The Atlanta Braves are focused on the future. That is obvious. They’ve traded Andrelton Simmons for prospects and also could move their top starting pitcher, Shelby Miller.
Yet, one key aspect of their organization remains decidedly short term: the contract of manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is signed only through the 2016 season, as part of a one-year extension he received in July. He has managed the team for five years, including back-to-back 90-win seasons in 2012 and 2013, but apparently the Braves aren’t comfortable committing to him for 2017 — when they’re scheduled to begin playing in a new stadium.
At the Major League Baseball general managers’ meetings last week, I asked Braves GM John Coppolella why Gonzalez’s contract wasn’t extended beyond 2016.
He paused before answering.
“We really like Fredi,” Coppolella said. “We thought it was an extension (in July). We knew we’d probably be selling off at the (2015 trade) deadline. If we didn’t have faith in Fredi, we would have let it play out.
“It’s something where we really like Fredi and his staff. Any contract you do, you want to have flexibility, and we have some flexibility. Fredi’s the same as me, the same as anybody. We’re all here with the Braves. I want Fredi to be here a long time. I hope he is.”
I asked if it’s possible Gonzalez’s status will be revisited between now and Opening Day. Coppolella didn’t say the word no. But in effect, that was his answer.
Coppolella reminded me that Gonzalez’s contract includes a club option for 2017 — a rather specious contention for the GM to make. The option doesn’t enhance Gonzalez’s job security at all. The option is the team’s, not the manager’s.
“He’s in the final year, but he has a club option, so it’s not like he’s a lame duck,” Coppolella replied. “We gave Fredi an extension because we want him to be our manager. We like Fredi. The team we gave him (in the second half of 2015), it would’ve been hard for anybody to win with that team.
“We’re hoping to give him a better chance to win this year.”
The day after Coppolella said those words, he traded Simmons to the Angels. Clearly, the Braves are planning for the future — without offering any assurances to their manager that he will be part of it.