The running joke up in the Braves executive box dates back to shortly after the lopsided 2015 winter meeting trade that netted, among other commodities, All-Star centerfielder Ender Inciarte.
So busy were the two Johns – Hart and Coppolella – moving pieces that no one was safe. But Bobby Cox, the ol’ skipper with a little GM in him, too, needed some safe harbor in the roiling seas of the Braves rebuild. Thus whenever he saw the chance, he’d plead with leadership: “Don’t trade this guy. Don’t trade this guy.” That guy was Inciarte.
“So, now,” Coppolella said, “every time we see Bobby and Ender ends up making a good play, we just turn to Bobby and say, ‘Don’t trade this guy.’ And we laugh.”
All laughter concerning that trade is most assuredly one-sided. The donor in that deal – the Arizona Diamondbacks – just left town having been swept in a three-game series. Over those three games, Inciarte was 7-for-13, raising his season average to .310.
At the time of the five-player trade – Braves starter Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier for Inciarte, infielder Dansby Swanson and pitcher Aaron Blair – another name was dominating the discussion.
That would be Swanson, the Marietta kid whose Braves homecoming contained trace elements of fairy dust. When called up last season, his splash was wave pool-worthy. This season, not so much. There are issues with both the mediums of leather and wood.
Meanwhile, the outfielder for whom the Diamondbacks could find no secure place is making himself into an elite, some would say elegant, player.
And dare we say that Inciarte has transformed into the rarest of Brave – the untouchable player when talk turns to the next shape-shifting trade? The status that only Freddie Freeman enjoys.
No, certainly, do not trade this guy.
“He’ll be in centerfield in SunTrust Field for a long, long time,” Coppolella said during a pre-All-Star break conversation. We’ll hold him to that.
This resumption of play after the All-Stars got through taking all their selfies has been very good thus far for the now .500 Braves. Particularly so for the GM, given that Arizona happened to swing through town, providing a handy reference to the best deal of his brief regime.
Coppolella resisted any urge to do a home run trot around the bases or spike his overheated cellphone in triumph at the close of the Arizona series Sunday. In fact, when discussing the trade earlier, he expressed puzzlement as much anything else.
“The biggest surprise for me is what happened to Shelby Miller,” he said. (Miller struggled in the desert and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery.)
“Shelby Miller was really good for us,” Coppolella said. “He threw a shutout (eight innings) the last game of the (2015) season. He was our lone All-Star in 2015.
“We felt we were getting back good value which was important to us because we felt we were trading away a front-line type starter. People always ask me: Did you see something coming with Shelby Miller? To which we say, no way. This was a guy who finished the year strong. Had great make-up. A great arm. Just shows you it’s a tough game. You can make the right move for the right reasons and it just doesn’t work out. These are people, not robots.”
There is the lesson for today: General managers in general resist the urge to talk trash after a big win. They do not gloat. They do not roast marshmallows on the bonfire of their victories.
Good to know.
A Braves general manager is going into the Hall of Fame at the end of the month. To get there, John Schuerholz had to swing a passel of deals that favored his franchises in Kansas City and Atlanta.
At this stage of his career, Coppolella knows any comparisons between Schuerholz and himself are superficial at best. “We have the same first name. We have 10 letters in our last names. We both started out from the very bottom and worked our way up. That’s about it,” he said.
Just a couple dozen more maneuvers like the one that delivered Inciarte, that’s all, and Coppolella will draw a little nearer his front office forefather.