Wednesday, April 13, 2016

April will decide Fredi Gonzalez's fate with the Braves

I've heard several people both on Twitter and in real conversations say that Fredi Gonzalez shouldn't be held accountable for this mess. That no manager could produce anything from this rag-tag band of misfits that the GM put on the field. That the front office really didn't believe that this team had a chance to be better than 2015 or compete on the field, so why worry about who is managing the team.

All well and good if you fully believe that the Front Office expected a terrible product in this rebuilding year, and they are just place-holding until they open the stadium in 2017. I can tell you from everyone I've heard, everyone I've spoken to, all the people in the sales office, and the people in the front office, nobody expected this start. Nobody expected the Braves to be way worse than 2015, because they aren't just trying to get people to the TED for its last year, they are trying to sell the rest of their season ticket packages for 2017.

What many decisions from a business level come down to is Public Relations. It may be very fair to say that Fredi shouldn't hold all the blame for this team's woes, and I'd agree with you. The front office holds some blame as do the players. However, they aren't going to change the front office, or wholesale try to change out players against right on the cusp of a new ballpark. What they are looking for is growth and hope, because both of those things sell tickets.

What doesn't sell tickets is having your worst season in 30 years, and then telling the fans that the same guy managing the team will be there to do it again in your fancy new digs. That doesn't wash from a PR standpoint, and it has nothing to do with baseball. When you hit a new low, heads have to roll especially following a horrible season the year before.

With that in mind, let me dispel a couple of myths that people keep saying about this roster. AJ Pierzynski was an above average player last season, and suddenly now he can't catch. Nick Markakis is a good player, Freddie Freeman is an outstanding player, Eric Aybar had a 6.0+ WAR over the last two seasons, Adonis Garcia is hitting over .300 on the year, Kelly Johnson is an average player but not bad, plus Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith have shown flashes of being great. The way this was assembled there was no reason to believe these guys couldn't form an AVERAGE lineup that would compete night to night. Not win the division, not win the pennant, not even come in with more than 75 wins. The front office expected them to compete and they aren't doing that right now.

Yes, Hector Olivera is struggling and apparently just got arrested for a domestic violence incident. Yes, AJ can't see for some reason early on and Freddie Freeman can't either. Yes, Ender Inciarte got injured as did Dan Winkler the best pitcher. Yes, the bullpen has major issues, and the starters have been off and on. But when you get performances like we're getting from Chacin, Norris, and Teheran in a couple of games where they hold teams to under 2 runs, you have to pull out some wins.

The Braves are in their own way defensively and mentally. And that comes from leadership both in the clubhouse and on the field. Defense has to be a priority from top down, and something you practice daily when it's not going well. Players have to work with management to improve when they are slumping and take up leadership roles. Fredi Gonzalez is not getting enough from these players, especially the ones that had better seasons before they got here. Hell, even BJ Upton is suddenly hitting now that he left Atlanta. At the very least, I expect a manager not to hurt me, but as I detailed in the last game Fredi's bullpen management style has hurt this team. And besides setting the lineup, that's his only real job on gameday.

I've never wanted Fredi fired over the last year because I knew when we traded everything away the season was over. But this year with new pieces and a chance for new beginnings? The Braves can't afford to let this thing get to 0-10. The last team to do that was the 1988 Braves, and the manager Chuck Tanner got fired when the team was 12-27. I don't think this scenario is any different. In fact, with the new ballpark I would say even more is on the line now than in 1988. And the fans aren't going to accept the same-old-same-old just because the building is shiny. There's collateral damage to this type of losing, and the PR team at Turner Field knows it well.

For the sake of Fredi's job, the Braves need to start winning this week. And they need to start looking like a team that knows what they are doing on the field. Because making errors like a AA squad, and throwing away games over and over in the 7th inning and beyond won't wash with the powers that be.


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