Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By ZACH DILLARD  |  Last updated 10/9/13
ATLANTA Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sat comfortably in his office chair Wednesday morning and told media members he was carrying zero regret into the offseason after his team's 96-win season and early playoff exit. Citing his club's overall success while battling through key injuries, inconsistency from highly-compensated starters and running into one of the hottest teams in baseball, Gonzalez was not happy with the NLDS loss to the Dodgers, but he was pleased with the season-long performance of his coaching staff and players. Much like his mentor, Bobby Cox, who Gonzalez has spoken with multiple times since returning from Los Angeles, division titles are still placed at a premium in Atlanta it was a primary preseason goal the team met. Falling short of the World Series is never the endgame, but Gonzalez voiced that he was comfortable with how events transpired over the course of the past seven months as he delivered his de facto season wrap-up. In the talk, Gonzalez addressed the Craig Kimbrel debate, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, impending offseason decisions and more. First, the eighth inning of Game 4: On the Craig Kimbrel decision A debate has been raging ever since early Tuesday morning (or late Monday night, depending on where you debate things) on the Braves' non-use of Kimbrel in the series-clinching eighth inning of the NLDS Game 4. When Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe sent a two-run homer into the left field seats for what would become the game-winning hit off reliever David Carpenter, Kimbrel, the game's top closer, looked on in frustration from the bullpen. He never entered the game. Should Gonzalez have brought in Kimbrel for the six-out save? Should Gonzalez have utilize the 24-year-old in the eighth inning against a stronger part of the Dodgers lineup? He didn't think so at the time and he still doesn't. "Nothing different, nothing different other than I wish that ball had gone foul or swung and missed. But no, nothing," Gonzalez said. "Feel good about the decision talking about the Kimbrel two-inning save, the decision for five outs, four outs or whatever? You know what, you never want to end the game like that. But I'm not second-guessing myself at all, any of those decisions: starting Freddy Garcia or not bringing in Kimbrel for two innings. The team's coaching staff was planning on using Kimbrel in a four-out situation, regardless of the game action. Even if Uribe had laid down a bunt to move outfielder Yasiel Puig over from third (he attempted it twice), the Braves were planning to walk the No. 7 batter (Skip Schumaker) to set up a first=and-third situation for the No. 8 hitter. Carpenter would have pitched to Schumaker and Ellis either way. As for the lip-readers out there, the TV cameras appeared to show Kimbrel saying that he was mad and that he had voiced his desire to pitch as early as needed. Gonzalez said his 50-save guy did approach him before what would become the final game. "He came in before the game and said, 'Hey, whatever you want me to do. I can pitch two innings, I can pitch whatever you want.' I've also had guys that've had tough, tough years come into my office and say, 'I want to hit fourth.' Or, 'I wanna do this, I wanna play centerfield or I can play shortstop,'" Gonzalez said. "I subscribe to the theory, and I will continue to, that you put guys in situations where they're gonna be successful. And you go with it. And I think in the long run, the history, we've done a good job here of putting guys in positions where they're gonna be successful." As for the idea of Kimbrel pitching the eighth instead of the ninth, Gonzalez was not sure how another pitcher would handle the closing inning, calling it "a different animal." Whether it was Carpenter, rookies Alex Wood or David Hale or a starter like Mike Minor, Gonzalez wanted his guy to log the final four outs. The Dodgers just didn't give him a chance to do that. "In 2013, I would not have done anything different Every tough decision that we had to make I feel we made it with the best interest in mind for the team, for the individual and I feel good about it," he said. "In 2011, I curled up in the basement for two weeks and didn't want to show my face, but in 2013 I think our coaching staff and myself should hold our heads up and I think our players should hold their heads up because we had a hell of a year." On his high-profile struggling players, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla Upton logged three pinch-hit plate appearances in the postseason (three strikeouts) and one pinch-running opportunity (scoring a run). Uggla did not even make the NLDS roster. Very few playoff teams receive such little production from their highest-paid players. But that was a common theme in 2013 it just reached a climax in October. Upton completed his first year of a five-year contract hitting .184.268.289 with nine home runs and 151 strikeouts. Uggla wrapped his most disappointing season to date hitting .171.309.362 with 22 home runs and a franchise-record 171 Ks. "Shoot, I guess if they were firing on all cylinders we might have won 150 games," Gonzalez said, referencing the team's success in other