Gonzalez dismissed; Valentine on wish list
Two coaches also let go; Rodriguez moves in as interim skipper
BALTIMORE -- Months of speculation became a reality on Wednesday when the Marlins let go of Fredi Gonzalez as manager.
Feeling the team had been "stuck in neutral," the Marlins made an unexpected move by announcing that Gonzalez had been dismissed, as well as bench coach Carlos Tosca and hitting coach Jim Presley.
The team named Edwin Rodriguez interim manager, promoting him from Triple-A New Orleans. Brandon Hyde was named to take over as interim bench coach, and John Mallee was made interim hitting coach.
"This team has been stuck in neutral and our competitors are on the accelerator," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We're looking at our personnel, and we're looking at a leadership change to hopefully get us on the accelerator."
Hyde was the organization's Minor League infield coordinator, and Mallee served as the organization's hitting coordinator.
"It is never easy to make a change in managers," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. "Fredi has been with our club for four years. We have become close, and I am extremely fond of Fredi. I, along with all our fans, am grateful for Fredi's contributions. At the same time, we can't let personal feelings get in the way of taking steps that we believe are necessary to improve our ballclub."
Later in the afternoon, Marlins president David Samson confirmed that the club has already contacted former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine about being Gonzalez's replacement. The team stopped short of calling him a front-runner. There also are internal candidates, including Rodriguez.
"You know we never name candidates," Samson said. "I would expect that we will be speaking to Bobby and hopefully seeing him quite soon. I needed today to marinate and take place. I did make initial contact [with Valentine] and introduction, but I'm not sure of the timeline."
Samson added that he hoped the Marlins could find a permanent replacement soon.
"Anytime a change like this is made, it is an adjustment for the players and the staff," Samson said. "Fredi is a very, very good man and a good manager. We felt today was the right day to do it. There is no great day to make a change like this."
Gonzalez had a flight scheduled out of Baltimore in the late afternoon. He initially said he would address beat reporters on a conference call on Thursday, but instead he spoke to a pool reporter on Wednesday and addressed his situation.
The Marlins informed Gonzalez that they were making a change at a 7:45 a.m. ET meeting at the team hotel.
"Very surprised," Gonzalez said when asked if he saw the change coming. "I think as a manager, you're always the guy [held accountable]. ... I don't know if there's a perfect time."
Entering the season with playoff aspirations, the Marlins improved to 34-36 after beating the Orioles, 10-4, on Tuesday night at Camden Yards.
It's been a rough first half for the Marlins, who are 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and six games out in the Wild Card standings.
The early part of the season included a run-in with All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez was benched for not hustling on the field after the second inning of a game against Arizona on May 17.
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After that game, Gonzalez said: "We expect an effort from 25 guys on this team; when that doesn't happen, we've got to do something."
The next day, Ramirez vented back, claiming he had lost some respect for his manager and noting that Gonzalez had never played in the big leagues.
"It's OK. He doesn't understand that. He never played in the big leagues. That's fine," Ramirez said on May 18.
In spite of the Ramirez incident, team officials denied that it had anything to do with Gonzalez's dismissal.
"I want to say from the outset that this organization's decision today was based having nothing to do with Hanley Ramirez and the situation that took place with Hanley earlier this season," Samson said. "As a management team, we were completely supportive of how that situation was dealt with."
There have been inconsistencies at the plate as well. The Marlins' total of 561 strikeouts rank second to Arizona's 666 for the most in the NL.
"I felt like we could have played a little better," Gonzalez said. "We haven't been consistent in winning."
During a 9-8 loss to the Rays in 11 innings last Saturday night, the Marlins were penalized for batting out of order in the bottom of the ninth inning. Gonzalez made three substitution moves, but home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale said he heard one.
Gonzalez strongly noted after the game that he properly told Barksdale that Brian Barden would bat ninth and Wes Helms would bat third. But Barksdale had Helms ninth and Barden third. That's what was relayed to Rays manager Joe Maddon, who noted the mix-up after Barden walked to open the inning.
Barden was ruled out for batting out of order. Also that night, the bullpen's struggles were magnified as six relievers combined to walk 11 batters.
"In addition, this decision had nothing to do with any lineup card issues," Samson said. "This decision was made in an effort for this team to accomplish what we feel we need to accomplish moving forward, which is to win and be one of eight [in the playoffs]."
Hired to replace Joe Girardi after the 2006 season, Gonzalez has the most wins of any manager in Marlins history, with an overall record of 276-279. He was named The Sporting News' Manager of the Year in '08 after an 84-77 season.
A Miami native, the 46-year-old Gonzalez joined the Marlins after being a third-base coach under Bobby Cox with the Braves. Gonzalez said he spoke with Cox on Wednesday morning.
Gonzalez signed an extension through the 2011 season before the '09 season.
That year, the Marlins finished second behind the Phillies in the NL East. Their 87 wins were the third most in franchise history. Yet in the final days of the season, rumors surfaced that Valentine was approached to replace Gonzalez.
The Marlins put an end to that speculation a few days later when officials said Gonzalez would return for 2010.
"Decisions on individual personnel cannot supersede our overall goal, which is to win," Loria said. "We believe we can do better and be better. We owe it to our fans to put this team in the best possible position to win. Everyone knows how I feel about winning.
"That's the reason we're making this change. We still have a very long season in front of us, and plenty of time to turn things around. Everyone -- our fans, our team, our organization, and myself -- wants us to win. That continues to be, and will always be, the goal."
The Marlins last switched managers in midseason in 2003, when Jack McKeon was named to replace Jeff Torborg in May. The club went on to win the World Series, beating the Yankees in six games.
Rodriguez, in his eighth season in the Marlins' organization, managed New Orleans for the past season-and-a-half. He previously spent two years as manager of Class A Greensboro (2007-08), two as manager of the Gulf Coast League Marlins (2005-06) and two as hitting coach for Double-A Carolina (2003-04).
Prior to joining the Marlins, he was in the Tampa Bay organization, managing Rookie-level Princeton for three seasons (2000-02) and Class A Hudson Valley for one (1999). He played parts of three seasons with the Yankees and Padres from 1982-85.
Going forward, the Marlins' search for a new manager began immediately, Samson told reporters on Wednesday.
"As far as our timeline, we are definitely active," Samson said. "We do not expect the interim tag to last very long."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.