ATLANTA, GA—Braves officials were taken by surprise earlier this afternoon when a league official informed the team they have a major league schedule they will be expected to play out in 2016.
“This comes as a surprise to us,” Braves General Manager John Coppolella admitted. “We really did not have this on our radar right now.”
Earlier in the day, Coppolella told the media the team was actively looking to get rid of Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, saying that both had been members of the franchise for too long. “Freddie and Julio have been great guys to have in the clubhouse, but it’s time to move them along and get some fresh blood in there,” Coppolella said.
However, the team is having difficulty moving them, Coppolella noted, because the Braves have already used the rest of their major league talent to stockpile minor league pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery, and they are now running low on potential trade partners. “Most of the other teams out there do not have many of the type of prospects left we are looking for,” Coppolella said, “Ideally we’d like to have a variety of prospects to choose from in a trading partner, but we were so active last winter that we were able to get most of the guys that fit our prototype, and so few Tommy John surgeries were performed over the summer that there is a real shortage of pitchers recovering in farm systems right now.”
After hearing Coppolella’s comments about Freeman and Teheran, a league official sent the team a memo reminding them that their appeal to have their major league operations suspended during their retooling process had been rejected, and that they would be expected to fill out a 25-man major league roster at the end of Spring Training.
“I was never notified about that. This is the first I have heard of it,” Coppolella said when he was reached for comment. “When I took this job, I was under the impression that I was supposed to continue the work I was doing as the Assistant GM. There I had been instructed to dismantle the major league team and restock the farm system, so I had assumed the team’s petition for a short-term recess from MLB had been accepted. This will definitely change the game plan I have been following.”
Coppolella further noted that the team will be opening a new ballpark in 2017, and that he is appalled the league is going to make them play this year in their old one. “This place is like 20 years old—it’s outrageous we are going to have to play ball games here next year when we will be opening a new ballpark so soon. All of the elements were in place for our petition to be accepted, so I really don’t know why [the league] rejected it. But, that’s life. If we have to play next year, we will play.”
When asked if he felt pressured to construct a major league roster in such a short time frame, Coppolella dismissed the idea. “April is a long way away. We are not concerned in the least about whether we will be able to assemble a team or not.”
A source close to the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, disagreed with Coppolella’s statement and said that the atmosphere in the Braves front office is decidedly panicked. “Coppy was shocked at first—he really didn’t see this coming. Now that it’s sunk in a bit, he is putting on a bold face for the media, but he has started to panic, and everyone else in here are kindof taking their cues from him.”
This source believes things will settle down after a while, though, and is confident there will be nine players taking the field in a Braves uniform on Opening Day. “We may have to turn some of our minor league pitchers into athletes and have them fill in some other positions in the majors for awhile. There’s also a lot of semi-pro leagues around here and some church softball teams that we can take a look at to find some guys who can wear a glove on their hand and take the field. So it’s really not that big of a deal—we’ll get something worked out before the season starts.”
Coppolella went a step further and expressed some optimism about the 2016 season. “We know the fans in Atlanta want to see competitive baseball again, and I have no doubt we will be able to give them that this year, even if it is a bit sooner than I was expecting,” he stated through a text message this evening. “I expect there to be some close contests this season, some nail biters, some exciting baseball. I think fans will be surprised by the product we will put on the field,” adding that with the fans’ demands for competition, the team is anticipating sellouts against each contest played against Philadelphia, and is scheduling their promotional giveaways accordingly.