NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Fredi Gonzalez was named as his successor two years ago, former Braves manager Bobby Cox said that Atlanta fans would soon forget about him like Dodgers fans forgot about Walter Alston during Tommy Lasorda's managerial reign in Los Angeles.
Two years later, the Braves still have fond memories of all of the contributions Cox made. At the same time, they seem quite satisfied with the way Gonzalez has handled the unenviable task of serving as Cox's successor.
The Braves announced on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings that they have exercised Gonzalez's contract option for the 2014 season. This provides the 48-year-old manager a vote of confidence and a chance to prepare for this upcoming season with a little more certainty about his future.
"I think he did a terrific job of leading us to the playoffs in 2012," general manager Frank Wren said. "We feel his leadership is very helpful for our ballclub going forward to stay competitive."
Gonzalez's tenure as the Braves' manager began in disappointing fashion as Atlanta blew the 9 1/2-game Wild Card lead it carried into September of the 2011 season.
But Gonzalez showed his leadership skills and silenced some of his critics this year as the Braves distanced themselves from this disastrous finish and completed a 94-win season, the club's highest win total since 2004. The team's journey into the postseason proved short as it lost a one-game Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals.
"There were a lot of questions asked about the collapse, and they used every adjective to describe the last month of 2011," Gonzalez said. "I'm so proud of [the players]. Pretty much the same team came back in 2012.
"I think it was a club that learned collectively from top to bottom, from me to the last guy on that roster, that it couldn't happen again. And we did it. We did not let it happen. We went out and built on it and had a pretty good season."
As Gonzalez looks toward the 2014 season, he is tasked with the responsibility of guiding Atlanta through the early stages of the post-Chipper Jones era.
With Jones retired and both David Ross and Eric Hinske playing elsewhere, the Braves will gain some new leaders next year. Tim Hudson has capably filled this role over the past few years and Dan Uggla is certainly capable of assuming more of a leadership role as he prepares for his third season in Atlanta.
And there is also certainly a chance that some of the leadership will be assumed by Martin Prado, who has spent the past few years establishing himself as one of the most respected members of Atlanta's clubhouse.
"Sometimes I think we mistake leadership for the guy on top of the table, yelling, screaming and throwing chairs and that kind of stuff," Gonzalez said. "For me, sometimes a leader is a guy that goes out there and plays the game the right way and can tell somebody, 'Hey, this is not the way we do it here.'"
While the Braves are still exploring the possibility of acquiring a leadoff hitter, Gonzalez admits that he has spent the past week debating how to position his lineup with the recently signed outfielder B.J. Upton, who has the potential to provide both speed and power.
Instead of targeting Upton, Uggla, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann for specific spots in his lineup, Gonzalez said he is looking forward to putting together a lineup that includes this kind of power potential.
"You can sit here and get locked in and say, 'He's the fourth hitter or fifth hitter,' and it's going to be dumb on my part, because next thing you know, McCann is crushing balls or Danny is hitting balls," Gonzalez said. "Guess what? [If so] they're going to be hitting up at the top of the order. But [Upton is] a middle-lineup guy, and we have some candidates there. Not everybody can hit two, three, four or five."
As Gonzalez looks at a potentially deep lineup and what appears to be a solid pitching staff, he is optimistic that the Braves can build upon this past season's success and return to the postseason.
"Our goal is, like every year, to get to the postseason, and we did that this year," Gonzalez said. "That's our goal next year, to get to the postseason. Hopefully you catch on fire, you catch a couple breaks and you get a little deeper."