areas. "Sure, nobody wanted to have those seasons those guys had, obviously, but I don't know what else we want from the club. They had tough seasons." Gonzalez said that if someone were to lay out the details of the 2013 season without the final result i.e. injuries galore, Upton's and Uggla's problems, etc. he would have guessed the team would have finished 10 games above .500, based purely on the strength of the pitching staff. The team finished 15 games above .500. When it comes to the future, though, Upton and Uggla drew different tones, likely due to the length remaining on their contracts. As it pertains to Upton, Gonzalez said he's slated to be the starting center fielder heading into spring training. "I don't think he's happy about his season," Gonzalez said. "I think the best thing for him is the season's over, start over next year and see where we're at." Uggla, on the other hand, a player that has started for Gonzalez at every step of his managerial career drew a more reserved response. When asked if the eight-year veteran would be back on the team next season, Gonzalez responded like this: "I don't know, I don't know. I know that every year we make a lot of tweaks and changes to your club, and we have to to keep competing, to keep getting better." If the team were to make a move in the offseason, they'd likely have to eat a substantial portion of the remaining two years on Uggla's contract (around 26.5 million). Nothing is guaranteed, though. On if the team will search for a No. 1-type starting pitcher With the Braves' season ending at the hands of Clayton Kershaw, the game's top pitcher who started in two of Los Angeles' three wins during the five-game series, it was only natural to look at the roster and see something missing. As good as the Braves' pitching staff was throughout the regular season, it did not feature a starter like Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Justin Verlander, David Price or Max Scherzer, the No. 1s that other playoff teams threw this month (with varying degrees of success). Will Gonzalez request general manager Frank Wren and the front office to take a look at the starter's market? "I can ask whatever," Gonzalez said laughing. "It all depends on who the 1s are out there, and kind of all that stuff. I think we need some that's why you don't see many general managers (as) managers any more. We have a tendency to do some stuff differently, managers do. But yeah, I think we'll sit this offseason and just talk over the club and just see what's out there free agency-wise, see who's out there with trades, that kind of stuff. One thing for sure is we always improve the club, always try to improve the club." As it stands, the Braves current known options for the pitching staff are Minor, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson, David Hale and some of the organization's highly-touted minor league arms. Is there a No. 1 in that group? Possibly. But there's certainly no harm in testing the market. On if Brian McCann will remain in a Braves uniform "I don't know how that's gonna play out," Gonzalez said of his starting catcher. "Right now, the way I'm answering is that McCann is on the Atlanta Braves. And until all that plays out or whatever, I will always consider him an Atlanta Brave." McCann hit .256.336.461 with 20 home runs and 2.7 wins above replacement after recovering from shoulder surgery. He is expected to draw a heavy price on the free agent market, especially from AL clubs with an option of playing him as a designated hitter. As far as Gonzalez's comfort level with his options behind the plate, he believes Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird can handle the responsibilities. "He does a good job, he does a good job. Obviously his bat is what is gonna carry him," Gonzalez said of Gattis. "I feel pretty good playing him in left field. He got better and better or maybe we just got more comfortable watching him. I think any position you can live with a guy that drives in more than you let in. We've just kinda narrowed it down to left field, but I've seen first basemen, guys behind the plate, that make you say, 'Well, OK.'" Gonzalez even floated the idea of carrying another three-catcher roster with Gattis, Laird and prospect Christian Bethancourt next season, if McCann is not round. On the leadoff spot Jason Heyward could very well be the leadoff hitter in 2014, barring an offseason acquisition. For good reason, Gonzalez still seems to like Heyward as the best option available on the present roster over Upton, Andrelton Simmons and others. Heyward hit .322.403.551 in 134 plate appearances at the top of the order this season. The other options? See for yourself. You would like to have that prototypical leadoff guy, sure, and have Jason hit somewhere in the middle of the order and be productive. But I think the world of him. He brings energy, he brings defense, he can leadoff, hit a home run, steal you a base. He can do a lot of different stuff. Gonzalez thinks Simmons is developing into a middle-of-the-order hitter No. 6 or 7 hitter and it's clear everyone wants to see Upton produce before any prominent lineup position is designated. Don't be surprised if Jason Heyward's walk-up music is the first one played next season.
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