The past three season haven’t ended the way we all wanted for the Atlanta Braves and Fredi Gonzalez. First the September collapse that happened in 2011, than the infield fly rule in the wild card game in 2012, and finally the early exit in the playoffs after having the best record in baseball for part of the season.
We can’t blame it all on Fredi, in fact the team took off this year because of an unlikely move of having Jason Heyward on top of our lineup. This may be the last time we hear from Fredi G before closer to Spring Training, so it’s great to hear from him and to get a picture of what he is thinking. Here is the conversation with Fredi Gonzalez on 680 the Fan.
Looking back on the season, 96 wins and you finished 3rd in the manager of the year award voting. All in all, a pretty good season and a great place to move from for next year
“I think so, I’m very proud of our club and the way we handled some of the adversity that was thrown at us with the injuries and we won 96 game and we won the division. Our goal is to always win the division and to get into the post season. We didn’t get to far as we wanted to but sometimes you have to get lucky and sometimes you have to get better. And I think going into next season I think we can do both.”
One of those guys, Andrelton Simmons, you have to be proud of with the Rawlings Platinum Glove and the Gold Glove. You always say the best play you’ve ever seen him make is the next one….looking back to 2013, is there a play that sticks out to you as some of the most memorable you’ve seen this past year?
“That double-play him and Luis Avilan made in the post-season against the Dodgers. There was another double-play that he made late in the season, I think against the Nationals, where we had the bunt defense on and he breaks to third base to get the, throws it to second to turn the double-play and get us out of the jam. He’s just a special guy and I’m happy for him and just happy for the organization that he won a Gold Glove. For me it’s a priority, play defense and pitch. Last year Jason (Heyward) won a Gold Glove and would of won it this year if we could of kept him on the field. But for me, that’s how you win ball games is by pitching and catching the baseball.”
There are so many good pieces but so many people have been saying since the season had come to an end that the Braves are this piece away from moving onto the next level or going onto the World Series and I think most people are saying that piece is an ace pitcher or a number 1 guy. Would you agree with that and is that what you think this team is lacking?
“I think so, I don’t think that’s a secret. That is a conversation we’ve had with the coaching staff and also with Frank Wren and his people. It comes doesn’t come out during the season, that ace, it comes out during the post season when you face up against Clayton Kershaw, or Ryu’s or Wainwright or any of those guys in St. Louis, that’s when it will show up. Even though this year with our guys when we played the Dodgers, other than the game Julio Teheran pitched, I think we matched up pretty well. I don’t know if that guy is out there this year via free agent, that number 1 ace type guy but now that Huddy (Tim Hudson) has signed with the Giants – and congrats to him and his family for getting that contract that he wanted – we’ve got the opportunity if spring training started tomorrow that you’ve got, in no particular order Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy and that’s five home grown guys that theres not to many organizations that can say that.”
If the Braves were in a position where they had their eyes on a guy or an ace on a trade, do you think this organization would be willing to offer up prospects, what would be there to sweeten the pot to be in talks with the Braves?
“Without mentioning any names, I think our minor league organization is pretty strong right now and seeing some of the kids in the instruction leagues and reading the reports, we’ve got some depth. We’ve got some depth pitching, positionally, shit we saw some guys up here over the course of the season with all the injuries we had. So I think if that right guy is out there, we are in the position where if we want to I think we can make it happen.”
A couple weeks ago, some rumors came up about Roger McDowell moving on but he stays and signs a two year deal – can you talk about what he means to the organization and the pitching staff and what he does with those young arms to bring them along.
“He does a great job and I’m glad we were able to retain him, he is a special guy. You just look at the stats our pitching staff when he has been with the organization as a pitching coach, they are just off the charts numbers. He’s able to develop young pitchers, he’s been able to work with veteran guys and help them improve. But he’s a special guy, when I ask him questions throughout the game, he’s able to break them down opposing hitters. He is a special pitching coach that I’m glad we didn’t let him get away.”
Looking back on the season, is there anything more impressive than you guys finding guys to step up with the injuries in the bullpen? I think most people thought that once they saw Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters go down that they Braves bullpen was completely shot.
