Fredi Gonzalez lost his job because Braves needed somebody to blame

042016 ATLANTA: Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers in ten inning during a baseball game on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was dealt losing hands by management the last two seasons but paid the price and was fired. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

If you choose to make the argument that Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t fired for this season but rather September collapses of years past, we can have that debate.

If you choose to make the argument that Fredi Gonzalez isn’t the right manager to nurture young players as the Braves attempt to build and re-brand themselves for the future, we can have that debate, too.

But the truth is, that’s bunk. That’s not why Fredi Gonzalez was fired Tuesday as much as the front office clones of John Coppolella and John Hart and John Schuerholz will attempt to spin it that way. They needed somebody to blame.

The Braves are a steaming pile of humiliation. But no front office executive has stepped forward and admitted, “We miscalculated our readiness this season.” Or,”We knew it would be bad but we chose not to say it.” Or, “Wow, is it possible we did something wrong?”

Gonzalez, solid baseball man and classy guy that he is, leaves without a counterattack. Celebrate that, while Coppolella, Hart and Schuerholz spin wonderful tales about a bright future in a new stadium.

They fired Gonzalez after a 9-28 start this season. Sure. Blame the manager. That’s the easy way out, right? Don’t take ownership and admit wrongdoing because that would plant seeds of doubt in fans’ minds about the blueprint moving forward. We can’t have that, not with the public sale of season tickets in a new stadium having begun.

Hart and Coppolella both said, “This isn’t Fredi’s fault,” Tuesday.

“Our bad start is not just laid at the foot of Fredi Gonzalez,” Hart said.

OK. But Gonzalez was fired, while Hart and Coppolella are still employed. And why is that?

Coppolella was considered a bright, young baseball executive when the Braves appointed him as Frank Wren’s successor. And maybe he is. The proof will be in whether enough of the prospects acquired over the past 18 months rise above, “Looks great on paper.”

But Coppolella has been delusional in his expectations of this season. He set Gonzalez up for a fall. His plan: long term. His suddenly obsession: short term.

The Braves didn’t believe Gonzalez deserved to be fired in the past. They pledged their loyalty. They vowed he was the manager to lead them. They lied.

I asked Coppolella in spring training about the difficult position Gonzalez had been placed in, given the rebuild.

His response: “We feel loyal to our manager and the staff. It’s a family here, and that’s what we’re trying to create here in the Braves’ organization, just like when John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox built the organization. Everybody has each other’s back.”

Funny. He didn’t say anything about a knife.

If Coppolella were to admit he was wrong for thinking the Braves would be a competitive and entertaining team in 2016 — not one that makes our eyes bleed — it would show honesty and humility. But I guess that’s not the “Braves way.”

While CEO Terry McGuirk has watched from a smudge-free distance: Schuerholz (vice chairman) fired Wren and brought in his pal, Hart as president of baseball operations; the two promoted Coppolella to GM; Hart and Coppolella preached to the masses about traveling down “parallel roads” and staying competitive during this makeover. (Horsepucky.)

Out went Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis and Alex Wood. In came lottery tickets that may or may not pay off.

The consensus win projection (this side of Coppolella’s dream world): 65 to 67. That assumed no major injuries or setbacks or arrests. (Stay tuned.) Coppy scoffed. He said this team was better than last year’s. We laughed. Coppy scoffed again.

A brief recap of what has happened:

Freddie Freeman, the team’s best remaining player, was hitting .177 three weeks into the season. (He has since rebounded to .284.)

• Leadoff hitter and center fielder Ender Inciarte strained his hamstring in only the third game and missed a month. (He’s back now, hitting .191.)

Hector Olivera, the Braves’ hoped-for Cuban miracle, was arrested for alleged domestic violence, and has proved nothing in the majors to this point, other than how to land a $62.5 million contract. His next hearing isn’t scheduled until July. Then baseball can administer its own punishment.

