It felt inevitable with the way things had been going that Fredi Gonzalez wouldn’t last much longer in a Braves uniform. Atlanta was just 9-28 when they decided to release their manager of five-plus years. Gonzalez sported a 434-413 record in his time with the Braves, as well as leading the team to two postseason appearances in 2012 and 2013.
With the way things have gone for Atlanta over the past two seasons, I don’t think it’s a great surprise to anybody to see Gonzalez relieved of his duties. His situation in Atlanta certainly hasn’t been ideal, but Gonzalez knows as well as anybody that it’s a tough life for baseball managers, and moves like this can occur at any time during a season like this.
It’s hard to gauge exactly why the Braves chose this moment to release Gonzalez, as that would require a much greater understanding of internal factors within the Braves organization that an outsider simply doesn’t have. Gonzalez, who was made aware of his firing Monday night when his flight itinerary showed him returning from Pittsburgh on Tuesday despite the team’s series lasting through Thursday, has been the sacrificial lamb for the Braves over the past few years. He’s seen his organization trade away established veterans (Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel) as well as some up and coming studs (Andrelton Simmons, Shelby Miller) in the hopes of establishing the bulk of a team by the time the Braves move to SunTrust Park next season.
Despite his lack of star power, Gonzalez had nothing but praise for the 2016 Braves roster when he spoke to the Atlanta Journal Constitution following his firing:
“I will tell you this, through all this stuff, my team played hard. They busted their asses. They had to answer questions that they shouldn’t have to answer about the manager, and per man they all handled it with class, and they played their asses off.”
The Braves are near the bottom of the MLB in nearly every single statistic in 2016. The Braves have scored just 123 runs through their first 38 games, and have just 13 home runs on the year, 17 homers below the next closest team in Philadelphia. On the pitching side of things, a staff ERA of 4.70 is 25th in the Majors.
So from here the question is, what happens now in Atlanta? The Braves have promoted Triple-A manager, Brian Snitker, to interim manager for the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t make sense to me for the Braves to make a major hire before 2017, as Snitker at least has some past experience with Atlanta, serving as bullpen coach in 1985 and from 1988-1990. Snitker’s 2016 debut was inauspicious to say the least, as starter Aaron Blair surrendered seven runs in the first inning against the Pirates on Tuesday. According to ESPN, Snitker is the first manager in 68 years, since Joe Kuhel with the Washington Senators, to have a debut that poor.
The good news about Snitker’s debut is that Mallex Smith had two home runs on Tuesday night. Smith is just the second Brave to record multiple homers on the season, now with three. As the former Triple-A manager, Snitker has already worked with several of the young arms that Atlanta is now working with in the rotation. This could help the players, most of which are still learning the ropes at the big league level, be a little bit more comfortable in their still new environment.
Snitker is not the Braves endgame at manager however, so the question remains who Atlanta will attempt to bring in to fill the void at the position. Chipper Jones is a name that Atlanta fans have certainly been discussing. While it would be a dream come true to have the former Braves legend third baseman return to the diamond, Jones has already allegedly, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, stated he is not interested in being the next Braves manager. I think Jones would not be the wisest move, anyways. Despite the huge publicity it would get with the Atlanta faithful, Jones has no former managerial experience and is working with a team full of young and developing talent that would benefit greatly from having a long-time manager at the helm.
Two men with plenty of managerial experience would be Bud Black and Ron Gardenhire. Black, who was formerly a manager with the Padres, is a name who has come up often, as he is know for being a strong developer of pitching. Black was in the mix for Washington’s manager vacancy this offseason, but the Nationals eventually decided on Dusty Baker. The biggest problem the Braves would have pulling one of these more experienced managers is their apparent lack of a timetable on when they think they can start competing again. Black and Gardenhire probably wouldn’t want to come in and develop a young team when they could instead wind up on a team with potential to make a playoff run then and there.
So, the Braves may have to look for someone lower on the radar. One name who has come up, and even received a vote of confidence from Chipper Jones on the matter, is former player Mark DeRosa. DeRosa was a utility player for a number of different teams. While he doesn’t have past managerial experience, he seems more open to the possibility than Jones on the job and, due to having no other past experience as a manager, may be willing to take on a young and developing team.
It’s hard tell at this point who the Braves are planning to have at the helm in 2017, but it will have to be a guy who is willing to work with a young team and help them develop into a contending ball club. Atlanta will also have the new SunTrust Park in 2017. Combine that with a brand new manager and the hype surrounding the Braves coming into the 2017 season could be very real, especially if they’re able to mature quickly and put up a season similar to Philadelphia this year. For now, however, the Braves just have to scrape on and see how far Brian Snitker can take them.
Information from ESPN.com was used in this report.