Gonzalez must prove his worth to the Braves

Will Fredi Gonzalez be a different manager this season?

Fredi Gonzalez got a reprieve last October. Instead of him being blamed for the destruction of the Braves, it was his boss, general manager Frank Wren. The manager was given another chance to prove it was not his fault.

It’s ironic that Gonzalez will be forced to do that with an unusually substandard roster for the Braves. This is not a team prognosticators have as a World Series contender, as is often the case. Instead, there will be perhaps 80% turnover in the opening day roster compared to a year ago.

Gonzalez is a manager in the last year of his contract that must do a good job to stick around, regardless of the record.

Gonzalez must take at least part of the blame for the lack of success in his four seasons as manager. The Braves won the division only once in his tenure, and then lost a deciding playoff game when he had the team’s closer warming up in the bullpen as a middle reliever was asked to save the season.

The Braves collapsed twice under Gonzalez. In 2011, his first season, the Braves had an 8.5 game lead in the wildcard race. They went 9-18 in September, while the St. Louis Cardinals went 18-8 to win the wildcard. The Braves then blew a big lead in 2013 for the best record in the National League, which made a difference in the playoffs.

Then 2014 was just a disaster. The Braves started out 17-7 through late-April, but then went 62-76 the rest of the way. September was awful, as Gonzalez’s team gave up and went just 7-18.

Sure, the roster was not constructed well. The mix was just not good. Wren put together a lineup that not many managers could have won with.

But Gonzalez has had issues. His use of the bullpen has been rightfully criticized. His lineup construction is often puzzling. Some wonder if Gonzalez has ever had full respect of the clubhouse. He replaced Bobby Cox, a legend who still has great respect. Maybe a total makeover of the roster was needed so Gonzalez could shape his own team.

And maybe the departure of the general manager, one who took away some of that respect by hovering too close, will make a difference. Players often thought Wren was pulling the strings, even though Gonzalez was supposedly in charge. Now, the new front office has said this is Gonzalez’s team.

So even though there will be plenty of discussion, Gonzalez will write out the lineup. He will, for example, decide if a highly-paid player that is not performing needs to sit on the bench. The front office is going to give Gonzalez a chance to truly show what kind of manager he can be.

But if the Braves struggle, since they are going through a retooling, how will Gonzalez be judged? Well, it will be about the type of baseball the Braves play. They may lose. They may have trouble scoring runs. But will this team hustle? At times last season certain players didn’t hustle. Will this team play good fundamental baseball? Will they be watchable? Last year’s team, particularly late in the season, wasn’t.

The first half of this season may be a challenge. It might take a few months for the new players to get adjusted and the new lineup to take shape. But if in September the feeling is more positive than negative, and there is hope for the future, then Gonzalez might deserve to stay.

It will be tricky, since most coaches are judged on wins and losses. The Braves’ record might not be great this season, but the way they play will determine Gonzalez’s fate. That’s a lot of pressure for anybody, but Gonzalez should embrace this as his opportunity to prove he should be the manager for the long run.

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

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