(Stop me when you find something you can blame on Gonzalez.)

• The defense makes the decision to deal Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels (for two prospect pitchers and Erick Aybar) look even worse. Coppolella assumed Aybar would be solid on defense and superior to Simmons at the plate. OK, Simmons was hitting only .219 with a .526 OPS before suffering a torn ligament in his thumb. But Aybar and Braves shortstops are hitting a combined .183 with a .425 OPS.

• The Braves, with 30 errors, rank next to last in the majors in fielding percentage (.978). There’s only one thing worse than having the worst starting rotation in baseball: Having the worst starting rotation, backed by one of the worst bullpens, backed by one of the worst defenses.

• Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, expected to be a backup last season until the Christian Bethancourt fallacy became official, stunned all by playing 113 games and hitting .300 at the age of 38. A market correction was inevitable. He’s now hitting .220.

Other than the steady Nick Markakis, there’s the heart of your improved lineup.

Fredi’s fault?

I’m not suggesting Gonzalez is Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy, the two most frequent names heard as “best manager.” But put one of those in the Braves’ dugout on opening day and what do you think the Braves’ record would be?

Fact: Analytics-driven blogs suggest a manager can make a difference in three to six wins per 162-game season. That’s less than two-to-four percent.

Gonzalez was set up to lose. Lose he did. Now he’s paying the price for somebody else’s mistakes.

The Braves trust Hart and Coppolella. We’ll see if their vision for the future is accurate — because they certainly were wrong about 2016.

Recent ramblings from the Digital Jukebox

Reader Comments 0

166 comments
Ryan Smith
Ryan Smith

Fredi GonZalez was fired because he HAD talent and underperformed while being outmanaged frequently in years past. He should have been let go when they fired wren. They tried to fire tosca at that time but Fredi said no and they kept both. Everyone forgets the bullpen misuse, the 9.5 game September collapse, and other questionable decisions like benching Heyward for 2 weeks in favor of Jose Constanza, during a playoff run.. This wasn't a 2016 problem. A manager isn't credited for winning a whole bunch of ball games, but it's certainly obvious when a manager gets out managed and loses a game for you, for whatever reason. That was the case with Fredi and also why he got fired

Coleman Rogers
Coleman Rogers

He made a lot of mistakes. Not even talking about this season.

ssuddeth
ssuddeth

@JeffSchultzAJC With the Braves 2015/16 roster, Jesus Christ couldn't win with this team without his father's help.

bobeileen
bobeileen

I don't find fault at the firing of Fredi Gonzalez. What I want to know is; who is going to fire the 3 stooges,i.e.Johns when this team doesn't fare any better in 2017,18 or 19? All they keep preaching is "we have to stock the farm system". Who pay's the price when the "stock" can't handle the job, the manager again?

Fols54
Fols54

@JeffSchultzAJC come on, as if that's the only reason...he also wasn't getting the best out of his players so there's that...

SebGuy
SebGuy

Now all the Fire Fredi people will be exposed as delusional types. The reality is that ownership and the FO is responsible for this mess.


Oh, and yeah, they were quite wrong about 2016 which means they will be wrong about contending again in 2017 too. This team isn't going to be competitive until at least 2018 2019 assuming they draft well and can sign a few good free agents.

OneLateralus
OneLateralus

@JeffSchultzAJC no he was removed because they knew they wouldn't be going forward with him and he's not a very good manager.

bdzbdz
bdzbdz

@JeffSchultzAJC I just want to know who actually thought the team would be any good to the point that led to them to be disappointed?

andystowe
andystowe

@JeffSchultzAJC who is to blame for taking pitchers out at 80 pitches? Who is to blame for using 2 relievers in the 9th with a 5-0 lead?

