Big shake up in Atlanta.
By PAUL NEWBERRY (AP Sports Writer)
ATLANTA (AP) — For nearly a quarter-century, the Atlanta Braves have been all about stability.
That changed Monday.
In their first major off-the-field firing since 1990, the Braves dismissed general manager Frank Wren less than 24 hours after being eliminated from the NL playoff race.
The move came with a week remaining in the regular season. Former Cleveland and Texas general manager John Hart will serve as Wren’s interim replacement.
”It was time,” team President John Schuerholz said. ”It was time for the organization’s well-being.”
For the Braves, it was the most jarring change of direction since manager Russ Nixon was fired 65 games into the 1990 season. He was succeeded by Bobby Cox, who remained in that job until his retirement in 2010. Schuerholz was the general manager for 17 seasons before moving up to president in 2007, handing over the GM job to his hand-picked successor, Wren.
Now the focus turns to the current manager, Fredi Gonzalez, a protege of Cox’s who is finishing up his fourth season.
Schuerholz said the new GM would have a big say in determining if Gonzalez returns in 2015, though the fact no change was made at manager indicates he still has the support of a three-man search committee that will hire the new GM, comprised of Schuerholz, Hart and Cox.
Cox said he believes Gonzalez has done a ”remarkable job,” leading the Braves to a wild-card berth in 2012 and an NL East title last season. They were 76-79 going into Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, in danger of only their third losing season since 1990.
”I love Atlanta. I love our organization. I would love to get another shot at it like anybody else would,” Gonzalez said. ”I want to be here.”
The Braves also dismissed Wren’s right-hand man, assistant general manager Bruce Manno.
Wren did not immediately return a message left on his cellphone.
While the Braves made the playoffs three times during Wren’s tenure, he drew heavy criticism for the big-money contracts of second baseman Dan Uggla and center fielder B.J. Upton.
Uggla was released in July, even though he was still owed $13 million this season and next. Upton may go down as one of the biggest free-agent busts in baseball history, with three more years remaining on a $75.25 million, five-year contract. The outfielder was hitting .207 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs, which is actually an improvement on his first year with Atlanta.
”It’s just one of those things that you kind of deal with and you have to live on,” Upton said.
A half-game behind the Washington Nationals for the NL East lead July 29, the Braves plummeted out of contention by winning just 18 of their next 49 games.
Wren and Manno didn’t help their cause with what some perceived as a dictatorial style.
”In this job, you’ve got to be able to delegate. You’ve got to be able to encourage. You’ve got to be the guy who walks in the door when you’ve lost four straight and picks your manager up,” Hart said.
The 66-year-old Hart said he wasn’t looking to make the job permanent, but Schuerholz had a bit of a different take.
”We have not completely closed or opened that door,” Schuerholz said, looking at Hart with a smile.
Also likely to be considered: Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore, who began his career with the Braves and has the Royals in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1985, and Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella, who will serve as Hart’s top aide during the transition.
The Braves have one of the NL’s best team ERAs, despite losing projected starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending injuries in spring training. But a feeble offense has plagued the team all season and could lead to changes on the coaching staff.
It seems likely that hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher will not return in 2015, even if Gonzalez keeps his job.
Wren was fired after the Braves were swept at home this past weekend by the New York Mets, scoring only four runs in three games. They were shut out five times during a stretch of 14 losses in 18 games.
A former GM of the Baltimore Orioles, Wren served eight seasons as Schuerholz’s lieutenant before moving into the top job.
Hart joined the Braves last November as a senior adviser for baseball operations. He was general manager of the Indians for a decade through 2001, then spent four years in the same job with the Rangers. He is now an analyst with MLB Network along with his role with the Braves.
”I’m not seeking the job,” Hart said. ”It’s been discussed, but at this particular stage it’s not what I’m looking to do.”