September 27th, 2017
Tigers need manager with experience,
and a teacher who will work cheap
By KEITH GAVE
Now that Tigers GM Al Avila has finally, mercifully, made the decision to part ways with manager Brad Ausmus, we can begin to examine the ways to remodel the roster and return to relevance in the American League.
We can complain ad infinitum that this is a move that should have been made a couple of years ago, and even debate the merits of hiring an inexperienced manager for a veteran team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball. Surely that was one of former GM Dave Dombrowski’s most questionable moves in an otherwise successful 10-year tenure in Detroit.
But Ausmus is history, and it’s time to look forward and consider the possibilities regarding a potential successor. For that matter, we should begin with a more basic question: Who in hell would even want the job managing this team, considering what he’ll have to choose from when he fills out his daily lineup card?
After a four-game sweep by the Minnesota Twins in their final home series of the season – during which they were outscored 30-12 – the Tigers sit in the last place in the AL at 62-94, ensuring that they will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003. In fact, they must find a way to win one of these last six games on the road in Kansas City or Minnesota to avoid hitting 100 losses for the seventh time in franchise history.
So I ask again because what is happening with this team begs the question: Who would take this job knowing what is likely ahead? It very well could get worse, and it could take years to rebound if the young nucleus of a starting rotation – Michael Fulmer, Matt Young and Daniel Norris – can’t meet expectations. And that’s going to be hard considering the young and inexperienced lineup behind them.
The answer: Somebody cheap, who will take $1 million or less to coach these scrubs for the next couple of years. That likely rules out those “name” managers who have the experience the team is looking for, like Ron Gardenhire, a former Manager of the Year with Minnesota, or Ron Washington, who led the Texas Rangers to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010. It probably rules out Ozzie Guillen, who won a World Series with Chicago and then talked his way out of baseball.
Besides cheap, the Tigers need somebody with at least some managerial experience at the highest levels. And they need a teacher. I might add one more characteristic given the diversity of the roster today, and how it’s likely to shape up in the ensuing years: It might help if the next manager is Latin.
That said, my leading candidate for the job is Omar Vizquel, 51, the Tigers’ first base coach. Does he have the experience? In my book, he does. One of the finest gloves ever to wear a major league uniform, Vizquel played 24 seasons with Cleveland, San Francisco, Texas, Chicago, and Toronto. He was the infield coach for the Los Angeles Angels in 2013 before joining the Tigers and, most important of all, he managed a murderers’ row Venezuela team in the World Baseball Classic in March. He can speak to many of his most important players like Miguel Cabrera, with immense credibility, in a language they can understand.
For many of the same reasons, I like Tony Pena, 60, the first base coach of the New York Yankees, who led the Dominican Republic team in the WBC. Manny Acta, 49, the third base coach of the Seattle Mariners is out there, too, but he didn’t win much in managing stints with Cleveland and Washington.
Perhaps the leading name among the internal Detroit candidates is Lloyd McClendon, once a member of Jim Leyland’s staff who returned to the Tigers as the hitting coach this season. But considering how often the Tigers failed to score a run this season, and how many of their important hitters (Ian Kinsler, Cabrera, Victor Martinez) suffered career-worst seasons and a prominent youngster like Jacoby Jones actually regressed, does McClendon deserve a promotion?
Gardenhire, now the bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, is beyond debate the best name out there available right now. He’s had some experience rebuilding clubs – notably that Minnesota club near the end of his 12-year tenure with the Twins in 2014. But it feels like a stretch that he’d even consider the job at the money Chris Ilitch is willing to pay his beleaguered ballclub.
Would it be worth waiting to see how the managerial merry-go-round gets cranked up after the season? Perhaps, especially if Terry Collins and the New York Mets part ways, or if Clint Hurdle walks away from Pittsburgh, where he is said to be unhappy. Both are old-school guys, like Leland, with Michigan roots. Maybe a homecoming to Comerica Park might be just what either of those guys – and the young Tigers – need at this critical point in their history.
One thing for sure: This is the most important decision Avila will make in his two-years on the job. And it will most certainly seal his fate with the club as well.