Every industry reaction to Fredi Gonzalez’s firing by the Atlanta Braves comes back to the same theme: He was a good man stuck in a bad situation, and any fan, player, media member or colleague who crossed his path through the years would have to seriously reach to say a negative thing about him personally.
If Gonzalez’s deficiencies in developing young players or running a game weren’t quite on a par with his people skills, his supporters can point to his 434-413 record and two postseason appearances in Atlanta as evidence that the guy can manage a little bit.
And the people who vilified him on Twitter every night, ad nauseam, can feel free to vent their anger on something else. You know who you are.
In this respect, it was almost a relief to see the Braves cut the cord Tuesday morning, promote Triple-A manager Brian Snitker to be interim manager through the end of the season and buy themselves some time to think long term with their next hire. They’ll move into SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County in 2017, and the hope is that they’ll be able to expedite the rebuilding process in the same way the Phillies have this season.
It’s only natural to ask why the Braves felt impelled to make a change at this point. In the name of a long-term revamp, management has gutted the roster to the extent that the Braves are a lock to lose 100 games. Subtract Freddie Freeman’s six home runs, and they’ve hit a total of five home runs in 37 games. So now that they’re 9-28 and on a pace to go 52-110, why make a human sacrifice of the manager?
The answers would require a grasp of the organizational dynamic that run deeper than any outsider can discern. But the consensus in baseball circles is that all the roster revamping and change in Atlanta probably resulted in some fraying of relations between Gonzalez and management. Change was coming, so there was no point in postponing the inevitable. “Fredi was saying all the right things publicly,” one MLB official said. “But if you read between the lines, you could see more and more that the relationship was getting strained by some of his comments and his lineup decisions. There was so much alienation, it was probably starting to be an antagonistic relationship.”
At this point, Braves fans obviously care more about where the organization goes from here. Once Snitker completes the season and the Braves seek a long-term replacement for Gonzalez, what names will club president John Hart and general manager John Coppolella consider in their efforts to put a more competitive product on the field?
A lot of recent speculation has focused on former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black, a man who checks a lot of boxes. He’s particularly adept at developing pitching, and he was in the mix for the Washington job last winter before the Nationals hired Dusty Baker under somewhat murky circumstances.
Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is another highly regarded veteran baseball man who could wind up on the radar. But the Braves will have to answer two interesting questions before they pursue Black or Gardenhire. One is money. The other is how long they expect to suffer with young players before they plan to contend.
“The Braves aren’t known for paying well,” an American League executive said, “and I think they need someone who can be in ‘development mode.'”
If the Braves follow the recent trend of trying to find a star manager with no experience, Mark DeRosa could be in the mix. It’s instructive that two executives with different clubs mentioned DeRosa, a 16-year MLB utility player and former Brave who is now a commentator for the MLB Network.
“I think he’s a guy with upside,” a National League executive said. “It’ll take some time, but he’s no different than [Brad] Ausmus or [A.J.] Hinch or [Mike] Matheny or [Robin] Ventura. Guys like him. He was a clubhouse leader everywhere he went.”
If the Braves want to stay in-house and pick someone from the current staff, they could consider Bo Porter, who has had time to learn and move on since a rocky tenure in Houston, or Eddie Perez or Terry Pendleton, who remain on the team’s coaching staff but were passed over for Snitker for the interim job.
One wild card in the equation: special assistant Chipper Jones. He has a big personality, and there’s no doubt he would be entertaining. But a person familiar with Jones’ thinking said he’s not interested in managing the Braves in 2017. Interestingly enough, Jones is known to be a big DeRosa fan and might be an advocate for DeRosa if the Braves solicit his opinion on the next hire.
At the moment, those are all questions for another day. Fredi Gonzalez is out of a job, the Braves are trudging along toward 100 losses, and connoisseurs of managerial death watches can now focus exclusively on Ausmus’ shaky tenure with the Detroit Tigers. Another day, another vigil.