A midseason managerial replacement is always done with the hope that a spark will be lit, a corner will be turned, a change will equal an improvement.
The Marlins announced Wednesday that they had dismissed manager Fredi Gonzalez and named Edwin Rodriguez as interim manager. Only once before in Marlins' history had the club changed managers midseason. That was 2003, when Jack McKeon replaced Jeff Torborg in May. Those Marlins went on to win the World Series, defeating the Yankees in six games.
So the precedent is solidly in place. But the 2010 Marlins are not the 2003 Marlins. Their circumstances, both external and internal, have changed and not for the better.
These Marlins have been beset by bullpen uncertainty. They have had 17 relievers on their roster so far this season. They are ninth in the National League in team ERA. Their 34-36 record and fourth-place standing in the NL East on Wednesday are about what could fairly be expected, given the overall level of their pitching.
WINNINGEST BIG FISH
|Fredi Gonzalez (2007-10)||276-279||.497|
|Jack McKeon (2003-05)||241-207||.538|
|Rene Lachemann ('93-96)||221-285||.437|
|John Boles ('96,'99-2001)||205-241||.460|
|Jim Leyland (1997-98)||146-178||.451|
|Jeff Torborg (2002-03)||95-105||.475|
|Joe Girardi (2006)||78-84||.482|
|Tony Perez (2001)||54-60||.474|
|Cookie Rojas (1996)||1-0||1.000|
The Marlins had postseason aspirations this season, with a young and talented team that had won 87 games last year and finished second in the NL East. Fair enough, but nobody knew that the NL East was going to be as difficult as it has become.
The Phillies, with back-to-back NL pennants and three straight division titles, were the obvious favorites. Their offense has performed below expectations, hence their third-place standing. But they are genuine contenders. Meanwhile, the Braves, with a base of strong pitching and a renewed offense, will play Wednesday night holding the NL's best record. And the Mets are only 1 1/2 games behind them.
This is the Marlins' competitive problem, not the quality of Gonzalez's managing. Their division is much tougher than anticipated. They are being noticeably outperformed by two clubs whose pitching is more solid than their pitching.
And that is also why comparisons between the 2003 Florida team and the current version don't favor the 2010 team. The 2003 team got terrific boosts when Dontrelle Willis came up as a rookie and went 14-6, and when Chad Fox solidified the bullpen in a setup role in the second half. You don't automatically get those kinds of occurrences from a managerial change.
Gonzalez is one of those managers whose work apparently looks better to the outside world than to his own organization. He has always been in the discussion of likely candidates to take over the Atlanta managing job after the legendary Bobby Cox retires at the end of this season. Gonzalez coached third base under Cox before coming to the Marlins after the 2006 season.
Gonzalez was 276-279 as manager of the Marlins. His bench coach, Carlos Tosca, and his hitting coach, Jim Presley, were also dismissed.
Rodriguez has been in the Florida organization for eight years and has managed the Marlins Triple-A affiliate for the last two seasons. In theory, he could become the Jack McKeon of 2010, but that would only happen if the Marlins' pitching dramatically improves. But if it had already improved, Gonzalez might still be manager.
The Marlins, no matter who is managing them, will remain a team with considerable promise. But they will still be competing in what turned out to be the NL's toughest division. Gonzalez got the blame for the Marlins being in fourth place. If the Marlins go on to qualify for the postseason, the organization was right, and he was wrong. But that sort of improvement, despite 2003 and Jack McKeon, is far from a given in these circumstances.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.