History suggests Fredi Gonzalez’s future with Braves could hinge on Bobby Cox

Ask Braves fans about manager Fredi Gonzalez and two distinct camps emerge: vexation and indifference.The former want Gonzalez fired yesterday, believing almost anyone would be better, citing, among other things, back-to-back bad seasons, multiple late-season collapses and that time he left Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen during a playoff elimination game. MORE: Worst managers of the past 30 years | Worst September collapses for every teamThe latter say a manager plays a limited role in a team’s success, citing roster construction and player execution as the keys to winning baseball, believing that it ultimately matters little who helms the team. None of that matters, of course, because fans don’t decide the fates of managers. But in Gonzalez’s case, one fan could play a huge role in whether he manages the Braves beyond 2016 — Bobby Cox, who plans to be even more involved with team operations in 2016 in his role as a special assistant. Though the team is reportedly noncommittal about Gonzalez’s future after next season, that’s not necessarily evidence of anything. Because when No. 6 speaks, the Braves still listen.Cox’s support for his former coach and protégé is well known. It's widely believed that it was Cox who pushed to keep Gonzalez when former general manager Frank Wren wanted to fire him amid the team’s late-season swoon in 2014. Wren was fired shortly thereafter.I'm hearing what s

ome other folks have speculated with #braves: Wren wanted Fredi Gonzalez out, and Bobby Cox pushed to keep him.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) September 22, 2014“I think Fredi has done a remarkable job since he took over in 2011,” Cox said the day of Wren’s firing. “I think he’s just been outstanding.”That the praise came after the team’s historic 2011 collapse and a second, similarly inexplicable deflation in the second half of 2014 hinted at the level of clout Cox still has in Atlanta.TOP FREE AGENTS: 25 best | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF“He said, ‘Next year, I’m going to be all in, all of the time. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. You guys have done the right thing. I’m 100 percent behind it. We’re going to get this thing turned around and I’m all in,’” Braves president John Schuerholz said of Cox during a September interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle.Exactly what that involvement this season looks like, or how it might involve Gonzalez, is unclear. But it would be foolish to think the Braves won’t listen if Cox feels strongly about the manager’s position next offseason. That would seem to bode well for Gonzalez.Of course, Cox’s 2014 endorsement of Gonzalez came before the team’s 67-95 finish in 2015, its worst season in a quarter century. It also came before a report in September that Gonzalez had “essentially lost the clubhouse,” an assertion that Braves broadcasters and others who report on the team said lacked merit.That report came two months after the Braves gave Gonzalez a one-year extension with a club option for 2017, a move that seemed odd at the time.The Braves’ front office later spun the extension as showing confidence in Gonzalez as it tore the roster apart and started rebuilding. In other words, it was a public statement that Gonzalez shouldn’t be held accountable for the horrid second half that unfolded amid injuries and trades.In reality, though, a one-year extension is hardly a vote of confidence.Fox Sports reported Thursday that the team is noncommittal about Gonzalez’s future beyond next season, though general manager John Coppolella said, in part, “I want Fredi to be here a long time. I hope he is.”Just polite GM-speak? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s a sign of the growing front-office mindset.MORE: Worst free agent contracts still on the booksNo doubt, the team’s performance in 2016 will play heavily in Gonzalez’s fate next October. But expectations vary wildly, depending on who’s talking. The company line is that the team might actually be better in 2016, even after trading all-world shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar and pitching prospects. Schuerholz even went so far in early October as to predict “at least a .500 team.”Many fans and observers, however, aren’t buying it, much to Coppolella’s displeasure. Many expect at least as bad a season as they witnessed in 2015, while some say 100 losses is not only possible but likely.If that happens, it would seem to defy logic that a manager who oversaw back-to-back seasons of 90-plus losses, not to mention three collapses in five years, would be anointed the Chosen One to lead the team into a new stadium and new era in 2017.But that’s where ol’ No. 6 could come into play, and we could soon learn the extent to which the Braves value the hall of famer’s opinion as they prepare for 2017.Bobby Cox told us that he hand picked Fredi Gonzalez to replace him. Apparently Cox still swings a big stick in ATL https://t.co/BG86ypZZb0— Jim Dunaway (@jimdunaway) July 17, 2015For those who believe the Braves could do better, Cox’s influence is seen as the main hurdle, an emotional and annoying deference to nostalgia at a time when the team should seek a modern, analytically-minded thinker on the field to pair with an increasingly modern, analytically-minded front office.But unless something changes, or unless Cox has been outright deceptive in his public comments about his former coach, Gonzalez should have a powerful voice in his corner in 2016 — and possibly beyond.