Grading the General Managers: Bobby Cox (1986-’90)

(Grades for Bobby’s predecessors here.)

Had Toronto not won the AL East in 1985, Bobby probably would’ve returned to the Braves as manager, a job he held just four years earlier. Ted wanted him back, the story goes, but wasn’t certain he would accept. Desperate to make a splash, he turned to Chuck Tanner. Worried that the Yankees would hire Tanner, Ted pounced, and four days after the regular season ended the former Pirates skipper was hired. Bobby, who maintained a home in Marietta, agreed to fill the GM opening.

The Braves were in worse shape than anyone realized. They were aging faster than anyone expected. Bruce Sutter, their highest-paid player, was damaged goods. Bob Horner was never going to be a superstar, and Dale Murphy wouldn’t be one much longer.

Bobby’s  first big trade didn’t work out so well but reflected his desire to rebuild through young arms. Philly received future Cy Young winner Steve Bedrosian and useful platoon outfielder Milt Thompson for catcher Ozzie Virgil, king of the meaningless home run, and Pete Smith. Had Smith, Philly’s first round draft pick in ’84, stayed healthy the deal would’ve looked far better.

In the meantime, Bobby was determined to rid the team of dead weight. He released Rick Camp, Len Barker, Terry Forster and Pascual Perez on April Fool’s Day, 1986. Only Pascual would go on to have success with another team.

Bobby’s first draft was dynamite, though only top pick Kent Mercker would play for the Braves, who couldn’t sign Steve Finley, Ben McDonald and Tim Salmon. But luck was on his side when he made an otherwise questionable deal, sending future bullpen ace Duane Ward to Toronto for Doyle Alexander. Two years later, he would flip Alexander for John Smoltz, which remains the greatest trade in Atlanta Braves history.

His little deals were the best ones. He acquired, in  separate trades, Charlie Leibrandt, Marvin Freeman and Francisco Cabrera for Gerald Perry, Joe Boever and Jim Acker. Signing Lonnie Smith off the scrap heap was anotheer shrewd move. And his drafts yielded Steve Avery, Mike Stanton, Mark Wohlers, Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones.

Bobby’s inability to trade Murph at the right time could’ve haunted the franchise, but again luck was on his side. Prior to the ’89 season the Mets agreed to send Lenny Dykstra, Howard Johnson and Rick Aguilera to the Bravos for the two-time MVP prior, but but Bobby insisted on pitcher David West and the deal fell apart. It would’ve been a terrific trade; Murph finished the season with a .228 BA and career-worst .667 OPS while HoJo hit 36 homers and Aguilera excelled in relief, striking out more than 10 batters per 9 IP. Dykstra missed much of the season to injury but his best days were yet to come.

Had Bobby made that deal the ’91 team would’ve looked much different. Certainly TP wouldn’t have become a Brave — not with HoJo entrenched at third. Otis might not have come here, either, due to Dykstra’s presence. Who knows how that season would’ve played out.

That said, Aguilera’s 42 saves would’ve come in handy that year. Instead, the Braves ended up with Jeff Parrett and Jim Vatcher.

But those missteps don’t obscure Bobby’s place in franchise history, not only as a manager but as architect of the early 90s Braves. He acquired one Hall of Famer while drafting another. How many GM’s can say that?

Grade: B+


One thought on “Grading the General Managers: Bobby Cox (1986-’90)

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  1. The man drafted the greatest Atlanta Braves position player of all-time, Larry Wayne Jones, A+ in my book.

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