BALTIMORE (AP) — Fredi Gonzalez was fired Wednesday as manager of the Florida Marlins, whose search for a full-time successor began with a phone call to Bobby Valentine.
Gonzalez was dismissed with Florida at 34-36 and in fourth place in the NL East, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta.
"This team seems to be stuck in neutral, and our competitors are on the accelerator," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said, hours before the Marlins were to face the Orioles. "We were looking for a leadership change to hopefully get us on the accelerator. That's a big part of what we did today."
Edwin Rodriguez, who has spent the past 1½ seasons as manager of Triple-A New Orleans, took 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.
"We owe it to our fans to put this team in the best possible position to win," owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. "Everyone knows how I feel about winning. That's the reason we're making this change."
Gonzalez is the third manager to lose his job this season. He follows Trey Hillman at Kansas City and Dave Trembley at Baltimore.
Immediately after firing Gonzalez, the Marlins began searching for his successor.
"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 said the list of candidates includes Rodriguez.
Valentine has a reputation as a disciplinarian. He led the New York Mets to the World Series in 2000, where they lost to the Yankees. Valentine reached the postseason twice in 15 years with the Texas Rangers and Mets and has a career record of 1,117-1,072.
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 in 1989-92.
Valentine currently is working for ESPN. Earlier this month he was interviewed by Baltimore, but on Wednesday he withdrew his name as a candidate for that job, Orioles president of baseball operation Andy MacPhail said.
In three-plus seasons as the Marlins' manager, Gonzalez was 276-279. Before the 2009 season, he received a contract extension through 2011.
Gonzalez did not immediately return a phone call or a text message seeking comment. Beinfest said Gonzalez was "professional, gracious and appreciative" upon being told of his dismissal.
"Fredi has absolutely led our team for the past 3½ years, there's no question about that," Samson said. "But sometimes you just need a different voice."
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."
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 things began to change a week ago, after the Marlins lost three straight at home against Texas to fall to 31-35.
"Something was missing," Beinfest said. "That's really when I started to have concerns."
The firing could add to speculation that Gonzalez will be on the list of possible successors in Atlanta for Bobby Cox, who plans to retire 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."
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."
Rodriguez is in his eighth season with the Marlins' organization. Before his stay in New Orleans, he spent two years as manager of Single-A Greensboro and two seasons as manager of the GCL Marlins. He also was the hitting coach for the Double-A Carolina Mudcats.
"Everybody who is in this game wants to make it to the big leagues. It's no different for me," Rodriguez said. "Then again, Fredi Gonzalez is a good friend. He is a good manager, an excellent human being. But you have to continue. You have to go out there and play the game. Not just go out there, but also win."
Loria remains optimistic his Marlins can still make a run at the postseason.
"We still have a very long season in front of us, and plenty of time to turn things around," he said.