ATLANTA (AP) — For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, the Atlanta Braves are searching for a general manager.
Frank Wren was fired Monday with a week to go in the regular season, taking the fall for a late-season collapse that knocked the Braves out of playoff contention.
This will be only the sixth time in the last 23 completed seasons that the Braves missed the postseason, with a team that will be remembered mostly for its feeble offense. A few hours after Wren's dismissal, the Braves lost to Pittsburgh 1-0 for their 15th defeat in 19 games — and sixth shutout during that span.
With the Braves preparing to move to suburban Cobb County in 2017, corporate owners Liberty Media are surely aware that attendance is in danger of finishing at its lowest point since 1991. They will want a GM who can quickly overhaul the roster to make sure the team cashes in on its new stadium.
Here are things to watch for as the Braves begin their search for a general manager:
SEARCH COMMITTEE: The hiring will be conducted by a three-man committee comprised of team president John Schuerholz, interim general manager John Hart and retired manager Bobby Cox. All three have extensive GM experience, though there are questions about the lack of youth on the panel. Schuerholz and Cox are both 73, while Hart is 66. Are they out of touch with some of the newer player-evaluation techniques? "We are well-represented there," Schuerholz insisted. "Our baseball world has turned to that. We are analyzing numbers as much as we analyze a guy being able to backhand a ball and throw somebody out at first base. We're doing that. It's part of our world now. We'd be silly not to have an open mind about it."
POSSIBLE CANDIDATES: The most obvious candidate is Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who began his career in the Braves' organization. But he has two years left on his contract, is a native of Kansas, grew up a Royals fan, and is hugely popular for taking a long-downtrodden franchise to the brink of its first postseason since 1985. Also keep an eye on Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella, who would be another popular pick within the organization. Hart could also be in the running, but he seems more of a fallback position given his age and desire to remain a Braves adviser who doubles as an analyst for the MLB Network.
THE CLOCK IS TICKING: If the Braves don't hire a new GM in the final week of the regular season, which seems unlikely, they would likely have to wait until after the playoffs. Major League Baseball has a rule against major news being announced during the postseason, though a team can ask for a waiver. The Braves would surely like to have someone in place by the general manager's meetings, which will be held Nov. 10-12 in Phoenix. Then come the winter meetings, which are set for Dec. 8-11 in San Diego. Hart noted that the Braves must also be mindful of other teams in the market for a new GM, a list that includes only Atlanta and Arizona at the moment but could get longer after the season.
ROAD BLOCKS FOR THE NEXT GUY: The Braves are no longer one of baseball's biggest-spending teams, ranking around the middle of the pack this season with a total payroll of about $110 million. The next GM will deal with the financial challenge of retooling the roster while saddled with $13 million for the final year of Dan Uggla's contract (even though he's not even on the team anymore), along with three more seasons for B.J. Upton's $75.25 million, five-year deal. Liberty Media is unlikely to raise the payroll much until the Braves move into their new stadium. "Life is full of challenges," Schuerholz said. "Intelligent and brilliant and hard-working people find answers to challenges."
FREDI'S FUTURE: Once a new GM is in place, the first big decision will be deciding if Fredi Gonzalez returns as manager. That seems likely, given he has led the Braves to two playoff appearances and an NL East title in four years as a manager. Also working in his favor: he shouldn't be blamed for the feeble offense that Wren assembled and has strong support from the previous manager. "I think Fredi has done a remarkable job since taking over for me," Cox said.
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