattering description of Hart’s managerial style. “Disengaged” was the word used by a source.
To those who monitor the Braves, this isn’t really news. Even when John Coppolella was still technically an assistant general manager, he was acting as a fully minted GM. The trades of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton, Alex Wood/Jose Peraza and Chis Johnson – all conducted from November 2014 through August 2015 – were Coppolella’s work. (He was officially named GM on October 2, 2015.)
Hart and Coppolella talked every day, many times most days – sometimes before the sun came up, sometimes after it set. It wasn’t as if Hart wasn’t interested in what the younger man was doing; he was, and he vetoed a trade or two. But Hart, whose family lives in Orlando and who has a place in the mountains, wasn’t always in the office.
When, in the wake of Frank Wren’s firing in September 2014, Hart acceded to John Schuerholz’s request to oversee things, that was the question many in baseball had: How hard was a guy who’d essentially taken early retirement – he was acting as a Braves consultant while appearing on the MLB Network – willing to work?
Hart’s principal role was to serve as Coppolella’s mentor, something he does well. (The number of Hart employees who rose to run their own organizations is in double figures.) Given that Coppolella resigned under pressure for what the Braves called violations in the international talent market – Crasnick notes the investigation had spread to the domestic draft as well – the mentor might have paid closer attention. Yes, that’s a classic second guess.
With Hart apparently getting a pass regarding any MLB sanctions, he figures to be the guy who’ll hire the next GM. At issue is whether Hart will hire that person and then go back to consulting. This is believed to an issue regarding Dayton Moore, the Kansas City general manager who essentially acts as his own president and who is unlikely to move for a lesser job.
(Oh, and that bit about the Royals refusing the Braves permission to speak with Moore? I’m not sure that’s the end of this. Read esteemed colleague David O’Brien’s perceptive assessment. )
Also of note: Ben Cherington, now a Toronto VP, has been mentioned as a possibility here. As a GM, he had one of the stranger careers ever. He succeeded Theo Epstein with the Red Sox when the latter moved to save the Cubs. Under Cherington, Boston won the 2013 World Series; that was the only winning season it had during his stewardship. He presided over a thriving farm system that included Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. Cherington was also the GM when the Red Sox ran afoul in the international market in 2015; they were later forced to forfeit five players they’d signed.
Back to Hart: If he isn’t included in any sanctions, that should mean that the Braves won’t have to let Schuerholz or Terry McGuirk do the hiring. But having your president branded as “disengaged” isn’t a compliment. I’d be surprised if Hart remains president much beyond this year. I would not be surprised if the Braves end up with Moore.