On Tuesday morning, word began to leak out that the Atlanta Braves had fired manager Fredi Gonzalez. Sure enough, as morning shifted to afternoon, the news was confirmed by the team – Gonzalez was out after five-plus seasons in charge of the Braves. Strangely, the reaction from Braves fans and media wasn’t uniformly positive – there were some people arguing that Gonzalez didn’t deserve to be fired and that he needed a chance.
To me, this line of thinking is patently ludicrous. How much rope should Gonzalez have gotten? He wasn’t hired after the 2014 season. He was hired after the 2010 season when Braves legend Bobby Cox retired. Gonzalez had been at the helm of the team for five full seasons, made two playoff appearances, and won one playoff game. That’s the same amount of playoff games Cox won in his final season with the team…though he started Troy Glaus at third base during that final NLDS against the Giants.
Gonzalez presided over a vicious Braves’ collapse in 2011 that resulted in them missing the Postseason. In 2012, the Braves played in the inaugural NL Wild Card playoff game and lost to the Cardinals. In 2013, the Braves won the NL East but fell to the Dodgers in four games in the NLDS. Craig Kimbrel, the best reliever in baseball, got in one of those four games. One of those games was *not* Game 4, when David Carpenter allowed a go-ahead two-run homer to Juan Uribe in the bottom of the eighth inning.
All in all, the Braves under Gonzalez won 279 games in his first three seasons. The only team in baseball to win more games over those three seasons (2011-13) was the Texas Rangers, who won 280. However, every MLB team that made the Postseason, with the exception of the Indians, ended up winning more playoff games than Gonzalez’s Braves. That deserves a second chance? Regular season success that results in absolutely no playoff success whatsoever?
Gonzalez was also the final link to the Bobby Cox era in Atlanta. A common set of talking points that have been rolled out following Gonzalez’s firing have been “why don’t the Braves fire the players/front office?” The answer to that is simple – because they already have.
The Braves used a total of 79 players over those three seasons. Only four of those 79 are still with the organization. Two of those four left the team only to return (Eric O’Flaherty, Arodys Vizcaino), and two have been Braves for the duration of Gonzalez’s tenure (Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran). How can you “fire the players” when all of the players have already been fired and Gonzalez is working with an entirely new roster?
As for “firing the front office”, that happened after the 2014 season when GM Frank Wren and nearly his entire regime were shown the door. Wren, farm director Ronnie Richardson, and scouting director Tony DeMacio were all sent through the moon door. So those advocating that the front office “gets fired” want a second turnover of the team’s upper management in a year and a half span? That seems like a great way to produce continuity and direction.
Everything surrounding the Braves had changed except for Gonzalez. He was the last domino left to fall, and arguably, the one that should have fallen first. He had shown himself throughout the years to be a poor tactical manager, and one who didn’t win anything in charge of the club. This wasn’t a Bobby Cox situation, where the Braves were making the playoffs year after year only to come up just short. In all but one (2000) of Cox’s playoff runs with the Braves, they won at least one playoff game. That’s as many as Gonzalez managed during his entire tenure.
And to me, that’s simply unforgivable, especially given the situation Gonzalez walked into and the roster he was provided with in his first four seasons. Those Braves weren’t a perfectly constructed club – Dan Uggla was a regular starter, for the love of all that is holy – but they were a team that should have done better. How those teams made just two Postseason appearances and won one game blows my mind, and that’s why Gonzalez was fired – not because the Braves were an embarrassing 9-28 when he was fired.
Since the Braves improbably hit the .500 mark at 42-42 last July, they cratered their way to a .296 winning percentage and a 34-82 record. That’s shockingly poor, and even if you want to stumble over yourself to provide excuses about how it’s not all on Gonzalez, he’s the only one that hasn’t paid the price over the last five years.
This wasn’t about 2016. It was never about 2016. It was about 2017 and beyond, and Gonzalez’s failures in the past. The only thing about his firing that really confuses me is the timing – why now? Why four games into a ten game road trip? The Braves could have fired Gonzalez after the 2015 season, but that might now have looked too great after they picked up his option for 2016 over the summer. They could have fired him after their 0-9 or 4-17 starts. Hell, they even could have fired him after this most recent homestand, in which they went 1-5 against the Diamondbacks and Phillies. But the team waited until after an 8-5 loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, and that’s the one part of all of this that boggles my mind.
Will the Brian Snitker era be any better? Probably not – the Braves lost 12-9 in his first game on Tuesday night, watching in horror as starter Aaron Blair allowed nine runs while recording just four outs. But hey, the Braves outscored the Pirates 9-3 over the final seven innings, so maybe there will be light at the end of the tunnel this season. One thing is for sure, though – the Braves can’t play their final 124 games under Snitker like they played their first 38 games. If that happens, we’ll be looking at a record season for futility.