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Named John Hart president of baseball operations; signed him to a three-year contract. [10/23]
It took a month, but the Braves finally determined who would dictate their moves heading forward: the same folks who did so during the intermittent period.
Hart, previously the interim general manager, takes on a greater role and fancier title. Evaluating him as a decision maker these days is borderline impossible. He hasn't called plays in a full-time capacity in nine years, and before that his track record was mixed—a brilliant, innovative run with Cleveland anchored by a miserable stay in Texas. If Braves fans want an encouraging example of an executive returning from hiatus to immediate success then Dan Duquette is their man. Otherwise, who knows.
That uncertainty bleeds over to the direction Hart will take this offseason. Ben Lindbergh wrote last offseason about how the Braves had a ticking clock, product of a young core growing more expensive with each passing year. Atlanta has since locked most of those players into long-term deals, ending that concern. Yet the Braves remain on the clock for another reason, as Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are entering their walk years. There's a real possibility Hart has an entirely new outfield come '16.
As such, one wonders if Hart will shop Upton and Heyward for a long-term piece or two this winter. The Braves have enough talent to envision another run at the postseason, but not enough talent to classify a playoff berth as a near-certainty. Replacing Upton or Heyward with Evan Gattis (or some stand-in outfielder) would make the Braves worse in the short term, however, and it's unclear if Hart would consider that option following a disappointing 2014.
Another big issue for Hart this winter will be solving a messy rotation situation that could see the Braves lose Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, and Gavin Floyd through free agency. Other issues complicating Hart's job are Mike Minor's shaky efforts last season, the unreliability of Kris Medlen (a plausible non-tender candidate) and Brandon Beachy, and unexciting internal options. If Hart does get active on the free-agent and trade fronts, he won't be able to devote all his resources to the offense.
Regardless of what Hart does to the roster this winter, he should serve another purpose for the Braves. Hart, known as one of the best executive mentors in the game, ought to help groom John Coppolella—the assistant GM who has been said to have a big hand in overhauling the Braves' scouting department—to the point where he can ease into the GM role before completely taking over as Hart's deal expires.
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