In the film Moneyball, Oakland Athletics manager Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, brings up his discontent with managing in the final season of his contract with general manager Billy Beane. Portrayed by Brad Pitt, Beane is not willing to talk about an extension with Howe and provide the aging manager job security. In real life, Howe was in the first year of an extension that led into the next season. But in Hollywood, facts really don’t have all that much value.
Both manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren have one more year on their contracts. Gonzalez was originally inked to a three year contract in October of 2010 that also came with a 2014 option, which was exercised last December. Two months before that, the Braves signed Wren to a one-year extension, covering the 2014 season.
Entering 2013, Gonzalez wasn’t so much on a hot seat because the Braves were pretty good in 2012, but expectations were definitely high. Frank Wren had acquired the Upton Brothers to help the Braves move forward after the retirement of long-time fixture Chipper Jones. He also shrewdly added a young arm in need of some adjustments in David Carpenter. He turned struggling starter Tommy Hanson into Jordan Walden. He increased the team’s depth with Gerald Laird, Ramiro Pena, and Jordan Schafer and whether by design or just being handed the player, Wren helped secure the services of Chris Johnson. Regardless of the experts who seemed to slot the Washington Nationals ahead out of laziness – some even said the Phillies would finish higher than the Braves – the expectations for 2013 should have been high.
With thirty games remaining – so far, so good.
It hasn’t been an easy ride. Brian McCann missed the first month or so. Jonny Venters went down before the season and was joined on the season-ending DL by Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez. All three were counted on to perform their roles as well as they had the previous two seasons. Pena, the team’s new super sub, took his .773 OPS to the DL for the remainder of the season in mid-June. Of the eight regulars, only the left side of the infield and Justin Upton have avoided the DL, though the trio have been nicked up from time-to-time. In the last several weeks, the Braves also said goodbye to Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward, though the latter might return this season. Oh, and Tyler Pastornicky also went down recently, but fortunately he’s only Tyler Pastornicky.
Frankly, with all that happening, the Braves should be struggling with .500 – like the Nationals have.
Instead, the Braves have rolled through the East. If you think it’s from just beating up on the division, try again. Atlanta is 37-22 against teams with a .500 record or better. Do you know how many NL teams have a winning record against all three of the NL divisions and durng interleague play? One – Atlanta. They are 21-14 in one-run games, a product of both a strong bullpen and the ability to score with one swing of the bat at a prodigious rate.
Knowing all of that, there should be little doubt that both Wren and Gonzalez should be extended after the season. Yes, the season isn’t over and the playoffs still are over a month away, but regardless of the rest of this season, both have done more than enough to not have to wonder if 2014 is the end of the road in Atlanta for them. Since Gonzalez took over the manager duties, the Braves have a record of 263-193, good for a winning percentage of .577. The wins are already 12th in franchise history and only Bobby Cox and Lum Harris have more since the move to Atlanta. Only Cox and two other managers are 70 or more games above .500 like Gonzalez and of managers with 400 or more games with the Braves, only two have a better win percentage. That’s not to say that I think Gonzalez is the best manager in baseball. He often over-manages his bullpen, plays match-ups too much, and it took him a hundred games to change the lineup. Still…results are results. If Cox gets a break because of the results, why not Gonzalez especially when Gonzalez might be an even better in-game manager.
Moving on. Since Wren was promoted to general manager, the Braves are 512-430. Some of Wren’s free agent pickups have absolutely bombed. In fact, all of the high-priced ones from Derek Lowe to Kenshin Kawakami to B.J. Upton (thus far). But he has been superb on the trade market, acquiring Michael Bourn and Walden for nothing while showing bold confidence in acquiring Justin Upton and Johnson. He’s listened to his scouts and has been wonderful on the waiver market, grabbing Carpenter, Schafer, and O’Flaherty for pennies.
It may be a little early to talk extensions for the duo. Regardless, both deserve some job security. I’m not advocating a ten-year extension or anything. Two years to secure their future through 2016 would seem like a good start. As the Braves formulate their off-season plans after the World Series (that includes a wonderful parade in Atlanta), their first priority should be to lock up both Gonzalez and Wren. They’ve earned it.