Speculation about the immediate future of Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez ended Friday when the team announced contract extensions for him and all his coaches for the 2016 season, with club options for 2017.
“It helps, the security,” said Gonzalez, 51, who is in his fifth season as Braves manager and ninth as a major league manager. “But it didn’t change anything about how we we did our work, the relationship with the players, or anything. At the end of the day you can still get fired.
“You’ve got a year of security under your belt, but other than that, I think it’s a nice gesture for our organization, our leadership team – who are doing a hell of a job getting this thing built the right way – to give that to us.”
The Braves will move into a new Cobb County ballpark in 2017, and made a series of trades last winter and into the spring designed more towards building for the future by acquiring numerous prospects, sometimes at the expense of the current team. They traded away three of their top four hitters from last year’s team — Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis — during the winter, and traded All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel on the eve of opening day.
Then had hoped to remain competitive, or at least respectable, this season, and for the most part they have. The third-place Braves lost their last five games before the break, including a four-game sweep at Colorado, to fall to seven games behind first-place Washington in the National League East before Friday, and five games behind the Mets.
“We didn’t give him a bullpen; obviously we traded Craig Kimbrel right at opening day,” said John Hart, Braves president of baseball operations. “It’s been really difficult to manage the bullpen, especially when we lost some guys with injuries, we lose some guys on PED (drug suspensions). All of a sudden we got real thin, real fast. And I think Fredi’s done as good a job as he can with the bullpen, so…. I think it’s just something that, all along, you look up and you go, what do you expect in a manager? What do you want in a manager? I think Fredi’s demonstrated what we want to see.”
Gonzalez and his coaches were told last week, before the Colorado series, that they would be offered contract extensions. The 2016 season will be the 15th as a Braves coach for first-base coach Terry Pendleton, the 11th for pitching coach Roger McDowell, the 10th for bullpen coach Eddie Perez and sixth for bench coach Carlos Tosca. It’ll be the second season with the Braves for hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, third-base coach Bo Porter and assistant hitting coach Jose Castro.
“I’m very happy,” said McDowell, regarded as one of the top pitching coaches in baseball. “It’s the organization I’ve been with since I’ve been a coach in the big leagues, for 10 years, and certainly very happy that they thought enough to bring me, the coaching staff, Fredi, everybody back for not only (2016) but an option for the following year.”
Gonzalez replaced iconic former manager Bobby Cox in October 2010, after Cox retired. The Braves are 400-337 under Gonzlaez, fourth-best winning percentage in the NL in that period. They also had two September collapses and have not won a playoff series, losing a division series against the Dodgers in 2013 after winning the NL East title with 96 wins.
In their only other postseason appearance under Gonzalez, the Braves lost to St. Louis in the wild-card game in 2012.
“I know there’s been a lot of questions about Fredi and the staff and what was going to happen,” said veteran Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who signed a one-year contract last winter. “This kind of puts that to bed. They know they’re going to be here at least through next year, and it’s nice. It’s nice for them. Nice for all the coaches to know what they have and what’s going to happen.”
As for Gonzalez’s work this season, Pierzynski said, “I think he’s done a good job. Obviously as an older guy you want to win now. But I also understand what I got into when I signed here as a free agent. I think he’s done a good job. Obviously we’re not in the position that we want to be in, but we’ve been competitive. We’ve been in, it seems like, every single game. And we’ll continue to do that, because we go about it the right way, and that was a lot to do with the coaching staff.”
Gonzalez has a 676-616 record in nine major league seasons, including 3 ½ with the Marlins from 2007 through his firing in June 2010. A former third-base coach with the Braves, he was Cox’s preferred successor and had the full support of Cox, now a Braves special advisor, last fall when the Braves fired general manager Frank Wren and retained Gonzalez.
Hart replaced Wren as de facto GM, with additional power, and assistant GM John Coppolella moved up to become Hart’s top assistant.
“I know that when we came in and began to do work together this winter, we made a decision that we were going to bring (Gonzalez) back (for 2015) very early on in the game,” Hart said. “And as you begin to work with somebody you begin to get a feel for who they are, what dots that connect…. Fredi did a lot of things for us this winter, he was very loyal to the Braves. We knew we were going to make some very tough, painful decisions that were coming down the line, and Fredi realized that everything we were doing was in the best interest long-term for the Braves; not necessarily short-term. You had a guy (Gonzalez) that was on the last year of a deal, and I think he always took a very positive approach to what was going to work for the Braves.
“I think that was a very positive piece as you got to know the character, and when we got into spring training obviously we had a lot of new faces. You weren’t sure what to expect, we had a lot of not only new faces that we had traded for, young guys, but we also had a lot of guys that we had signed. And I think that Fredi’s (attitude) from the very beginning was, ‘Look, we’re going to try to win every game. We want to be a playoff club.’ I think his ability to connect the dots with the players has been good.”
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