Ed Wood
Ed Wood

he is terrible - should have been fired years ago

Ed Wood
Ed Wood

on the road in the playoffs

Ed Wood
Ed Wood

He should have been fired immediately after leaving kimbrel to watch a 2 run hr

me
me

Not one mention of John Malone's (Liberty Media) role in the Brave's debacle. Reminds me of Wayne Huizenga's 1997-98 purge of the Miami Marlins.   So much for the legacy of John Schuerholz----'Worst to 1st to absolute worst'.

UGA75
UGA75

One of your best columns ever Jeff, and as you know I'm not a fan. Maybe the 3 John's will be charged with solicitation of hookers in Pittsburgh since they honestly believe they can do no wrong, Coppy had lost thousands in his fantasy league Baseball teams over the past 4 years, maybe that should have been a clue!

 

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

Fredi was nice guy and class act. Not a horrible manager but not a great one either. He struggled to win when we had talent and was on a one year contract. He clearly wasn't going to be the guy when the talent was ready to come up. We could have let him kill time until end of the season. What is difference if we fire him when he isn't the guy going forward. Does it matter whether we finish 30 games out or 40. The real question is whether he is the guy to develop the young talent. I guess the answer is no. Wish him well. It is us season ticket holders that have to suffer watching this team. Fredi doesn't have to watch anymore.

slydawg
slydawg

Maybe the did Fredi a favor, ya think? He wasn't going to be the Manger going forward. No need to waste time over the next 125 games when he can be free to get another job, while these young players "develope."

DrTruth
DrTruth

Yeah....If you missed John Hart on the original broadcast of the game tonight, catch the re-broadcast.  I'll say this much for him:  He's definitely a Master Bullshi**er!  I would NEVER believe a single word out of this guy's mouth.  He's a serial liar.

He (smartly) left Coppy up in their suite with his eyes glued to a freakin laptop....with a full Sippy Cup.

dputman
dputman

@DrTruth Agreed - did anybody notice that when he acknowledged front office responsibility for this dumpster fire of a team, he specifically mentioned Coppolella and "our staff" but somehow neglected to include himself?

APL
APL

If you go to a steakhouse for dinner and they tell you that the only thing left is hamburger, the price of your dinner goes down. How is it that the Braves are charging steak prices for tickets when putting something else (I won't insult hamburgers) on the field?  Since when is it the fans' responsibility to finance the rebuilding effort of a large corporation which, quite obviously, doesn't care about results on the field? I'm not really sorry I gave up my season tickets years ago.

flaco1999
flaco1999

The fish stinks from the head. Maybe it's the suits that need to go.

NYbrave
NYbrave

I listened to Hart on the broadcast tonight until I needed to throw up.  It's great that he "takes some responsibility" for the futility of this team, but what does that mean, exactly?  Admitting that you created a colossal failure of a team is nice, but why are the 3 Johns still employed?  What in the world have they done right?


Hart had the nerve to bring up 14 consecutive divisional titles tonight.  Really?  That started 25 years ago and ended 11 years ago!!  That's ancient history, dude.  Bobby Cox built that team and all the idiot Schuerholz did was go out and sign Greg Maddux with Uncle Ted's money.  Wow, that was a genius GM move.  Everyone knew how good Maddux was.  Ted just ponied up the money nobody else would.  What else did Schuerholz ever do besides trade Marquis Grissom, David Justice, Jermaine Dye, Adam Wainwright, Elvis Andrus, Nefi Perez, etc...?  Then he hired the genius Frank Wren.  Seems like the font office has laid an egg since the Maddux Signing...23 years ago!!  I don't think Fredi is at all responsible for this mess.  The 3 Johns are the ones who deserved to get fired.  How could anyone be expected to win with Aybar at shortstop, Grilli in the pen, and Hector Oliveras collecting the biggest paycheck.  SMH!!

Derrick Addison
Derrick Addison

You may be a writer(maybe), but you know nothing about baseball.

Eddie Newman
Eddie Newman

Blame the idiot GM that put a Double A team against Major League players. Everyone knew this team would suck, They have 2 major league players on the team Freddie and Nick.

