Bill Shanks

Shanks: Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez must follow the process

Fredi Gonzalez is now on the spot. He has the job security of having another year on his contract, now that the Atlanta Braves have extended their manager’s deal through next year with a team option for 2017. Now, the hard work really begins for him.

It wasn’t an easy situation for Gonzalez. He was handed a team that was never supposed to compete for the playoffs. Managers are taught to try and win, and in the final year of his contract, in a game dictated and graded by wins and losses, his team wasn’t expected to do much.

John Hart and the Braves’ front office were convinced no one would do better, at least for now. It’s not as important this season, but what will happen when the Braves get good? Is Gonzalez really going to be the man they want in the dugout when the team becomes a contender again?

And they will. The front office is building something here. The accumulation of talent has been impressive, and whether it’s next season or in 2017, the Braves could be really good again.

Regardless of what he has said, Gonzalez has managed this season to try and stay. Even though the Braves needed to see what rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt could do, Gonzalez played veteran A.J. Pierzynski. Yes, managers are paid to win, but this was not a season in which winning was the priority. It was a year when we needed to find out certain things for the future -- like whether or not Bethancourt is the catcher for this team moving forward.

Gonzalez’s lineup construction early on was somewhat comical. It took him several months to settle on some structure for his lineup, and there are still games in which he does odd things with the batting order. And his handling of the pitching staff creates regular questions, both in the fan base and even on the team.

Julio Teheran was visibly not happy Friday night being pulled in the fifth inning. It wasn’t the first time this season a starter has looked angry at being lifted for a reliever. Gonzalez often makes you wonder how much faith he has in his starting pitchers. And even with a revolving door in the bullpen, Gonzalez often has not helped matters by some odd decisions he makes with his relievers.

Will Gonzalez manage differently the rest of the season now that he has the job security? This roster could go through another turnover the next two weeks as the trade deadline approaches July 31.

We might see another infusion of more young talent and even more fringe players to simply fill the roster. Can Gonzalez do what will be necessary to prepare this team for the 2017 season that the front office has been talking about since this retooling started?

Gonzalez must prove he’s more than the modern-day Russ Nixon for the Braves. Remember Nixon, the manager who was really more of a kindergarten teacher in the late-1980s as the Braves nurtured their young talent? Then when it was time for the team to win, the Braves dumped Nixon and brought Bobby Cox down from the front office to run the team.

A change could happen again if Gonzalez does not prove he’s the man who needs to be in the dugout when the Braves get good again. The front office might instead decide to get someone better, who could help lead the team to wins in the playoffs. So now with this extension, Gonzalez has the reprieve to show he’s the man who needs to be there.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com

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