Yesterday late morning, the news came out from Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Atlanta Braves fired former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez from their own managerial position.
The #Braves have fired manager Fredi Gonzalez.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) May 17, 2016
This was the first time the Braves have fired a manager since 1990, though, to be fair, that is the year when they hired legendary manager Bobby Cox to take over for the soon-to-be wildly successful Braves. Gonzalez finishes his tenure as Braves manager with a 434-413 record, good for a .512 winning percentage. Gonzalez twice led the Braves to playoff berths, including a division title in 2013, but never won a playoff series in those two tries.
This is not about Gonzalez's successes or failures as a manager for the Braves. But when I personally read the news, it was disappointing to see Gonzalez go through another firing for an undeserved reason. The truth is that the Braves have had firing Gonzalez on their mind for a while, ever since former general manager Frank Wren was fired and replaced by John Hart. That was at the end of 2014, when the Braves started struggling after a decent start to the year.
If there was a deserving time to fire Fredi Gonzalez, it was maybe as the team was undergoing a thought-out rebuilding process, as they began in the offseason before 2015. But the Braves did keep Gonzalez, and only now are firing him after a roster the front office built with expectations of poor play...played poorly!
It reminded me very much of the time Gonzalez was fired by the Marlins. The circumstances were different, but the pretext for the firing was similarly unjust. If you will recall, the Marlins hired Gonzalez in 2007 after firing Joe Girardi for essentially insubordination with regards to owner Jeffrey Loria. Then Fredi Gonzalez did a halfway decent job with an emerging roster. In 2009, the Fish started off the year red hot at 11-1 and finished the season 87-75, just a few games out of the Wild Card spot. For a team that was not really expected to compete and a club that had its share of holes on the roster, this was a surprising result. As Marlins fans, I think we were all pretty happy.
Except Loria was not happy. Loria expected a playoff berth after the hot start and the near-miss. Rather than blaming the front office for starting the season with Emilio Bonifacio at third base or not supplementing the roster with added talent (save the admittedly smart Nick Johnson trade), Loria blamed Gonzalez for failing to coach the team to a playoff appearance.
Is it possible Gonzalez's managerial moves hurt the roster enough to miss the playoffs? Probably not. Again, Gonzalez was not the sharpest manager, but he was not some egregious error machine like other worse managers, and again, managerial moves are one of many of a manger's responsibilities. Was it possible his clubhouse management was poor and the team was suffering from chemistry problems? There were two incidents in the last two full seasons between Gonzalez and star Hanley Ramirez, but it was hard to tell who exactly was at fault. One could blame Gonzalez for having issues in the first place, but Ramirez was not necessarily the easiest person to deal with; who knows how someone else might have done?
More importantly, how could one have expected Gonzalez to be the man to make the difference between a likely true-talent 82-win team and a playoff berth? When your roster is starting Jorge Cantu at first base and Bonifacio at third base, and when the team makes no offseason moves to improve the roster from around a true-talent .500 team, how can you expect the manager to be the deciding factor?
Jeffrey Loria may have fired him for reasons above and beyond the playoff issue, but that was what was prominently discussed in the media. Loria may not have liked that Gonzalez and Ramirez clashed as well. The bottom line is that if the Marlins felt they needed a change, that change should have happened as soon as the decision was made rather than waiting for part of the season to unfold. When Gonzalez was finally fired, it was an unfair move based on half a season of .500 ball that may have been the Marlins' true talent all along!
Flash forward six years later and Gonzalez is once again getting fired later in the process than a front office desired for the faults the front office made. The Braves' roster is loaded with older replacement-level talent and trade away even their cost-controlled young players for future value, clearly signaling a rebuilding process. When a roster that was built with losing as a real expectation lost, Gonzalez was the first to take the blame, when in reality the front office played the biggest role in assembling the skeleton crew he had.
Twice now, Gonzalez has suffered a firing at the hands of a front office that built him a roster that did not meet expectations. If the Braves wanted to win more than this, they should have had better players. If the Marlins wanted to make the playoffs, they should have acquired talent to fill those holes in their roster. Neither group did that, and the first domino to fall on both ends was Gonzalez.