Big Wally
Big Wally

Don't feel sorry for Fredi, he at least is done with this dumpster fire.  With the 3 stooges (John's) running this organization, it will be a train wreck for years.

Debbie Murphy
Debbie Murphy

Fredi was fired because 2011-2014 with talent couldn't win and had one collapse after another and he wasn't going to be back after this year so why prolong the agony and the inevitable

AlMorris
AlMorris

Thanks, Jeff Schultz, for telling the truth.  A sad day for Braves baseball.  This is a total classless act by the Braves.  I am afraid it is the new and hardly improved, "Braves Way."


DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

Get Roger McDowell out of town too. He should have been fired years ago following his tirade at a young fan and family.

mc1362002
mc1362002

I just saw that the Pirates scored seven runs in the first inning tonight against the Braves.    If the Braves get their butts kicked anyway with Gonzalez gone, does this make him look better?    Two things.  Yes, his firing was understandable, but they are also just a terrible team. 

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

Blame Liberty Media -- the worst ownership in sports.  John Hart is the worst thing that has ever happened to this city

cwoo
cwoo

Amen brother!

jebjr325
jebjr325

Freddie, "Free at last, thank God, I'm free at last".

redweather
redweather

I feel for Fredi. He knew this was coming and probably wondered why he was the guy who had to pretend that he was managing a major league team.

Mr Peabody
Mr Peabody

Just stupid.  You could see this writing on the wall all the way back when they let Heyward go. The only remaining question is what did Freddie Freeman do to get punished by making him stay?

Kwajbraves
Kwajbraves

Agreed.  Coppy misevaluation of talent is the reason why they are 9-28.  He put together a team of has been and never was and he was expecting a 500 team.  He is delusional. 

Roderick Rankin
Roderick Rankin

Hart is the individual that needed to be fired!!! Just wait and see the fruits of his work in the upcoming years. Releasing any player worth keeping, smh.

lynn718
lynn718

braves staff trades the talent, razes the expierence, and then expect a mere manager to win?

TheBystander
TheBystander

It's always easier to follow the guy that followed the legend

TheBystander
TheBystander

I was never a Freddi "guy". I thought he was too laid back. However, I think he did not deserve this fate. I said before, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken poop

mark513
mark513

You could put me in a manager and I could win 9 games, manager's in baseball have the least impact, but they still matter. From sitting Smith against lefthanders to his use of the bullpen Gonzalez is nothing more than a by the book manager that has neither inspired nor sparked any momentum. Coppolellla statement regarding the team this year was way off base but Gonzalez is paying the price for being an average to below average manager, not because of the team he was given to manage. Shultz and the media in this town love to rail on corporate america but management had nothing to do with a very justifiable firing. 

jonnycash
jonnycash

Good job Jeff. I think Schuerholz is as much to blame as anyone and there is a lot of blame to go around. It is hard to believe what they let happen. I I'll continue to say that they should apologize to the fans and at the very least all tickets for this year should be 2for 1. This is a minor league team and we should be charged minor league prices. They need the PR.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown

He was fired primarily because my cat can handle a pitching staff better than he could. Finally, thankfully, gone!

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

Solid work, Jeff. Much better than Bradley's "Coppy and Hart blew up the team and created a terrible roster but at least they feel real bad about it" front-office-boot-licking piece.

hamul2020
hamul2020

@JeffSchultzAJC To you, mediocrity is okay to manage the Braves. Maybe the Johns wanna change the culture, really contend for once.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@hamul2020 @JeffSchultzAJC Mediocrity is what the man had to manage for the past 5+ years. Not once had he been given a team that could legitimately compete for a title. The Johns put together a team they said was better than last year's embarrassment and it looks like this will actually be historically worse. But blame the manager. I look at this firing as a cowardly act by an organization without a spine or a true commitment to winning. John McGraw's reanimated corpse couldn't win 40 games with this dreck.