Dan's Dugout: Who Will Follow Fredi on Firing Line? • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Who Will Follow Fredi on Firing Line?


It happens every season: managers take the fall when players don’t perform.

That means people like Brad Ausmus, A.J. Hinch, and maybe even Joe Girardi would be wise to keep their bags packed even when their clubs are home.

Fredi Gonzalez, manager of the Atlanta Braves, didn’t even make it to Memorial Day this year. He was actually fired with the club on the road — in Pittsburgh on May 17.

It's been a tough year in Minnesota for Hall of Famer Paul Molitor

It’s been a tough year in Minnesota for Hall of Famer Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor, the only current manager with a niche in the Hall of Fame gallery, is probably safe in Minnesota, where he is an icon, but that didn’t save Ryne Sandberg from the ax in Philadelphia last summer.

The typical club owner believes it’s not what you’ve done for me but what you’ve done for me lately.

That means Hinch, whose upstart Houston Astros won the American League wild-card game last year and very nearly dethroned the Kansas City Royals, might not survive the season — especially on a team with a history of firing managers sooner rather than later.

Girardi, whose Yankees lost that wild-card playoff game, started managing the Yankees in 2008 and won the World Series a year later. He’s also guided his club to postseason play four other times.

But the Yankees have not won more than 90 games since 2012 and have a real chance to reach the Memorial Day marker with a losing record. If George Steinbrenner were still running the team instead of his sons, Girardi would be history.

Gonzalez was saddled with the oldest team in the National League — despite a wealth of young talent ripening on the vine in the minors.

Fredi Gonzalez has found wins hard to come by

Fredi Gonzalez was the first fired manager of 2016

Entering play on May 17, the Braves were the only team in the majors without 10 wins. In fact, they were on pace to post an even more embarrassing winning percentage than the original Mets, who went 40-120 with two rainouts that were not made up.

Like Donald Trump, Gonzalez had both defenders and detractors. Bobby Cox, the Hall of Fame manager who guided the Braves to a record 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005, treated Fredi like a son as well as a protege. Cox, a senior advisor who works closely with executives John Hart and John Coppolella, had already saved the manager’s job several times.

The only big-league manager with a membership in the Society for American Baseball Research [SABR], Gonzalez also had the benefit of being bi-lingual. Born in Havana, he is fluent in English, Spanish, and sabermetrics.

Managers can’t win without the horses, however, and Gonzalez has been handed a pile of horse manure. In the last two years, the Braves have shed the salaries of Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Shelby Miller, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and Alex Wood, and other young players in their prime.

The rationale was reconstructing a weak farm system, although even the best prospects remain suspects until they produce. With the new Sun Trust Park opening next season, the Braves believe more money will come into their coffers. But not if fans stay away to protest the product — not to mention the rising ticket prices.

Since it’s cheaper to fire one manager than 25 players, Triple-A manager Brian Snitker is now interim manager of the Atlanta Braves.

Brad Ausmus hasn't had much to smile about in the Motor City

Brad Ausmus hasn’t had much to smile about in the Motor City

Maybe the the Detroit Tigers would consider trading their manager; in 1960, just months after they swapped batting champion Harvey Kuenn to the Cleveland Indians for Rocky Colavito, they sent manager Jimmie Dykes to the Indians for Joe Gordon.

Since Brad Ausmus is a youthful former catcher who is highly regarded both personally and professionally, why not find another club looking for a fresh face at the helm?

Ausmus, 46, finished first in 2014, his first year as Tigers manager, but slipped to the basement of the AL Central last year. Owner Mike Ilitch added two top free agents in Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann but only the latter is justifying his contract.

Big things were expected of the Tigers, whose roster also includes former MVPs Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But the Bengals may be getting a little long in the tooth.

That’s also the problem in the Bronx, where Girardi is fighting a constant battle against age and

How safe is Joe Girardi's job?

How safe is Joe Girardi?

injuries hampering player performance. General manager Brian Cashman blames himself for letting his team get old (seven of nine regulars are at least 32) but can’t be responsible for the unexpected flop of Luis Severino, a blue-chip rookie last year but a bigger bust than Dolly Parton now. Ditto fellow pitcher Michael Pineda.

