The Braves fired manager Fredi Gonzalez after one of the worst half-seasons in the franchise’s 140-year history was followed by its worst start in more than a century. They have a major league-worst 9-28 record.
“A bad start is not just laid at the feet of Fredi Gonzalez,” Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. “I mean, we all assume a lot of responsibility for how this club has gotten off to this kind of a start. But with that said, we do think we’re certainly better than what we’ve played.”
Brian Snitker will move up from his Triple-A Gwinnett managerial position to serve as interim Braves manager. Gonzalez learned he had been fired late Monday, but an announcement wasn’t made until Tuesday afternoon.
Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca, Gonzalez’s longtime right-hand man in Miami and Atlanta, also was fired, and first-base coach Terry Pendleton will replace him as bench coach. Eddie Perez moves from bullpen coach to first-base coach, and Gwinnett pitching coach Marty Reed will move up to fill Perez’s former position.
Pendleton and Perez are expected to be considered along with outside candidates for the permanent managerial job when the Braves hire a replacement.
“(Snitker) will be here for the rest of the year, and then at that point we’ll see if we want to stay there or if there will be a full-out search,” Braves general manager John Copolella said.
Although it’s widely known that the Braves are in the midst of a rebuilding effort that gutted the major league team while fortifying the minor league system, Gonzalez had long been a lightning rod for criticism from fans and some media members, and he ultimately paid the price for the team’s dismal performance.
Gonzalez, 52, was in his sixth season as Braves manager after replacing his mentor, Bobby Cox, when the legendary Braves manager retired after the 2010 season. He is the first Braves manager fired since Russ Nixon was dumped in June 1990 and replaced by Cox.
He has a 710-692 record in 10 seasons as a major league manager, including 434-413 with the Braves.
“This isn’t Fredi’s fault. No one is saying it’s Fredi’s fault,” Coppolella said. “If you want to really have it laid at anybody’s hands, it can be at mine and at John (Hart’s).”
But, Coppolella said, “It was time for a new voice and time for a change. I hope that the change will spark this team. There’s still 4 1/2 months left. It’s something where we didn’t feel like this season’s over. We feel like we’ve got a lot of baseball left to play, and we can play our best baseball of the season yet.”
Gonzalez and his coaches received contract extensions in July 2015 for the 2016 season, with club options for 2017. Hart was asked if there was any consideration of letting Gonzalez finish the rest of this season and decline his 2017 option, rather than fire him midseason.
“Yeah, we did discuss that as well,” he said. “But at a certain point we had, in our own minds, made the decision that we were going to look for another manager next year. And I don’t know that that was fair to Fredi. We’re all too close, and it was wearing on him, how we were playing. So we just thought that this was the right thing to do.”
There was considerable criticism of Gonzalez during much of his time as Braves manager, despite the fact his teams won 89, 94 and 96 games in his first three seasons through 2013 and a National League East title in 2013, their first division title since 2005.
The Braves were 82 games over .500 (296-214) during his first three-plus seasons as manager through a 17-7 start in 2014. But they were 62-76 the rest of that season and, after a surprising 42-42 start in 2015, the Braves spiraled during an injury- and trade-plagued second half to finish 67-95, the Braves’ worst record since 1990.
Gonzalez served as third-base coach on Cox’s staff for four seasons through 2006, then got his first major league managerial job with the Marlins. The Sporting News National League Manager of the Year in 2008, Gonzalez had a 276-279 record in 3 1/2 seasons with the Marlins before he was fired by a notoriously fickle owner in June 2010.
While Gonzalez often was second-guessed during his first three seasons in Atlanta, it wasn’t until the disappointing 2014 season when speculation about his job status really began to heat up. But near the end of that season, the Braves fired general manager Frank Wren and kept Gonzalez.
Hart was promoted from senior adviser to president of baseball operations, with assistant GM Coppolella as his top lieutenant (promoted to GM a year later). The two Johns began a dizzying amount of trades after the 2014 season, moves designed to build for the future by acquiring high-level prospects, often at the expense of the current major league team.
“We recognize this we’re in the middle of a rebuild, and we’ve got so many great things that are happening, but we didn’t spend a lot of money on this club this winter,” Hart said. “We sort of took some chances on some guys coming along. But at some point, you have to have a product out there that’s going to be respectable, and we just think that there’s more in it and there’s a lot of season left.”
In Gonzalez’s first season as Braves manager in 2011, they had a 10 1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the wild-card standings in late August, and still held an 8 1/2-game lead in early September. But the Braves produced one of baseball’s worst-ever collapses, going 9-18 in September and missing the postseason.
They came back in 2012 with a 94-68 record and the top seed in the Wild Card game, but the Braves lost at Turner Field in the infamous “infield fly rule” game against St. Louis.
The Braves were 96-66 and NL East champions in 2013, then lost the division series against the Dodgers, blowing a 3-2 lead in the decisive Game 4 when Gonzalez made a decision that he never would live down with some critics.
Juan Uribe hit a two-run homer off reliever David Carpenter with no outs in the eighth inning, and TV cameras showed Braves closer Craig Kimbrel standing in the bullpen at Dodger Stadium, clearly annoyed that he was not brought in to face Uribe. That stoked criticism of Gonzalez, who said afterward that he would’ve used Kimbrel for a four-out save, but not for the last six outs.