There were reasonable arguments to keep Fredi Gonzalez as the Braves’ manager. There were reasonable arguments to fire Fredi Gonzalez as the Braves’ manager.
But there was no reasonable argument to do what the Braves did Friday.
Interim general manager John Hart announced Gonzalez will return for a fifth season in 2015, despite the Braves going 7-18 in September, missing the playoffs for the second time in four years and finishing with the franchise’s worst record since 2008 (79-83).
I was neither in the “Fire Fredi” nor “Don’t Fire Fredi” camp. I merely believed the Braves should wait and leave that decision up to their new general manager. In fact, after GM Frank Wren was fired, both Hart and team president John Schuerholz said the decision on Gonzalez should and would be left up to the team’s new architect.
The fact Friday’s announcement was made means one of two things:
• Hart and Schuerholz lied. Their intent was to keep Gonzalez all along, regardless of whom the new general manager was going to be. If that’s the case, good luck to Schuerholz and Hart in the recruiting process as they tell candidates, “We’ve already made your most important decision for you.”
Or . . .
• This whole GM search is a bit of a farce. Hart told me Sept. 25 that he was open to remaining as general manager for a year or two while he mentored as young candidate, like Braves assistant John Coppolella. But the Gonzalez announcement suggests the Hart part of that equation is a done deal. Hart, Schuerholz and Bobby Cox haven’t made it a secret that they’ve supported Gonzalez all along and blamed Wren for the team’s ills.
Back to Gonzalez. I understand some of the arguments to fire him. The team fell apart down the stretch for the second time in his tenure. The Braves fell from 96 wins in 2013 to 79 wins with predominantly the same core, and not for the reason everybody would’ve projected: losing two starting pitchers in the spring, Kris Medlin and Brandon Beachy.
Gonzalez can’t hit for B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Chris Johnson or anybody else who fizzled this season, but ultimately the manager is responsible for getting the most out of his players. In that respect, Gonzalez failed.
Here’s my counter-argument. The Braves, while talented, have had a poorly constructed roster in the past few years. There was no legitimate leadoff hitter, no even real No. 2 hitter. They were overloaded to Nos. 3 to 7. Wren saddled Gonzalez with players who were low-percentage hitters and struck out too much. He made a big mistake on Upton, giving $75 million to a player that almost every other general manager avoided.
The Fire Fredi camp screams: The Braves underachieved this season. The counter: Is it possible winning 94 and 96 games the previous two years was overachievement?
Wren hired Gonzalez. But it wasn’t long before each quietly was blaming the other for the team’s problems. That’s usually how unsuccessful general manager-manager/coach relationships unfold.
My belief all along has been that both deserve blame but Wren deserves more because ultimately he is the team builder and saddled the franchise with lasting mistakes — Upton, Uggla, Kenshin Kawakami – that Gonzalez had to deal with.
So I’m fine with Gonzalez coming back next year to prove himself with a potentially improved roster. What I don’t understand is the decision of bringing him back being made now, before a permanent general manager is in place. It’s not like there’s a game to manage tomorrow.
And if Braves and Hart have decided that the general manager already is in place, just go ahead and announce that instead of continuing this charade.
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