Column: Braves make only logical choice, hire Snitker

The Braves have hired interim manager Brian Snitker as their full-time manager for 2017, making a decision that I believe was the only logical choice in their search for a manager.

Snitker became the interim skipper when Fredi Gonzalez was fired on May 17 after the Braves’ 9-28 start to the season.  Under Snitker the Braves were 59-65, on their way to a 68-93 finish, with a 37-35 record after the All-Star Break.  This includes the team going 30-25 after the acquisition of Matt Kemp, 20-10 in their final 30 games, and 12-2 in their final 14.

Snitker, 61, said his formal interview was the first job interview he had ever had, although he felt his job as the interim served as somewhat of a four-and-a-half month interview, one which he nailed.

“I did all I could do,” Snitker told 680 The Fan on Tuesday.  “I didn’t change, I felt comfortable and very proud of how we finished and what we accomplished along the way.”

When the club hired him as interim, they had no intentions of hiring Snitker, a 40-year veteran of the Braves organization as both a major league coach and a minor league manager, but president of baseball operations John Hart said the team’s results down the stretch made Snitker a strong candidate, resulting in the team giving Snitker a contract to manage the 2017 season, with a team option for 2018.

“Quite frankly we didn’t (expect to hire Snitker),” Hart told 680 The Fan on Tuesday.  “We came in with the idea to hire what we felt was the right guy for this job, and we felt we were going to go outside (the organization).

“But we kept our eyes open, watched results of the club, the masterful job that he did with the club, the way they played, and he created such a great environment and atmosphere, so as we went through the last six to eight weeks we started talking about it.  It was tough, because we had some great candidates, but usually when you bring in a new manager it’s because you’re not happy with what has been happening, but we were.”

But in addition to the strong play of Snitker’s team on the field over the final 124 games, another reason Snitker was the best fit for the job was a relatively weak managerial market this offseason, including no one who would fit the Braves as well as Snitker.

Bud Black and Ron Washington were reportedly the two outside candidates who interviewed for the job.  Black, a 59-year old former major league pitcher with ties to both Hart and Braves chairman John Schuerholz, managed the Padres from 2007-15, but never had a team who made the playoffs, and finished with an overall record of 649-713 (.477 winning percentage).  Some say Black did all he could with the players he had, but at some point a manager needs to take the next step, and he never did in San Diego.

Washington, a 64-year old former major league shortstop, has a better managerial record than Black, after guiding the Texas Rangers to the World Series in 2010-11, and to within one strike of the title in 2011 before the St. Louis Cardinals’ famous Game 6 comeback.  Washington went 664-611 (.521) with the Rangers, but resigned in late 2014 after an extramarital affair.  In this decade, Washington has been accused of sexual assault, and has tested positive for cocaine use.  While the Braves did not pick Washington as their manager, they did hire him to be on Snitker’s staff as third-base coach.

Black and Washington appear to be the best candidates across the board in an unusually weak managerial market for MLB teams searching for a leader this offseason.

The Braves also interviewed internal candidates Terry Pendleton (bench coach), Eddie Perez (first-base coach) and Bo Porter (third-base coach, former Astros manager), but through the process admitted that, even while each of the three had a solid interview, it would be “difficult” to hire one of these three as manager given the terrific job Snitker had done as interim.  Pendleton and Perez will remain in their current roles, although Perez is expected to interview for the Colorado Rockies’ managerial position, while Porter will move to the front office in an advisory role.

With this field of candidates, the Braves made the best choice, and in my eyes the only logical choice, in hiring Snitker as skipper for the 2017 season, the inaugural season at SunTrust Park.

The Braves also announced the balance of their coaching staff, including retaining Kevin Seitzer as hitting coach and Marty Reed as bullpen coach, hiring Washington, and promoting minor league pitching coordinator Chuck Hernandez to become Snitker’s pitching coach, replacing Roger McDowell, who parted ways with the Braves last week.

Hernandez, 56, has previous stints as a major league pitching coach with the Angels (1992-96), Rays (2004-05), Tigers (2006-08) and Marlins (2013-15).  Considering those stints include the early-career development of Justin Verlander and Jose Fernandez, and considering the Braves were looking for someone with a strong track record developing young pitching given the wealth of talent they have stockpiled in the minor leagues, this is also a good hire.

But today is Snitker’s day, as after managing thousands of minor league games in the Braves system and guiding the big league team through a long, tough season, he has been given the keys to the longest continuously-running franchise in professional baseball.

Snitker is known as a “player’s manager,” and many of the Braves players fought for him to be the permanent manager as the possibility became clear in the final weeks of the season.  Braves broadcaster Don Sutton even compared Snitker to Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Walter Alston.  Several players publicly voiced their approval on Tuesday at the news that Snitker had, in fact, been hired.

“Really happy to hear that Snit is coming back,” center fielder Ender Inciarte told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “He deserves this opportunity and we are all excited to play for him!”

Snitker is humbled by easily the highlight of his baseball career, as he can finally say he is one of 30 men on the planet who currently manage a Major League Baseball franchise.

“I’m very blessed, fortunate, and honored to be able to take on this job,” Snitker said.

I’m glad Snitker has been given this opportunity.  Because he earned it.