The Braves extended Fredi Gonzalez a lifeline Friday — and he needs to make the most of it.
By giving him a one-year contract extension through 2016 (with a club option for 2017), management effectively told Gonzalez two things: 1) We put most of the blame for the team’s failures and fizzles from 2011 to 2014 on former general manager Frank Wren, not you; 2) We think you’re doing a good job with a young and undermanned team this season and we trust you moving forward.
The decision was the correct one, even if a loud segment of fans believe Gonzalez has gotten a pass since being hired as Bobby Cox’s replacement. Gonzalez needs to take some of the blame for the late-season collapse in 2011 (9-18 in September) and a failure to win a playoff round in his tenure, but he wasn’t working with great cards, either. And to blame him for the Braves going 42-47 in the first half this season is absurd, given the team’s rebuilding.
At some point, however, Gonzalez will have to prove he can take a team to the next level. That point is next season.
A one-year contract extension isn’t a major financial investment. Truth is, if the Braves suddenly morphed into a dumpster fire in the second half of this season and the Braves decided to fire Gonzalez — they won’t — paying off on a one-year contract isn’t going to ruin the Liberty Media.
But the screws tighten next season. It will be the Braves’ final season in Turner Field before they move to their new stadium in 2017. Management will want to see clear progress. There’s a lot riding on 2017 — like suite leases, season-tickets sales and corporate partners.
So Gonzalez should feel good about being given another year. But he needs to realize he has to make the most of it.
The extension wasn’t a surprise, given what president of baseball operations John Hart said to me in a recent Q&A, which you can read by clicking here.
Q: How has Fredi Gonzalez dealt with the personnel changes?
A: When we got together over the winter I told him: “You’re going to be a part of what we do here, as far as acquiring players, making deals and understanding the dynamic.” We made moves that Fredi knew were going to hurt him, but he never complained. He said, “Whatever’s good for the organization.” I know I haven’t given him all the weapons he needs. His handling of the bullpen — I look up and think, “Well, how could anybody (handle this group)?” He’s a winning man, he loves and cares about the Braves and he’s done a superior job. I was candid with Fredi: “I know you’re in your last year (of a contract). We’re making a run-through here, and we’ll make the call when it’s appropriate.” But Fredi is always ready to help figure out the solution to a problem.
Q: Will that be a tough call at the end of the year?
A: I don’t think so.
Q: As in, he’ll be brought back?
A: I don’t want to go there. There’s timing. But Fredi’s been really good. He’s been good to work with, and he’s done a good job with his staff. And this club may fall apart, but I know if it happens, it’s not going to be because Fredi forgot how to manage.