By JOSIAH TAKANG (@jtakang22_7) and JORDAN JACKSON (@air_jordan2019)
Photo credit goes to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Multiple reports out of Atlanta Tuesday indicate that Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been fired from his position after a league-worst 9-28 start. Stuck in the midst of a season scant on offensive production, the Braves haven't won consecutive games suffered a stretch in which they averaged just 2.7 runs per game and hit eight home runs as team.
Four players in the major leagues have hit more homers individually this season than the Braves collectively, who have 11 total.
Effective immediately, it appears he will be replaced by longtime third-base coach and current Triple-A Gwinnett Braves manager Brian Snitker as the Braves' interim manager through the end of the season. Gonzalez becomes the first Braves manager fired since Russell Nixon was dropped in June 1990 and replaced by Bobby Cox.
Gonzalez, 52, had previously managed the then-Florida Marlins from 2007-2010 and was named Atlanta’s manager in 2011 after Hall of Famer Bobby Cox retired. He had coached third base for the Braves for four years before landing the Marlins job. He was 434-413 as Atlanta’s manager and 710-692 overall as a major league manager.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca, who had also been an assistant coach under Gonzalez in both Atlanta and Miami, was also fired. First-base coach Terry Pendleton, a former Braves legend on the other side of the diamond at third base, was promoted to bench coach, with bullpen coach Eddie Perez moving to first. Gwinnett pitching coach Martin Reed will take up Perez's spot in the pen.
I remain ambivalent toward the firing. On one hand, I saw this coming, as the Braves got off to their worst-ever start to a season. In addition, Gonzalez had a history of making notoriously poor coaching decisions, most infamously during the 2013 NLDS, in which the rather depressing image below became the lasting image of the series and ultimately of Gonzalez's shortcomings as a manager.
The picture is of former Braves (now-Red Sox) closer Craig Kimbrel standing in some combination of disgust and irritation at not being used by Gonzalez in a high-stakes, late-inning situation against the Dodgers, who would go on to take the game and the series.
Fredi refused to bring Kimbrel out in the eighth inning with a man on second and Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe at bat. Uribe hit a two-run homer that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. When asked after the game why he didn't bring the best relief pitcher on the planet out in a high-leverage situation, Gonzalez replied with something to the effect of, "It was the eighth inning, and Kimbrel is our closer. He doesn't come out until the ninth."
To be fair, no manager alive was going to help this team leap into the elite of Major League Baseball, and no manager short of Jesus himself is going to come in and turn this team into the Royals overnight. The team was essentially a slightly higher-paid clone of any given Triple-A team, so it wouldn't be fair for Gonzalez to shoulder a majority of the blame. The Braves are not bad this year because of him. They're just a bad team overall.
Fredi is not to blame for this year. But he's never been a real plus factor, either. You lose nothing by firing him, because he brought nothing truly special to the table. The sundry issues with bullpen/bench usage, platoons and lineup construction were there even when the Braves had a competitive major league roster.
They just seem a lot worse now because the margin for error has shrunk so much. I agree that he was dealt an unfavorable hand (multiple unfavorable hands), and it's not his fault that the roster was gutted, and the guys they brought back have all been utter garbage, but this needed to happen. Fredi was never going to take the Braves where they wanted to go.
The Braves are gearing up for a move to a glittering new stadium in 2017 and are trying to develop young prospects into legitimate major leaguers. This season was never going to be about the wins and losses. However, there still must be a product on the field, and that product is abysmal. Someone had to be blamed and fired, and unfortunately, for GM John Hart, Fredi Gonzalez was No. 1 on that list. The next manager will be determined at some point in the next six months. The Braves really need to make a good decision here, for the future of the ball club, and for all of the long-suffering fans across Braves Country.
OK, Atlanta, you can stop with the rebuilding project now. We get it. You all are trying to pull a Kansas City or a Chicago. We understand that now, but this was just too far in my book. Was Fredi Gonzalez the best manager in the league? No. Did he make mistakes? Yes. What I just don’t get, though, is how can a front office expect so much from any manager when he’s been giving a roster just north of the Bad News Bears; but before I get to that, let me backtrack to when this all began.
In 2011 Fredi Gonzalez was hired to fill the void left by Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox. While in Atlanta, Cox received three Manager of the Year awards; he led the Braves to their third World Championship in franchise history, won five league pennants while managing the team and -- let’s not forget about the -- whopping 11 straight division titles while being at the helm of the Braves’ ship.
So to say that Gonzalez had big shoes to fill would be in contention for Understatement of the Year. In the year Fredi was hired, the Braves picked up Dan “Popeye” Uggla from the Marlins. Now at the time, that looked like a huge step in the right direction.
I was giddy with excitement myself. However, later on that move would prove to be fatal as Uggla was the definition of a bust. Strike one to the front office. Then the September collapse happens, and the Braves go from being playoff contenders to couch sitters.
"To say that Gonzalez had big shoes to fill would be in contention for Understatement of the Year."
Bobby Cox. Photo credit goes to oldtimefamilybaseball.com.
Many would question the management of the team during that time, and I would do the same. Even still, Fredi was not dealing with one or two guys who were slumping in which the quick solution would be to just take them out of the lineup or rotation and move on. No, what he was dealing with was much worse.
The entire team hit rock bottom. Craig Kimbrel couldn’t save a game, Jonny Venters pitched like he had never been on a major league mound before and Brian McCann -- who was viewed as an offensive powerhouse that year -- only hit a mere .183 with two homers in September. When an entire team collapses like that, there isn’t much room to place the blame on the manager. It is the players who need to be assessed.
The following year, 2012, can be summed up like this: Chipper retired, and the umpiring crew in that Wild Card Game have hopefully never umpired a baseball game for the rest of their lives. The Braves made it to the playoffs that season and were eliminated by factors that were out of their hands.
In 2013 everything was clicking again, and Gonzalez finally had a team with whom he could work. Fredi Gonzalez led the Braves to the top of the NL East division even while having to overcome injuries to key players like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, McCann and Venters. What I do find fault in with Gonzalez during that year is his managing during the NLDS against the Dodgers. His decision in Game 4 of that series to leave Kimbrel in the bullpen when they needed just four more outs is beyond my understanding. Moments like that are where I blame Fredi Gonzalez for not making the right decisions.
From 2014 to the present was the beginning of the end. That year the Braves announced their decision to move from Turner Field, and from that point on, Fredi was a victim to a larger plot. The Braves have been focused on moving to Cobb County -- not winning baseball games. This is evident in their “rebuilding process” which, in my opinion, is really a tactic to free up money to put toward SunTrust Park (which they do not deserve).
While they have built one of the best franchise systems in the MLB (on paper), they have been a dismal representation of a baseball team these past three seasons. While many fans would simply say, “Trust the process,” I, for one, do not buy it. The Braves were just a few key pieces away from being a legitimate contending team three years ago, yet the front office decided to throw all of that away for a new stadium.
Fredi Gonzalez was the fall guy, and I sincerely hope he is hired by a franchise that will work with him and give him the players he needs to be successful. Am I saying he needs to be spoon-fed a championship winning team? No. What I am saying is that Fredi Gonzalez is a good manager, and the Atlanta Braves never gave him a chance to prove that.