Bill Shanks

Braves might need several managers before being successful

Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez talks with players in the dugout during the eighth inning Sunday against Arizona.
Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez talks with players in the dugout during the eighth inning Sunday against Arizona. AP

Fredi Gonzalez is on the hottest seat in baseball. It’s not a question of if, but rather when the Braves pull the trigger and fire the man who has been their manager since 2011.

Gonzalez is not in a good situation. Yes, not many great managers could win with this Atlanta roster. But no one expected the Braves to be this bad. Sure, they weren’t projected to be a winning team or compete for a division or wild-card spot, but no one thought they’d be horrible.

Gonzalez does not effectively manage his bullpen, whether he has good arms in it or not. His lineup construction is questionable, and even now as he’s under fire, there’s reason to wonder if he’s even playing his best players on a regular basis.

There is no fire on this Braves’ team. There is no sense of urgency. Gonzalez doesn’t even to seem to be managing like he might be fired. Has he gotten the memo that his team is awful?

The current Braves’ front office, led by John Hart and John Coppolella, inherited Gonzalez from Frank Wren, who hired Gonzalez to replace Bobby Cox. The Braves’ legendary manager and Hall of Famer is Gonzalez’s biggest fan, and Cox likely has saved Gonzalez’s job more times than we could imagine.

But there’s no way Gonzalez survives this. The Braves are on pace for 38 wins this season, which would be one of the worst records in baseball history. They might get better at some point this year, but will it take someone else as manager to help make it happen?

The Braves last went through a rebuilding project in the late-1980s. Cox was the general manager then. He fired manager Chuck Tanner after two-plus seasons. Cox didn’t pick Tanner, who was hired a week before Cox was by then-team owner Ted Turner. When Tanner didn’t seem on board with the rebuilding process, Cox fired him.

Then Russ Nixon came in as manager. Nixon had experience before as the Cincinnati Reds’ manager. He was a hard-nosed, old school baseball man who told it like it was, and, unlike Tanner, sugarcoated nothing. When the Braves failed to take that next step after two years, team president Stan Kasten made Cox go back into the dugout.

The rest is history, as Cox led Atlanta to a great run between 1991 through 1999 that included one World Series title, five NL pennants and nine division titles.

Sometimes when teams go through a rebuilding process, it takes more than one try to find the right manager.

Theo Epstein took over the Chicago Cubs before the 2012 season. He had led Boston to two World Series titles as the Red Sox’s general manager. Epstein immediately hired Dale Sveum to start the rebuilding process in Chicago. Sveum lasted just two years. Then Epstein hired Rick Renteria for the 2014 season. But when Joe Maddon became available, Epstein knew Maddon was the perfect fit.

Maddon is leading the Cubs to the best record in baseball, and, believe it or not, they are the favorites to win the World Series.

Dayton Moore left Atlanta’s front office to run the Kansas City Royals in 2006. He started a rebuilding project to get Kansas City back on track that resulted in the Royals winning last year’s World Series. Moore inherited Buddy Bell as manager. Two years later, Moore brought in Trey Hillman, who lasted two-plus seasons. But it wasn’t until Ned Yost took over that Moore found the man to lead the Royals into a winner.

So chances are Gonzalez is not going to be the manager when the Braves get good again. In fact, it might not even be his replacement. But there’s little doubt as the losses mount, Gonzalez’s days with the Braves are certainly numbered.

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