Brian Snitker has made this hard for the Braves. He did his job too well. He became something more than an interim manager. He became the man for whom John Hart and John Coppolella have nothing but esteem and affection. Put simply, Snitker — known universally and unfortunately as “Snit” — bailed his bosses out.
The Two Johns didn’t want to fire Fredi Gonzalez, whom they also liked, but they did because a 9-28 start forced their hand. Snitker “took a team that was spiraling out of control,” Hart said, and the interim manager eventually stopped the reeling.
Snitker was summoned from Triple-A Gwinnett to calm roiled waters. He did so much more that the Braves will probably make him their permanent manager. While it’s true that Fredi G. didn’t have Matt Kemp or Dansby Swanson, it’s also true that his Braves looked beaten before they began. Snitker’s Braves won 20 of their final 30 games and were 37-35 after the All-Star break.
Said Hart, the president of baseball operations, speaking at Monday’s postseason briefing: “We have the makings of a ball club. Our lineup is one that’s real now.”
We’ll never know if Terry Pendleton or Eddie Perez would have done the same had they been promoted instead. We know only that Snitker did it. He helped turn a terrible team into one that, as its final act, knocked the high-profile Tigers from the playoffs. If the Braves are a real team again, some of it was Snitker’s doing. For that, the Two Johns will be forever grateful.
Thing is, gratitude alone isn’t reason enough to keep him as manager. The Two Johns cannot say, “For saving our bacon, we’ll give you another year.” This needs to be a five-year hire.
If Monday’s media session — the panelists were Hart, Snitker and general manager Coppolella — seemed a bit uneasy because only two of three are assured of having the same jobs next week … well, the alternative would have been to omit Snitker, which would have been odd, too. He mostly sat with his arms crossed, though he didn’t seem in, er, a snit. “I’m comfortable in my own skin,” he said.
He knows what’s happening. Unless the Two Johns find a better outside candidate, he’ll manage the Braves in 2017. If you had to bet, you’d bet on Snitker. But Hart said Monday that he and Coppolella will meet with Bud Black, recently the Padres’ manager, and Ron Washington, who twice took the Rangers to the World Series. (Hart has worked with both.)
Hart again: “There are no secrets here. It’s an opportunity for us to have a different lens, to determine what we want for the Braves in the short term and long term.”
That last bit cuts to the heart of the issue. It might be tempting for Hart/Coppolella to extend Snitker a shortish contract — two years, maybe even one — but that would be a removal of his “interim” tag in name only. If they haven’t seen enough to believe he’s worthy of at least a three-year contract, they should hire someone else.
Hart: “We’re not afraid to make a hard or unpopular decision. If we do come back to Brian, it’s because he’s the guy we want.”
Snitker: “If I were them, I’d do the same thing. Someone might come in and blow them away.”
That could happen, which isn’t to say it will. Black was a pitcher and a pitching coach; the Braves are rebuilding around pitching. Washington was viewed as a player’s manager. Snitker is, too, and many Braves have taken to lobbying for him to be retained. Those same players lobbied for Gonzalez back in the spring. Players invariably prefer the guy they know, which means in-house popularity must be taken with several grains of salt.
Were I making this hire, I’d talk with Ron Gardenhire, who not long ago was the best manager in baseball. (The Twins fired him after the 2014 season. They just finished 59-103 under his successor.) I’d have interest in Dave Martinez, who has been Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Rays and Cubs, though Coppolella said: “It’d be very tough for us to hire a first-time manager.”
I’d look outside because … well, why wouldn’t you look outside before making such a hire? Said Hart: “It’d be ‘shame on us’ if we didn’t do that with this opportunity.”
Despite a longstanding uneasiness regarding the results of interim managers, who almost by definition rarely have a tough act to follow, I’d have no problem with the Braves keeping Snitker. He’s a baseball lifer and a good guy. My problem would be if the Braves kept him without first looking around, and Messrs. Hart and Coppolella are too smart to do that. No shame on them, then.