Throw in the usual maladies of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Jacoby Ellsbury and there’s a problem even the power bullpen can’t mask.

In Houston, Hinch has also been hampered by unexpected issues. The biggest mystery is the drop

A.J. Hinch is taking his lumps in Houston

A.J. Hinch is taking his lumps in Houston

in velocity by Dallas Keuchel, who started the 2015 All-Star Game, beat the Yankees in the wild-card game, and won the American League’s Cy Young Award.

Evan Gattis, baseball’s answer to Paul Bunyan, went down to Double-A for a refresher course in catching but also to hone a swing that suddenly went south this spring. Gattis led the 2015 Astros in home runs and runs batted in and was expected to blossom into a 40-homer slugger with the benefit of Minute Maid Park as his home field.

Hinch, a former catcher, is in his second season with the Astros after managing the Arizona Diamondbacks for parts of two seasons previously. At 41, he’s the youngest manager in the majors.

With more than two-thirds of the season to go, the slow-starting Astros could turn it around. Their roster features the league’s best double-play combination in second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa but they need to straighten out their pitching before returning to contention.

Molitor doesn’t have that kind of talent in Minnesota, although he did come home second in his rookie year as field general in 2015.

Paul Molitor longs for happier days in the Twin Cities

Paul Molitor longs for happier days in the Twin Cities

Like the Braves, the Twins have some blue-chip prospects, including 2015 AL Rookie of the Year contender Miguel Sano and not-ready-for-prime-time outfielder Byron Buxton, but Joe Mauer is far from his batting title form and the pitching, after erratic Ervin Santana, is virtually non-existent.

Other managers with uncertain job security include Craig Counsell (Brewers), Bryan Price (Cincinnati), Bob Melvin (Oakland), and rookie manager Andy Green (San Diego) — not to mention the long-established Mike Scioscia (Angels owner Arte Moreno, who’s never hesitated to lavish big bucks on his ballclub, has never been known for his patience).

Scioscia, yet another catcher-turned-manager, has been handling the Halos since 2000 and has seven AL West division titles and a world championship in 15 seasons. But the manager has locked horns with his owner before and this year’s injury-fueled slow start hasn’t helped.

Las Vegas oddsmakers are already having a field day predicting which domino will be the first to fall, how many will follow, and how quickly. The guessing is that at least a trio of changes will be made during or before the All-Star break.  Mark McGwire, now bench coach for the Padres, hopes to step into one of those jobs.

Elsewhere in baseball:

Danny Valencia (A’s) could be the most unlikely player ever to hit three home runs in a game . . .

Congratulations to Carlos Beltran (Yankees) for joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones as switch-hitters with 400 or more home runs . . .

Carlos Beltran socked his 400th home run Image: Daniel Budasoff

Carlos Beltran socked his 400th home run
Image: Daniel Budasoff

Still seething about the flamboyant bat flip by Toronto slugger Jose Bautista during the 2015 playoffs, the Texas Rangers released their pent-up feelings in the last of the seven games between the two clubs . . .

With erstwhile ace Matt Harvey having trouble finding the proper arm slot, the Mets fell to third in the NL East behind Washington and the surprising Philadelphia Phillies . . .

Though his teammates are struggling, Detroit DH Victor Martinez may be en route to the American League batting crown . . .

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw the 77 hardest pitches in baseball last year and may do it again, if early performances serve as an accurate barometer . . .

When Washington slugger Bryce Harper drew six walks (three intentional) in a game May 8, he joined Jimmie Foxx, Andre Thornton, and Jeff Bagwell as the only players ever to perform that feat of patience . . .

The Seattle Mariners have been absent from the postseason longer than any other team (absent since 2000) . . .

The payroll albatross that has paralyzed the Yankees will be lifted after next season when the contracts of Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira (this year) and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia

The Angels would love to dump the contract of Albert Pujols

The Angels would love to dump the contract of Albert Pujols

(next year) come off the books . . .

Desperate to get younger after missing the playoffs in five of the last six years, the Angels are exploring ways to trade erstwhile superstar Albert Pujols, whose $240 million contract extends through 2021.





About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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