Marlins fire Gonzalez, coaches
BALTIMORE -- With Fredi Gonzalez out as manager of the Florida Marlins, attention turned to former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine as a potential replacement, as Valentine withdrew from consideration for Baltimore's open position.
Florida owner Jeffrey Loria, who declared his playoffs-or-bust expectations for his team in spring training, announced Wednesday that he had decided to change managers after 70 games, saying "we can do better and be better."
Valentine and Loria have been friends for 20 years, and there has been contact during the past year about Valentine's interest in managing the Marlins. But Valentine has never had anything close to a formal interview with the club.
Valentine, currently an ESPN analyst, pulled his name out of consideration for the vacant Orioles job Wednesday in order to "direct my energies in another direction."
"Bobby Valentine is a candidate for this position. He was spoken to by me today," club president David Samson said. "I told him Fredi had been dismissed, and that we were interested in speaking with him in the very near future about our opening."
Samson cautioned that Valentine shouldn't be thought of as the front-runner, according to the Palm Beach Post, but a source told the New York Daily News: "I'd say it's about 95 percent that it will be Valentine ... Loria has already told him he's his guy."
Edwin Rodriguez, who has spent the past 1½ seasons as manager of Triple-A New Orleans, will take over as manager on an interim basis. Also fired were bench coach Carlos Tosca and hitting coach Jim Presley; they were replaced on an interim basis by Brandon Hyde and John Mallee.
"This team seems to be stuck in neutral, and our competitors are on the accelerator," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said later on Wednesday. "We were looking for a leadership change to hopefully get us on the accelerator. That's a big part of what we did today."
Gonzalez told ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas that the firing did not come as a shock. "It doesn't surprise me, these things are normal in this job," he said.
Gonzalez added that his dismissal was not connected to his run-in earlier this season with shortstop Hanley Ramirez, in which he pulled Ramirez from a game for failing to hustle after a ball he booted. Ramirez criticized Gonzalez to the media and sat out the next game, but later apologized.
It appeared at the time that Marlins players and management supported Gonzalez in his spat with Ramirez, the team's best-known and highest-paid player.
"This is something that I want to make very clear: My exit from the Marlins had nothing to do with Hanley," Gonzalez told ESPNdeportes.com. "The situation with Hanley had to do with them -- the Marlins. They wanted to make a change to move in another direction."
This is something that I want to make very clear: My exit from the Marlins had nothing to do with Hanley [Ramirez].” -- Ex-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez
In three-plus seasons as the Marlins' manager, Gonzalez was 276-279. Before the 2009 season, he received a contract extension through 2011.
Samson made it clear that the front office deserved some of the blame for the team's plight.
"There's no question that I feel very responsible today," he said. "I feel as though I have failed completely to date with the organization."
Several of the players felt badly for Gonzalez.
First baseman Gaby Sanchez said, "I feel like we let him down."
Said left fielder Chris Coghlan: "I enjoyed playing for Fredi. He was a good man, a good manager. He believed in me. He stood for integrity. He was somebody who had your back."
Gonzalez is the third manager to lose his job this season. The others are Dave Trembley in Baltimore and Trey Hillman in Kansas City.
When last season ended, Gonzalez's job was considered in jeopardy because Loria was upset that the Marlins failed to make the playoffs, although they finished 12 games above .500 with the smallest payroll in baseball. Several times this year, Loria denied Gonzalez should be worried about his job security, most recently at the start of a trip May 7 in Washington.
But at the start of spring training, Loria had made it clear he had high hopes this season.
"I expect us to make the playoffs," he said. "We've got all the ammunition we need."
That comment ratcheted up expectations for a team that outscored opponents by six runs last season and made no major offseason additions. Payroll this season is about $45 million, the highest since 2005 but still third-lowest in the NL.
Gonzalez's firing could add to speculation that he will be on the list of possible successors to Atlanta's Bobby Cox, who is retiring after the season. Gonzalez was Atlanta's third-base coach under Cox before getting hired by the Marlins and remains very close with the longtime Braves skipper.
Gonzalez has kept his ties to Atlanta; his family still makes its year-round home in a suburb not far from the Braves' ballpark.
"Big shock for me," Cox said of the firing. "That owner, he's very unpredictable."
Cox expanded on his feelings about Loria in comments made to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"That guy doesn't appreciate anything. He's one of those guys that thinks you change [just for the sake of change]. He's always wanting to fire the coaches. Always. That's his history. He lost a good one there," he told the newspaper.
Loria replaced Jeff Torborg with Jack McKeon in May 2003, when the Marlins began an improbable run to the World Series title. Samson said this move had nothing to do with that one.
"This was not done in that vein," he said. "It's a different team, a different era. This is not where we wave the magic wand and in comes the Wizard of Jack, and all of a sudden we're in a hot locker room at Yankee Stadium."
In 2006, Gonzalez was hired to replace Joe Girardi, who was fired after only one season shortly before he was chosen NL Manager of the Year.
Girardi brought a drill-sergeant approach to the job, while Gonzalez's low-key personality made him more of a players' manager. Valentine would be another drill sergeant.
In 2009, Valentine ended a six-year run as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan's Pacific League. He managed the Rangers when Loria owned that organization's Triple-A team in Oklahoma from 1989 to 1992.
Rodriguez is in his eighth season with the Marlins' organization. Before his stay in New Orleans, he spent two years as manager of Class A Greensboro and two seasons as manager of the Gulf Coast League Marlins. He also was the hitting coach for the Double-A Carolina Mudcats.
"We still have a very long season in front of us, and plenty of time to turn things around," Loria said. "Everyone -- our fans, our team, our organization, and myself -- wants us to win. That continues to be, and will always be, the goal."
Information from ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Kurkjian, ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas and The Associated Press was used in this report.