This is how spineless sports executives do it when they’re trying to grease the skids for a firing.
Grumble in the shadows to local media members, and hope somebody bites. Second-guess every decision. Leak a juicy narrative to national media members (where somebody will always run with it). Throw out a job candidate for a job that doesn’t even exist yet.
The Braves aren’t merely a bad baseball team. It appears they also have lost their moral compass.
The latest: The Braves are “discussing whether to fire” manager Fredi Gonzalez, a “high-ranking Braves official” told USA Today. OK, that’s not exactly a newsflash. But the fact somebody in the organization would say that from the shadows speaks volumes about what has been going on in the Braves’ front offices. The publication also reported that former San Diego manager Bud Black “is considered the favorite if they hire a permanent manager,” which also repeats an old rumor.
The debate here isn’t whether the Braves are having a horrible season — they are — but rather what should have been expected. It has been an embarrassing year for the organization only because it was an embarrassing roster put together by first-year general manager John Coppolella and his quasi-mentor, John Hart.
Neither Coppolella nor Hart apparently have mirrors in their offices. Either that or they look in the other direction any time they walk past one.
So is this the “Braves way” now?
Coppolella and Hart have had a plan for two years to overhaul the roster, gut payroll, rebuild the minor-league system and attempt to lay a new foundation for the Braves’ future. That’s all fine. Really. I get the plan. It’s not brain surgery.
But there have been two problems. (Well, only two if you don’t count the Hector Olivera and Andrelton Simmons trades. For starters.). While Hart has been disingenuous about “travelling down parallel roads” — claiming the Braves would work to stay competitive while rebuilding (hah!) — Coppolella has been delusional about the team he has put together. He honestly believes this roster is better than that of a year ago. He can’t fathom why it’s not winning more, never mind that even the most devoted of Braves’ fans who believe in the makeover knew it wouldn’t win more.
Coppolella thinks this team should be better. A lot better. Never mind that the starting rotation is the worst in baseball. Never mind the array of flammable products in the bullpen. Never mind that any slight potential for improved offensive production in the every day lineup this season was submarined by Ender Inciarte’s hamstring injury (bad trend: he had one of those last season, too), and Freddie Freeman’s dreadful first three weeks, and Hector Olivera’s arrest (which isn’t to suggest he was a proven player before that), and A.J. Pierzynski’s market correction after hitting .300 at the age of 38 last season (currently: .222 at the age of 39). I could go on, but you get the point.
The Braves can’t hit (.228, 27th in majors). They can’t score (28th). They can’t pitch (4.69 ERA, 24th). They can’t field (22 errors, tied for second most).
But let’s blame the manager. Because it’s easy and convenient and the last thing team builders ever want to admit publicly is, “Hey, maybe this is our fault.”
They’re not 7-20 because they have a bad manager. They’re 7-20 because they have a bad team.
The Braves have already used 37 players this season. That includes 20 pitchers. We’re barely into May. Welcome to the land of opportunity.
I generally make it a policy not to address potential job candidates before a firing because I find the practice kind of classless. But I’m going to break that policy here because Black is linked with the latest Gonzalez firing rumors I mentioned above.
Black won two World Series rings, one as starting pitcher with Kansas City (1985), the other with the Los Angeles Angels as a pitching coach (2002). He was hired as manager in San Diego in 2007 and kept the job for nine years. He had two winning seasons. He never managed in the postseason.
Black’s cumulative nine-year record: 649-713 (.477).
Gonzalez’s cumulative 10-year record (six with Braves), even with the two-year franchise dump: 708-684 (.509).
Black almost was hired in Washington but apparently he overvalued himself in negotiations. “Insulted” by the Nationals’ offer, was the report. The going rate for managers with a .477 winning percentage must be higher than we thought.
The fact Gonzalez can’t fix this doesn’t make him a bad manager. It just makes him human.
Perhaps somebody in the front office should realize that and take ownership about what the real problems are.
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