“I think you start working from the end of the game forward and to have Craig Kimbrel at the end makes everything easier to piece together. You don’t know what your getting from David Carpenter or Avilan but we threw them in the fire and they responded. Jordan Walden was a nice piece to have but Michael was great at getting those guys in position to be ready. Carpenter was a guy that didn’t have much experience pitching, he came in as a catcher and developed into a pitcher.”
From what you’ve heard about O’Flaherty, Venters and Beachy, are those guys still on track to be at spring training and ready to go?
“I think Beachy is going to be perfect, he’s going to be ready to go from the very first day of spring training. I think Jonny, we just signed him a couple days ago, I think we should have him maybe the first week of June, maybe a little later because this was his second Tommy John. O’Flaherty, we are still hoping to get him back and if we do we are thinking he’d be ready by May or the first week in June.”
B.J. Upton had statistically the worst season of his career, so when you get to spring training do you just hit the reset button on B.J. all together or will there be a shorter leash on putting Heyward in centerfield a little earlier? How does that work moving forward in centerfield?
“The reset button has already been hit. It was the worst season he’s ever had career wise but we’ve been talking it over with our coaches and we are going to get him out before spring training. We are going to bring him in and get a plan to get him going. We are not going to wait until the position players show up, we are going to get on it a couple weeks earlier then normal. Some of these guys don’t start hitting until January or late December but we are going to get with him and get him going early this year.”
How well did Jason enjoy hitting leadoff and will he stay there in 2014?
“I don’t think so, I think Jason would prefer to hit in the middle of the order and I think that’s where he will be hitting for most of his career but Jason is a team guy and I think he enjoyed it after the first couple games. He is a table setter, if you make a mistake to him, you’re down 1-0 with him leading off. But it all depends on the makeup of our club going forward but if we had to start the season with the same personnel as we have right now, I think Jason would be a logical candidate to leadoff because we really took off when he was in that spot last season. The lineup could change from now till the start of the season though but we’ll see.”
During the 2012 season, you said you were keeping an eye on Evan Gattis and the numbers he put up but now you had the chance to watch him for an entire season now. When you look back, is he what you expected or more than you expected? And what do you look forward to with him in 2014?
“He gave us more than what we expected, you have to remember this guy had one heck of a rookie year. If he doesn’t miss that five or six week period because of the oblique, we would be talking about him being a rookie of the year candidate. He did a hell of a job though, we put him in positions that wasn’t really good for him, playing in left field, but he did a really nice job. He’s going to come up four times and is going to make something good happen when he comes up to the plate. Next year and moving forward, we will give him more games behind the plate. We’ll let him work with the pitching staff because last year he did a nice job with the time that he was in there working with our pitchers. So I think he is going to grow into that and just get better and better.”
If Christian Bethancourt goes into spring training and shows you that he’s ready, would carrying three catchers right out of the gate be appealing or is that something that you wait on?
“We will wait on that, but hopefully Christian does come in and knocks our socks off in spring training. I believe the players will tell us when they are ready to play in the big leagues…for the most part. He’s having a good season in winter ball and we went three catchers the entire year this past year but that would be a good problem to have. When it gets to the end of the spring training and we have the conversation that ‘hey Bethancourt is ready but we have Gattis and Gerald Laird so do we want to carry three guys or do something. If it comes down to that than it will be a real good problem.”
It will be a little bizarre when you step down in the clubhouse down in Orlando for the first time and you don’t see Tim Hudson and Brian McCann either but at the same time if those guys are moving on…it seems like the next wave of guys, Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Simmons are ready to step up into those leadership roles, don’t you feel like they’ve matured over the past couple years where the torch could be passed and they could be the leaders in the clubhouse now?
“Absolutely. If you look back to the past couple years now in Atlanta, there’s always been one guy – you look back in the beginning of 2013, everyone was talking about loosing the presence of Chipper Jones but we did a nice job and survived that. It wasn’t easy but we survived. Chris Johnson came in and did a terrific job filling that void at third base. The years before that, John Smoltz and losing Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux but every team goes through that and there is always another guy ready to step up and be that guy.”
Fredi and the guys went through most every question that has come up this offseason…(expect for Dan Uggla situation)