Fredi Gonzalez's days as manager of the Atlanta Braves are more than likely coming to an end in the very near future. The rumors have been steady and strong ever since the extremely early days of the season, which is when oddsmakers named him as the favorite to be the first manager fired this season.
Fredi has seemingly been on the hot seat since the first pitch was thrown on Opening Day, and it's continued to get warmer and warmer. It's even gotten to the point where we're hearing actual, legit names such as Bud Black come up in speculative talks for a replacement. You know that the seat is reaching volcanic levels of heat when actual names are being bandied about while you're still in the job.
On top of all of the speculation, there's a report from the New York Post's Joel Sherman that seems to indicate that it's only a matter of time before Fredi Gonzalez is fired.
Gonzalez said he had just gotten off the phone with general manager John Coppolella and said he told his boss: “There are only three outcomes: 1) Fire me. 2) Give me a vote of confidence through the rest of the season. 3) Pick up my 2017 option. … I am good with any of this.”
Well, options 2 and 3 are off the board. I spoke with Coppolella, and he mainly did not want to discuss the status of his manager. But clearly there will be no vote of confidence or picking up of Gonzalez’s option. There was internal sentiment to ax Gonzalez last year when the Braves began 42-42, and then finished 25-53. Gonzalez is well-liked inside and outside the organization, but there are questions about his strategy skills, especially in manipulating a bullpen, and one person close to the decision-makers said the perception is the Braves would like to change the subject sooner than later.
It is pretty clear that unless divine intervention occurs and the Braves go on a month-long undefeated run or something close to that, Fredi isn't going to receive a vote of confidence and he probably won't be joining the Braves as they make their big move to Cobb County in 2017. The end of the line is near, and we're probably going to see the team make a managerial change very soon.
With that being said, when Fredi Gonzalez does indeed receive his marching orders and is fired, it should not be because of the team's performance this season. Yes, the Braves got off to an utterly dreadful start to this season, but if you take a quick glance at the current construction of this team, it's pretty obvious that this was not a team that was built to be a winner in 2016. You could make the argument that they should've been slightly better than last year's team, but that's it: Only slightly better. No manager alive was going to help this team make a leap into baseball's elite, and no manager alive is going to come in and turn this team into a winner overnight. That's going to take time and the hopeful development of hot prospects into legitimate major league talent.
With all of that being said, when the Braves make their move and fire Fredi, it should be because of the fact that he's just not a good manager. You could argue that managers don't make a huge impact on the game, but Fredi's tactical prowess during his tenure in charge has left much to be desired. From the wacky lineups to the odd usage of the bullpen, Gonzalez has made a bevy of strange decisions that, when added altogether, have done more to hinder this team's success over the years than bolster it. Nowhere was this more obvious than during Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS. The image below is the lasting image of that game, and it will probably be my lasting image of Fredi Gonzalez as a manager. It's former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel just hanging out in the bullpen because his manager decided against using him in a high-leverage situation late in an elimination game.
So, when the Braves finally make the decision to part ways with Fredi Gonzalez, it should not be for the performance of the team this year. It should be for the years of under-performance, strange tactical decisions, and overall poor management of the Braves during his time in charge. This should not be about the front office "passing the buck" onto a scapegoat, nor should it be about trying to find a manager who can turn this current team around. The Braves' next move at the managerial position shoud be about finding someone who can help what figures to be a pretty young team in the near future develop into a solid baseball team for years to come.
Although Fredi Gonzalez shouldn't receive too much blame for the struggles of the 2016 Atlanta Braves, it's clear that he's not the right choice for the Atlanta Braves in 2017 and beyond.