Gonzalez could be in line to succeed Cox
Dismissed Marlins manager close to retiring Braves skipper
CHICAGO -- When the Marlins dismissed Fredi Gonzalez from his managerial duties Wednesday morning, there was immediate speculation that the stage was now set for him to serve as Bobby Cox's successor in Atlanta.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has said that he won't discuss anything regarding the club's next manager until this season concludes and Cox begins to experience the retired lifestyle. But it's obvious that Gonzalez is still highly regarded within this Braves organization that employed him from 2002-06 as Triple-A Richmond's manager and Atlanta's third-base coach.
"I think everybody here would love to have Fredi back," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "He coached third base here for a few years and learned a lot from Bobby. He knows how things work around here. All the guys love him. I think he'd be a great fit. In what capacity? That remains to be seen."
Cox had no desire to talk about the possibility that Gonzalez could serve as his successor. Instead, he chose to react to his good friend's dismissal with some harsh words about Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has employed four different managers since assuming these ownership duties in 2002.
Gonzalez called Cox about 9 a.m. ET, a short time after learning that he was being relieved of his duties with one more year left on his contract. While utilizing 16 different relievers as part of a bullpen mix that has posted the National League's fourth-worst ERA, the Marlins still managed to enter Wednesday two games under .500 (34-36) and six games behind the first-place Braves.
"I was shocked," Cox said. "I know that [owner] is unpredictable. But everything that [Gonzalez] has done for that guy, are [you] kidding me? Every year, they've played their [butts] off. That guy didn't appreciate anything. He's one of those guys that thinks you change [just to change]. He's always wanting to fire the coaches. Always. That's his history. He lost a good one there."
When Cox announced last year that he would retire at the end of this season, Gonzalez immediately became a top candidate to serve as the Braves' next manager. But after the Marlins opted to bring him back this season, there was reason to wonder if they would keep him around through the life of his contract, which was set to expire at the end of the 2011 season.
During Spring Training there was speculation that the Marlins wanted to hire Bobby Valentine to serve as their manager. This speculation grew on Wednesday, when Gonzalez was dismissed and Valentine revealed he was no longer interested in the Orioles' job.
"Everybody has got their guy," Jones said. "We heard just like everybody else in baseball the relationship between Fredi and ownership down there. It's unfortunate because I don't know if people down in Florida really knew how good a guy they had. It's just unfortunate. I can't imagine anybody having a beef with Fredi. But it just goes to show you, no matter what you do or what walk of life you're in, you can't please everybody."
Cox has always been steadfastly loyal to his coaches and, given the fact that his club currently owns the National League's best record, there is little reason to believe that he would be willing to make any changes to his coaching staff just to add Gonzalez this year.
But the Braves may give Gonzalez a chance to better acquaint himself with the organization while spending the next couple months as an adviser, who would spend time at Turner Field and also visit some of the club's Minor League affiliates to see some top prospects.
While spending the past 3 1/2 seasons as the Marlins' manager, Gonzalez has maintained his family residence in suburban Atlanta and remained a close friend to Cox, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton and Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.
If Gonzalez were to be named the Braves' next manager, he would likely feel comfortable keeping many of the current coaches in place. This would allow the club to maintain the familiarity that Jones believes will help ease the transition that will be made once Cox ends his long tenure and opens the door for his successor.
"Culture shock is the last thing you need when you're talking about bringing in a new manager and a new regime, right down to the little things like how you run Spring Training and how the everyday atmosphere around the clubhouse is," Jones said. "All of those things are very important."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.