Yesterday, Fredi Gonzalez became the
second third managerial casualty of the year, following Trey Hillman’s ouster in Kansas City (update: and Dave Trembley in Baltimore. Thanks, Rob Stratmeyer). But while the Hillman layoff was understandable — three days before he was axed, Joe Posnanski wrote, “I don’t think Hillman will survive. And, things being what they are, I’m certainly not saying Hillman should survive” — the Gonzalez firing was a bit more head-scratching. As Buster Olney wrote yesterday:
Gonzalez as manager of the Marlins has been a dead man walking since the end of last season, when folks in the team’s baseball operations had to talk owner Jeffrey Loria out of firing him, and then going into this season, Loria indicated he expected the low-budget Marlins to contend for a championship, a goal that was probably unrealistic given the lack of depth in the team’s roster at the major league level.
GM Larry Beinfest has assembled some strong teams for owner Jeffrey Loria, but though they’ve often contended for the Wild Card, they’ve never been viewed as serious playoff threats — and no wonder, because their payroll is so low that they were criticized by Major League Baseball at the beginning of the year for not using enough of the revenue sharing money they received to actually pay players. Considering all those constraints, it’s rather remarkable that Gonzalez managed a 276-279 record in three-plus years in his first managing job.
Of course, whenever you want to know why something happened in baseball, you should usually listen to the denials. Fredi Gonzalez attracted a great deal of attention earlier for the Hanley Ramirez incident, when Hanley dogged it after kicking a pop-up and Fredi pulled him from the game. And so, of course, in a statement after his firing, Fredi Gonzalez announced: “This is something that I want to make very clear: My exit from the Marlins had nothing to do with Hanley.” So it’s a fair bet that his exit from the Marlins had a lot do to with Hanley. Every baseball person, and every Marlin who spoke to the media, supported Fredi’s behavior during the run-in — but, as a number of wags have pointed out, it’s a lot easier for the Marlins to get themselves a new manager than a new Hanley Ramirez.
Ultimately, the Marlins didn’t do much harm to Fredi’s image. Right now, he’s perceived as a martyr who made the most of a bad situation with an unrealistic, penny-pinching owner, who doesn’t kowtow to superstars, and who is the likeliest successor to Bobby Cox in Atlanta, one of the most coveted manager’s seats in baseball since the last manager Jeffrey Loria fired, Joe Girardi, took over for Joe Torre in the Bronx. Being fired doesn’t hurt Fredi. And if Loria hires Bobby Valentine, as seems likely, the team probably won’t see much difference in the won-loss column: though Valentine’s style is very different from the methodical Gonzalez (Chris Jaffe has compared Valentine to Dodger overtinkerer Charlie Dressen), Bobby V is an above-average skipper.
But Valentine should take care to get an ironclad prenup. After all, his two predecessors were fired unfairly. If Bobby actually wants to manage in Miami, rather than just put himself in position for a future plum, he should make sure that Loria gives him a better guarantee of payroll than either Gonzalez or Girardi received.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.