The Atlanta Braves just announced that Fredi Gonzalez will return as manager in 2015, which should shock no one, and that co-hitting coach Scott Fletcher will not, which shouldn’t, either. The only mild surprise regarding the Braves’ staff is that third base coach Doug Dascenzo, imported after Brian Snitker was demoted to managing in the minors, is out after one year. (Guess Dascenzo was the real reason the team couldn’t get anybody past third base.)
Fletcher — like chief hitting coach Greg Walker, who resigned Tuesday — had to go. You can’t bring back the men who were charged with tutoring hitters who failed so comprehensively. Dascenzo will be replaced by Bo Porter, who was fired from his thankless job as Houston’s manager late in the season and who had worked alongside Fredi G. with the Marlins.
As for the man himself: I consider Fredi G. a good manager — to his credit, he has won more games than any manager since 2011 — but I was stunned by how little the Braves accomplished in September. They went 7-18 three years after going 9-18 in the season’s final month, and the first time they had a bit of an excuse: Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were hurt. Unless you count Evan Gattis’ strep throat, they had none this time. They just collapsed.
That never augurs well for a manager, especially when you consider that this manager’s team was tied for first place at the All-Star break. The Braves would finish 17 games behind Washington, and they wound up tied for second with the Mets, who worked all season without the splendid young pitcher Matt Harvey, and only two games ahead of Miami, which worked most of the season without the splendid young pitcher Jose Fernandez.
Headed into next season, the Braves are no lock to be picked above third, or even fourth, in the National League East. Their failure in 2014 made us wonder about everything regarding a club that had won 90 or more games three times in four seasons, and Frank Wren, the general manager who assembled those teams, was “terminated” with seven games remaining. (The loaded verb told you what John Schuerholz and Cox thought of Wren.)
The reason Fredi G. is still around has much to do with Bobby Cox, who never liked Wren but who loves his former third base coach. I’d imagine Cox’s defense of Gonzalez was simple: “How’s he supposed to win when you hand him Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton?” But Uggla and Wren are gone, and the elder Upton is surely going, and my guess is that Fredi G. will get one season to impress the new GM — or else he’ll be gone, too.
In sum, I don’t see this as a raving endorsement or a mandate or anything so sweeping. I see a manager who couldn’t stop his team from falling apart being granted another year because he has an honored friend in high places.
Oh, and some of you are wondering: Why would the Braves announce that they’re keeping Gonzalez before hiring a new GM and letting him make the call? Because the Braves want John Hart, the interim GM, to keep the job for a year or so and mentor John Coppolella. That mightn’t happen — Hart could decide he doesn’t want to work that hard — but it appears to be the plan. Which would be fine by me, seeing as how I suggested that they do that very thing.